Throughout his career, Alan Moore has shown both a penchant and a skill for reweaving the elements of earlier texts into new works and new worlds of his own. In doing so, Moore has walked a dangerous line. To adapt a text is, paradoxically, to both embrace and to let go of that text. Much like analysis, adaptation is a simultaneously creative and destructive act, which produces new material from the often-fragmented pieces of a source. The adaptations examined in this collection, which include both Alan Moore’s adaptation of others’ works and others’ adaptations of his own, are varied in their execution and their degrees of success, but their analysis in the essays we present here consistently offers new ways of looking at the relationships between closely connected texts. To examine an adaptation alongside its source material—whether or not the source material is completely original it its own right—is to examine the space between two texts. This space, much like the gutter on the comic page, sutures even as it separates.
Adaptation both runs through the majority of Moore’s work and describes the relationship that other creative people have had with Moore’s writing. As we compiled this collection, we decided that we found adaptation operating on at least three distinct levels within Moore’s work.
First is the adaptation that any writer or artist must perform when taking over an existing franchise within mainstream comics. As Jack Teiwes explores in his article “A Man of Steel (by any other name)” Moore’s work with characters like Superman has involved consistently reworking and reimagining characters to fit his own vision. Teiwes presents us with a detailed critical overview of Moore’s work on both the Superman series proper and his runs on other titles starring ‘Superman’ analogs (like Miracleman and Supreme). In the course of this overview, Teiwes examines how Moore reappropriates, deconstructs and reconstructs the tropes and mythologies that surround the very concept of the superhero.
This reimagining of an extant comics title is probably most evident in Moore’s work with Swamp Thing, where as Colin Beineke notes, Moore revised the very origins of the titular character, a daring move which allowed for a significant change in style and tone within the franchise. In “Her Guardiner,” Colin Beineke traces the development of Moore’s Swamp Thing in light the character’s connection to the mythographic history of the Green Man. Moore’s overhaul of this series, in addition to rewriting its mythos and transforming the very nature of its protagonist, also allowed for an interrogation of ideas that might not have been possible under the title’s old regime. As Megan Condis explores in her essay “The Saga of the Swamp Thing: Feminism and Race on the Comic Book Stand,” Moore’s adaptation of the Swamp Thing character created a space for the treatment of nuanced concepts like feminism in Native American cultures. Condis’s article offers a political and conceptual framework for the Swamp Thing story, “The Curse,” placing it within a larger critical discourse that raises questions about the work’s own connections to the ethical world.
A second form of adaptation occurs when any writer takes a previously-existing property and adapts it to an entirely new story and setting as occurs in Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls. In these cases, Moore revises (sometimes radically) the behavior or personality of a given character and places her in a novel or anachronistic setting. This tendency is probably most marked in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where numerous public domain characters are thrown together and made to interact in ways that might be quite divergent from their original stories. Here, Moore treads a fine line between realizing his own vision and retaining some fidelity to the original authors from whom he borrows.
Finally, Moore’s work has often been itself adapted, most notably into feature films. Recent adaptations have included Moore’s V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. However, the adaptation which has certainly received the most attention is Zack Snyder’s film version of Watchmen. In a pair of essays, Vyshali Manivannan and Paul Petrovic both explore how Moore’s original graphic novel has fared in front of the camera lens, dealing with issues such as fidelity to the original text and differing viewpoints on women and feminism. Paul Petrovic uses the presentation of the Watchmen character Laurie as a site through which to understand the treatment of the female body in Snyder’s filmic adaptation. Throughout his essay, Petrovic sets key scenes from the film and graphic novel side by side in order to examine the visual presentation of each of such issues as gender, sexuality and fetishization. Vyshali Mannivannan, in “Interplay Amidst the Strangeness and the Charm,” offers a detailed and thorough account of the nuanced narratological methods in Moore’s graphic novel. Manivannan’s article exhibits a well-developed formal respect for the comic medium, acknowledging the importance of structure and design at the levels of the panel and the page. When we began collecting responses to our call for papers, we discovered that Watchmen, in both its comic and movie form, was by far the most common subject presented for analysis. This may result from something so simple as the story’s currency—both its recentness and its value as a cultural artifact.
In offering this collection of scholarship, we do not intend to exhaustively explore every aspect of adaptation as it relates to Alan Moore’s work. Instead, we present a selection of excellent original essays which we believe will open a productive dialogue on at least one aspect of an influential writer’s work.