by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
80 pages, Top Shelf Productions
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
Alan Moore is Britain's very own Stan Lee. Having written for Warrior and 200AD in the 1980s, Moore went on to write some of the most famous comics in the world. “The Ballad of Halo Jones”, “Watchmen”, “V for Vendetta”, “From Hell” - Moore's comics have achieved the kind of critical acclaim normally reserved for “serious” novelists. Notoriously publicity shy and cynical of the Hollywood machine, Moore has nothing but scorn for the numerous unsuccessful adaptations of his comics and refuses to have anything to do with them. He's also an anarchist, a practising witch and reportedly worships the Ancient Roman snake-god Glycon.
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” has long been my favourite work of Alan Moore. Taking classic characters from Victorian adventure fiction and assembling them as a kind of superhero team, the comic saw the League face off against Fu-Manchu in the first series and then battle the Martians from “The War of the Worlds” in the second series. For fans of Victorian literature, the comic was a real treat. After all, where else could you see Jekyll and Hyde team up with Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man? Indeed, it could be said that “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is a comic book for people who tend to read classics.
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 1910” features a new League under the leadership of original member Mina Murray (she of “Dracula” fame). She is accompanied by the son of Allan Quatermain, A.J. Raffles (E.W. Hornung's gentleman thief), Virginia Woolf's gender-morphing immortal Orlando and Carnacki the ghost finder. Prompted by one of Carnacki's psychic visions, the new League set about investigating a sinister new threat facing Edwardian London.
What made the original series of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” so great was the clever use of familiar characters from literature and the subtle nods to countless lesser-known works. I have to confess that whilst I am a fan of the Victorian era, my knowledge of Edwardian fiction is pretty skimpy so a number of literary allusions may well have passed me by. The main plot sees the League seeking out a cult led by an Aleister Crowley-esque figure who seeks to create a Moonchild in order to usher in a new-age. Meanwhile, the late Captain Nemo's daughter has turned down the opportunity to take command of the Nautilus and is scrubbing floors in a seedy waterfront pub. Another threat casts its shadow over the East End as Jack the Ripper returns after a twenty-two year absence and resumes his killing spree.
Although not as long as previous instalments, “Century: 1910” is a complete story. Moore deliberately leaves a number of questions unanswered and the ambiguous ending gives a great deal of scope for follow-up episodes. Rumour has it that the next instalment of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century” will be set in the swinging sixties and will be chock-full of pop-culture references.
However, the praise should not all be heaped on the shoulders of Moore. Kevin O'Neill's artwork is more than worthy of a mention. As with previous outings of the League, O'Neill's pictures are truly fantastic. He draws highly stylised characters whose appearance effortlessly matches their personalities. Each panel is packed full of wonderful details and those with a keen eye will delight in picking out the countless visual gags and tributes to other comics (for example, eagle-eyed readers will be able to spot Andy Capp in one panel). Even those who are unfamiliar with the characters will enjoy the colourful, action-packed illustrations – the sequence where the Nautilus lays waste to the docklands is as dynamic and exciting as any Hollywood blockbuster.
Whilst some fans of the original series may bewail the loss of the original League, they ought not to be too dismissive of this new incarnation. As already mentioned, further instalments of “Century” are due to follow and will no doubt give Moore and O'Neill the opportunity to further develop the new characters. Newcomers would be recommended to seek out the original two volumes before tackling this one, but this is essential reading for those who have had the pleasure of meeting the League before.
Hereward L.M. Proops