I read Alan Moore’s Jerusalem the month before my Poppi died. He had been going in and out of the hospital for the entire year before he passed. Lung problems from a youth building houses. There were periods where he would be out of the hospital and had to walk around with an oxygen machine. He couldn’t work in his workshop in the basement anymore—couldn’t even go down there due to the machine. (I will always remember him working on something or other in that basement workshop. A swing set, a chair, or something I wasn’t familiar with. I would sometimes watch him work.) Eventually, he had to be moved into our house for the simple fact that the house he lived in with Nonna was in the middle of the woods. He started to have lung problems around the week of my 21st birthday. I was in London at the time, mooching off of my brother who was getting lessons from famed cinematographer Janus Kamiński about the craft of filmmaking. I spent most of my time wandering the streets trying to find new, interesting things. On my birthday in particular, I attempted to follow the Jack the Ripper murders without a working map or a clear idea where the bodies were actually located. I ended up giving up after a couple of hours. Curiously, my attempt began with me witnessing a Gull fly in the air. While I was getting lost in Whitechapel, my Poppi was admitted into the hospital for the first of many times. Even before the end finally came, I noticed a degree of weakness to his body. A frailty other members of the family never truly saw. I wasn’t meant to see it. Despite my loud steps, I have a tendency of sneaking up on people. I remember it as clearly as a new pair of glasses: he was standing in the hallway of the house I had always known him to live in, the house he built when he was a young man, looking away from me. The lights were dark, though not dark enough to be pitch black. Rather, the shadows overtook the hall, but the light’s contrast made him visible. It wasn’t the look in his eye or the contemplative shape his mouth made. It was how he held himself. He sagged rather than stood tall. He didn’t look at me, though I saw his face. He looked weak, like he was on the verge of the end. I was 19 at the time. I was 21 when he actually did die. It was a January afternoon when I last saw him. My brother and I were going to the movies the day we all knew would be his last. No one but his wife and three kids were to be at the hospital the day it happened. My last intended words to him were “Be seeing you.” (Though I suspect the last words he heard from me were “GAH, MY FUCKING FOREHEAD!” spoken shortly after an attempt to rest my forehead onto my aunt’s head ended up becoming a headbutt, which, all things considered, is the more apt portrayal of who I am than a reference to a television show from the 60’s.) Carmine DeVita died a few hours later. I finished Jerusalem a week or two prior.
In short, I read Jerusalem at the absolute wrong time to read Jerusalem. I did not make that same mistake with Illuminations. It is a fascinating collection of short stories ranging from reprints of older material like “Hypothetical Lizard” to engagements with older periods in Moore’s career like “Cold Reading.” And, of course, riffs on other works of literary fiction such as “And, at the last, just to be Done with Silence.”
But perhaps what will become the most discussed story within the collection is “What We Can Know About Thunderman.” Not simply because it’s the longest story within it—a novella within a novel—or even the subject matter—look at the title. But rather, it’s the format Moore takes with it. For the majority of the collection, Moore opts to go for traditional first and third person narration to portray the events of his stories. With “What We Can Know About Thunderman,” Moore uses that approach, but also engages in epistolatory fiction.
Throughout his career, Moore has utilized epistolatory fiction as a means of worldbuilding or criticism in works like 1969 or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And while here it’s no different, there’s an air of confidence and control that is lacking in those earlier texts. Moore knows when to present the history of unions being busted straight and when to make an entire portion of it a bunch of fanboys arguing over continuity. (To say nothing about the entire section that’s basically Moore reviewing every single piece of non-comics Superman media with the sole exception of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s efforts.)
But I would like to close this review not on the big talking point, but rather on something smaller in the book: the title story, “Illuminations.” It tells of a man going through old photographs of days gone by and feeling quite miserable. But not the kind of misery of a horrible thing occurring, but one of it no longer being there. Of remembering going to a shitty holiday camp that was (and perhaps still is) hell. But you’re alone now with all those god-awful memories. Those horrid days gone by.
I actually went to one of those camps (well, a crap American remake of one) with my Poppi when I was a kid (along with my brother, my mom, and my Nonna). It rained every day we were there that week in July, apart from the last one. There was a pool that was so deep, you could go down to the basement and see people swimming. One of the days we were there, some of the camp counselors asked for our assistance with a fun “summer Halloween” thing for the little kids (I was 8 at the time). They had my brother dressed up in a gorilla costume. I was painted up to look like a zombie. All things considered, it was the best part of that miserable experience.
Illuminations by Alan Moore publishes October 11, 2022 and will be available for purchase at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.