Taken as part of a larger work, Neonomicon 2 may turn out to be worthwhile. However, as a single issue of a comic book – which is, after all, how it’s being sold – it is a vile, vile thing.
Alan Moore’s use of rape in his comics is well-known at this point, as are the arguments over it. One side says, with some justification, that having rape be a plot point in every single major work for 30 years suggests a possibly unhealthy fascination with the subject, while the other side argues that in most cases it’s justified and making a point, not just to shock or titilate.
I’ve tended to side with the latter, because Moore is, firstly, the greatest writer the medium of comics has ever seen, and possibly the greatest writer in any medium the English language has produced in the last fifty years, and secondly someone who is a very outspoken feminist. But my patience with this trope in his works has been getting ever thinner.
But what I want to say, and something that unfortunately hasn’t really been said explicitly in the reviews I’ve read of this, is this:
If you are a rape victim/survivor, even if you do not normally mind too much about ‘triggering’, please think very carefully before you read this comic
I say this because there are at least two people I know of who read this blog, read comics, and have been raped. There may very well be more – those are the ones who have chosen to let me know the fact.
The use of rape here is qualititavely different from anything Moore has done before. Even From Hell, for all its explicitness, showed a certain amount of restraint, but while I would never say that anyone should absolutely refrain from reading anything, still less that someone should avoid any subject, I actually think that this comic could seriously upset and possibly mentally harm vulnerable people.
What Moore and Jacen Burrows, the artist, give us here, is an extended, six-page, explicit depiction of someone being brutally gang-raped. I found it disturbing and mildly sickening, and I am both an insensitive clod and someone who’s been fortunate enough never to have experienced sexual violence myself. This is several orders of magnitude nastier than anything Moore has put in any of his previous work – this isn’t just a couple of panels, with a close up of the victim’s face looking anguished, this is something altogether worse.
Now, it may be that the comic as a whole will be so good, so profound, that it justifies this – I suspect not, but it may be. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out – Moore at his worst is a better writer than most writers at their best, and Burrows is a very underrated artist, primarily because he mostly works for Avatar, not a company known for putting out good work. But as a single issue of a horror comic, this feels closer to something like the issue of Tarot with the haunted vagina. The difference is, Tarot is not something that anyone will pick up unless they’re actively looking for sexualised violence. Neonomicon, by virtue of its writer, is.
Someone needs to sit Alan Moore down and talk to him about this, because while for each individual occurence of rape in his work you can make excuses, it is something that makes his work, when taken as a body, have the effect of trivialising rape – when I’m absolutely certain that the whole reason he includes depictions of sexualised violence is because he thinks it’s an important, awful issue.
My bet is that when Neonomicon is completed, it’ll be an important comic – imagine Moore doing The Filth but in a Lovecraftian vein and without the humour – but taking this issue on its face, without giving Moore the benefit of doubt, it reads like something written by the worst kind of nasty misogynist, like the arsehole who once found my blog by googling “supergirl rape stories”.
But I’m becoming increasingly worried that getting Moore to write a story without a rape scene is like getting Frank Miller to write a female character who isn’t a prostitute, and then I start to think about Dave Sim, and then I start to worry if there’s something intrinsic to this medium that I love that does this to people, and then I think about “supergirl rape stories” again, and I wonder if I should get a different hobby…