How did a great Alan Moore comic become a lousy Johnny Depp mystery?

With Age Of Heroes, Tom Breihan picks the most important superhero movie of every year, starting with the genre’s early big-budget moments and moving onto the multiplex-crushing monsters of today.

If you wanted to take a good, hard look at the difficulties of translating comic books into movies, Alan Moore makes a good case study. Moore is, by pretty much any serious criteria, one of the greatest comic book writers who has ever lived. He did not, of course, invent the genre, and he didn’t conceive vast armies of enduring characters the way some of his forebears did. But he did help revolutionize the art form by finding new ways to show complexity and ambiguity and by using it to communicate his ideas about mysticism and anarchism and the cruelty of humanity. His best works remain compulsively re-readable, even decades after their publication. Moore is an endless wellspring of ideas, and people like that are the reason movies exist. And yet the film adaptations of Moore’s work have generally been absolute bullshit.

Moore has noticed this. Famously, he’s long been outright hostile to the idea that any of his comics should become movies. Years ago, Moore sold the rights to a few of his books to movie studios, but he did so while seemingly holding his nose. He didn’t want anything to do with those movies, assuming that everyone would realize his books and any later adaptations didn’t really have much to do with each other. He’s said that much of his work was “designed to be un-filmable” and that he assumed that the rights he sold would never turn into movies. And when they did turn into movies, Moore didn’t exactly help promote them. Instead, he publicly criticized those movies’ scripts before the movies even came out. He’s also said that he’s never seen any of the movies made out of his work. These days, he’s not selling rights anymore, but he doesn’t own the rights to all the comics he’s written. When people option those rights, these days, Moore refuses to allow the studios to use his name, and he refuses to accept any payment at all. He estimates that this admirably grumpy insistence has cost him millions.

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