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The Courtyard
Alan Moore
Avatar Press, 2 issues

The Courtyard
The Courtyard 1
Alan Moore
Alan Moore is considered by many to be the best writer in the history of the comic book form. His 1986 epic Watchmen, along with Frank Miller's Dark Knight are arguably the most important individual works of the modern comics era. He got his start in comics in the early 80s, working for a variety of British publishers. Moore has worked on a variety of other comics projects over the past 15 years such as From Hell (adapted in the Johnny Depp / Heather Graham film). He currently has the ABC line at DC/Wildstorm which includes titles such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

ISFDB Bibliography
Avatar Press
Alan Moore Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Peckham

Alan Moore's The Courtyard is another venture into obliqueness for the soon-to-retire (or is he?) author of Watchmen, From Hell, and V for Vendetta. It's a hard-boiled Lovecraftian tale with a linguistic angle that plays with the signifying power of uttered words in altered states. The narrator is an FBI covert agent named Aldo Sax (get it?). His unique talent, as he puts it, is anomaly theory, the ability to "[take] the leftover pieces from various jigsaw puzzles and [see] what picture they make when you put them together." His investigation into a series of methodologically related homicides has deposited him into a seedy den of iniquity ("The Courtyard") where he proceeds to unravel the mystery.

It's a familiar tale, but Moore enjoys telling it with crafted slipshod, drawn out slowly, frame by miasmatic frame.

I can hear the spear-chuckers partying from under the Harlem Dome even from here. Slabs of bass shuddering out down the river. They mix with distant ambulance sirens in shimmering science-fiction voluntaries. Is it just me who finds sirens beautiful? Miserable divas, threatening fire, plague or murder.

Sax is a straight-laced pocket beatnik, a sort of weird badge-toting Allen Ginsberg, but with disturbingly racist undertones. Moore keeps us off balance by playing to the idiosyncrasies instead of winking them at us before pulling back to safer archetypes.

Three old tenement buildings, their brick turned the color of scab, eye each other across the bleak courtyard. Hypodermics crunch underfoot, frosting the cobbles with glass in a scintillant disney-dust. One thousand points of light. Cul-de-sac trash can enclosures dab ghostfish and hornet-hung fruit on night's pulse-points. The tenements huddle: guard hideous warmth.

There are distinct invocations of Philip K. Dick in both the dialogue and the carefully apportioned narrative feeds, but the story belongs firmly to the John W. Campbell, Brian Lumley, and Robert Bloch cadre, with its own unique twist on the semiotic relationship to reality slippage. In the end, the turnabout proceeds from the argument naturally, expectedly, and feels like just the right amount of deliberate coyness to somehow tease its way into a satisfying compromise between melodrama and cliché. One has the sense there's more gas to cook with here than was expended in two limited issues (five would have given time to flesh out characters better) but what is there works well enough to justify the classic ending.

Jacen Burrows' artwork compliments Moore's terse prose and slapdash exuberance with hard black lines on white under grayscale that still manage to convey the sense of growing dread, right down to the final frames of shadow darkening in increments, panel-by-panel, Sax's ruggedly handsome, fixated expression. Burrows' sketches like Steve Dillon (Preacher) with fatter frames. Long faces on thin, skeletal bodies, but cleaner lines and an abundance of background detail that focuses initially on sharp, angular geometries, only to slip into (just as perfectly stitched) organic frescoes of, well, I won't ruin it for you. It's worth hunting these two issues down just to see it for yourself. Or wait for the graphic novel collection, since Moore carries enough weight to warrant one.

Copyright © 2004 Matthew Peckham

Matt Peckham, a Nebraska native who received his M.A. in Creative Writing from Creighton University in 2001, is a fiction writer, freelance journalist and contributing editor to the world's best-selling PC Games magazine, PC Gamer. His stories and reviews have also appeared in SF Weekly, SF Site, Gamespy, Computer Games Magazine, The Wargamer, and Epiphany Magazine. Matt is currently working on a non-fiction companion and annotated guide to British writer Mike Carey's Eisner-nominated Lucifer series. For more about Matt, check out

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