Fashion Beast: long-lost, Watchmen-era Alan Moore/Malcolm McLaren comic

Fashion Beast was a ten-issue comic created by Alan Moore and Malcolm McLaren -- the impresario behind the Sex Pistols, who "invented Punk as a Situationist prank." The project began as a screenplay written at the time that Moore was writing Watchmen, and was never produced. Thirty years later, Moore Antony Johnston re-adapted the work for comics, and last September all ten issues were collected in an amazing graphic novel, which I have just inhaled.

Fashion Beast is one of those wonderful collaborative projects where you can see each of the collaborators' talents shining through, but which nevertheless feels like a single, seamless whole. It's the story of Doll, a woman pretending to be a drag queen; and Jonni, a man pretending to be a butch lesbian, and the work they do in the house of Celestine, a celebrated and mysterious fashion designer who is horribly deformed and never leaves his gloomy room at the top of the enormous studio housing his staff.

Jonni, Doll and Celestine play out an apocalyptic, highly sexualized retelling of Beauty and the Beast, shot through with McLaren's love/hate for fashion and subculture; Moore's ability to tease magick out of the dark; and the 1980s, cyberpunk world of an unending nuclear winter, mass conscription, and a world divided into teeming streets of ratlike pickers and high, serene towers of brutal oligarchs.

As is always the case with Moore, the story and its people are never subservient to the ideology or the social commentary: first and foremost, this is a savage and rending love-story that is impossible to look away from. It's only after you finish that the sly jabs at power, sex, fashion and bohemia are realized, intermingled with the blood and the tears and the moments of fragile triumph.

Even if you read the ten singles when they were published, the collection is worth having just for Moore's introduction, which sheds a lot of light on his relationship with McLaren and the circumstances that produced this remarkable and unlikely story.

Fashion Beast