From Hell is based around a suggestion made by Stephen Knight in his 1976 book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. In this work, Knight alleged that the Ripper was Sir William Gull, who acted on behalf of a royal and masonic conspiracy to silence several prostitutes who had learned of an illegitimate royal baby. Though Moore himself has made it clear that he does not really believe Knight's theory, which has been widely and thoroughly discredited in most serious Ripper circles, he nonetheless crafts a dramatic story.
From Hell opens with Prince Albert Victor meeting shopgirl Annie Crook through their mutual friend, Walter Sickert. The pair soon secretly marry and have a child together. When Queen Victoria discovers this she orders the pair separated, and Crook is removed to an insane asylum where William Gull performs a thyroid experiment on her that drives her mad. Her daughter, Alice, escapes in the arms of her nanny, Mary Kelly. The scandal is apparently resolved, until Kelly and several of her friends, all prostitutes in London's East End, are menaced by a gang that demands protection money that the women cannot afford. They attempt to blackmail the royal family for the money, and Gull is hired to silence them. Gull, a Freemason, begins to commit highly ritualistic murders to complete a magical spell that will ensure the masculine domination of women into the next century. He is unimpeded by the police, who are, at the higher levels, complicit in the conspiracy. As the murders continue and London is terrorized by the brutal killings, Inspector Abberline is discouraged by the investigation of what seems to be an impossible case. He is eventually aided by fake psychic Robert Lees, who points him in the direction of Gull, against whom Lees bears a grudge. When confronted by the pair, the slightly unhinged Gull admits to the crimes and, after being tried by the Freemasons, is secretly committed to an asylum. Abberline later discovers the royal coverup and resigns from Scotland Yard, eventually joining the Pinkertons. Both he and Lees are implied to have been paid to keep silent about the affair. Gull lives for several more years in the asylum. He has an epiphany in which he travels through the past and the future, witnessing what his actions have inspired and been inspired by, and dies.
The book is extensively, painstakingly researched, and throughout it is rife with wildly disparate and somehow interconnected facts, imagery and symbolism. The smallest of facts and the simplest of coincidences are included in the text, and the trained eye can spot references to any number of Victorian characters, places and events. The main action of the text is interwoven with metaphysical discussion, and with transcendent spiritual experiences, mainly undergone by Gull.
The graphic novel collects Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's 10-issue From Hell series. It encompasses 572 pages, and is divided into sixteen sections, fourteen of the story proper and two which contain the prologue and epilogue, as well as two detailed appendices. One of these appendices explains the themes and symbols, as well as the historical and mythological elements included in the book, while the other explains, in comic form, the history of Ripperology and the probability that the identity of the Ripper will ever be known. Over the time it was first released, between 1991 and 1999, From Hell went through several publishers, including SpiderBaby Press, Tundra, and Kitchen Sink Press. The actual trade paperback was released byEddie Campbell Comics in 1999. Currently it is published by Top Shelf Productions in the United States, and Knockabout Comics in the United Kingdom.
In 2001 a movie was released, supposedly based on the graphic novel. It starred Johnny Depp as Frederick Abberline, Heather Graham as Mary Kelly, Ian Holm as William Gull and Robbie Coltrane as Thomas Godley. Like so many adaptations of Alan Moore's work, the film version fails to do the book justice, leaving out many details and ignoring many important facts, symbols and themes. The film is notable for merging the characters of Abberline and Robert Lees, and for somehow removing most of the Jack the Ripper plot from a Jack the Ripper movie.