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Graphic Novel Review: Light Of Thy Countenance by Alan Moore and Felipe Massafera

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Anyone familiar with Alan Moore’s works knows he is an excellent writer. Moore was part of a select group of authors who, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, freed comic books from their stigma as “kids’ stuff” and brought them into the realm of literature. Moore has brought thought-provoking and mature themes into a genre often dominated by spandex-clad brutes that beat each other to a pulp, and has even used the medium to explore the literary places traditional films and books cannot go.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Moore’s Light of Thy Countenance is a highly entertaining, yet thought-provoking, read. In the past Moore has been paired with artists that, while competent, do not always deliver the incredible images his writing demands. However, Light of Thy Countenance contains terrific illustrations by Felipe Massafera, images that perfectly capture Moore’s meaning and support his story without overwhelming the reader.

The comic, published in 2009 by Avatar Press, is half history and half caustic criticism of what Moore sees as the modern god, television. The narrator of this piece is a personified abstract of the common entertainment device. It boasts in grandiose terms of all that it has accomplished, all the minds it has enslaved, while all the while pointing out the inanity of the medium.

The art in this book is simply beautiful. Photo-realistic paintings are juxtaposed with cartoon sketches of actual television shows and black and white sketches of historic broadcasts. It flows with the text, providing subtle humor as a counterpoint to Moore’s most biting criticisms, and explosive imagery to compliment the spots where Moore reigns himself in.

The prose is poetically lyrical, and at the same time contains long strings of scientific-sounding polysyllables that might, in the hands of a less experienced writer, sound clumsy. Yet Moore is so adept at crafting his tale that his diction seems neither clumsy nor pretentious. Instead, the story has an energetic rhythm which helps to characterize the speaker –- the reader’s own television –- as an occult, egocentric, and excitable force, a fledgling god descended to rob us of our very humanity.

Television is a divisive medium. Nearly everyone owns a television, and many people love spending their free time gazing at its screen. Others feel that TV time should be limited, and a select few despise the invention, for one reason or another, and refuse to watch. Regardless of the reader’s stance on whether television is a good or a bad thing, Light of Thy Countenance will provide an interesting and thought-provoking viewpoint that the reader may not have considered before.

There are only two downsides to this comic. The first is Moore’s extreme negativity towards television. Many people might not understand why he is so negative, or they may find his pessimism to be unnecessary and annoying. Those who love TV may find Moore’s message to be more overbearing than thought-provoking.

The other downside is stylistic. As has already been stated, the prose is highly lyrical and very energetic, while using large words to convey complex concepts. When I first read the story, I got caught up in the rhythmic flow of Moore’s words, and ended up reading the whole thing without pausing to comprehend. Reading in this manner is like listening to Pavarotti singing “Vesti la Giubba” in Pagliacci without understanding Italian: it is quite obviously beautiful, and the artist is clearly a master, but there was no meaning behind the words. When I read Light of Thy Countenance a second time, I had to force myself to slow down, to not be carried away by the rhythm of the story, so that I could fully comprehend the point Moore was trying to make.

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About Mike King