Fashion Beast

Although marketed as a "lost masterpiece", Fashion Beast feels like a minor work in Alan Moore's career – a comic book adaptation of a film script he wrote for Malcolm McLaren in the 1980s. In comparison to the near-contemporary Watchmen, this is relatively slight. Moore admits in the introduction that the world of fashion is largely foreign to him, and his attempts to analyze it have the feel of an outsider looking in. Moore's lecture is summarised thus: the manipulation of our image is an assertion of power over others – an impulse encoded by evolution and that has helped us survive. But for the shadowy Tarot-reading fashion designer Celestine, these images hold out the possibility of transcending our natures, and he fantasizes about a world where humanity is erased and only clothes remain. There are shades both of Ozymandias and Doctor Manhattan in this rant.

Moore prefers to side with the people. The young Jonni is in line to inherit Celestine's throne and finds inspiration in the immanent – sex and the streets. But even then, Moore adds a jarring note – Doll quips that the working class Jonni worships are sexist, racist and homophobic, and she cannot be blamed for trying to run away from her origins. That exchange encapsulates Moore at is best: exploring how the messiness of life undercuts grand visions. He is on shakier ground in contrasting Jonni's base inspirations to the conflict powering Celestine's creativity – an overbearing mother who taught him to despise his own appearance and sublimate sexual desire. Compared to the subtleties of Rorschach or the Comedian, this is relatively blunt characterisation.

The book is lovingly put together by Antony Johnson and Facundo Percio, who keep quite a bit of the cinematic camera zooms that Moore used in Watchmen, as well as a few visual/verbal segues that bridge his scene transitions. The characters in particular are extraordinarily well-rendered. McLaren apparently demanded the couple be a girl who looks like a boy and a boy who looks like a girl – and it's astonishing how well this is pulled off on the page. Likewise the two Madams that guard Celestine have these wonderfully pinched wrinkled faces, and seem to float in their ornate baroque costumes. Although the story's origins as a screenplay are not entirely erased, Johnson and Percio both deserve a good deal of credit for how well it works as a comic.

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