6 Aug 2011


Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Kevin O'Neill & Ben Dimagmiliw
Top Shelf Press $9.95

James R: Time is a strange thing. This week I and my honourable co-reviewers were marvelling that Nirvana’s 'Nevermind' is *gulp* 20 years old. 20! Suddenly it seems that what was once considered nascent is now firmly nostalgic. In the same category, I'm almost tempted to put League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen because - get this - Alan Moore's literary superteam is now 13 years old! I clearly remember first reading (in the last days before the internet became the motherlode for all geek knowledge) about Moore's brilliant idea for a comic: what if some of the greatest characters of Victorian fiction existed in the same world and were put together by Military Intelligence to deal with nefarious plots against the Empire? The idea of literary characters existing together was hardly new: SF writer Philip Jose Farmer put together the 'Wold Newton' family in 1972, but the promise of these characters being written by Alan Moore (who had just finished the spellbinding From Hell) and illustrated by Marshal Law artist Kevin O'Neil meant that this series had to be special.

What followed was a series of spectacular comics (often punctuated by frustrating breaks due to both O'Neill's meticulous artwork and Moore's dramatic severance from DC/Wildstorm comics) and now, over a decade later, we get the middle chapter of Moore and O'Neil's 'Century' arc that follows the ever-young Mina Murray & Allan Quatermain through the 20th century. The first thing to note is that this is the first volume that really embraces pop culture. In previous volumes, it certainly helped to know your Mycrofts from your Moriartys, whereas this issue jumps from the written world to cinema to TV with fantastic effect. The secondary cast includes Michael Caine's Jack Carter (from Get Carter) and the Rolling Stone's free concert in Hyde Park plays a pivotal role. As a result, this feels incredibly and accessible and rewarding.

What's most surprising here is the fate of Oliver Haddo, the League's fictional 20th Century nemesis and Aleister Crowley analogue. Without wanting to spoil the end of the book, all I'll say is that Alan Moore will be finishing this 'Century' tale by incorporating one of the biggest franchises of recent years, a move I never would have expected. What it demonstrates is that, as a writer, Moore's clearly not afraid to take risks, either in terms of narrative or litigation!

Once again, Kevin O'Neill outdoes himself, showing that he is the perfect foil (alongside J. H. Williams perhaps) for Moore's wide-ranging ideas. Before writing this review, I took a look at the original issues of LOEG, and it's amazing to see how much this title has changed in terms of plot and scope. In the original series, O'Neill provided us with a wonderful backdrop of fantasy-infused Victorian Empire, whereas here he provides a brighter and more psychedelic world that culminates in a battle in the spectral realm. It reminded me of the trippy battles fought by Doctor Strange in Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner's run on the Sorcerer Supreme’s Marvel title in the 1970s. In a word, it's magical.

To conclude, the book finishes with an epilogue set in the Punk explosion of 1976. Once again, O'Neill shifts gears and Ben Dimagmilw's colours reflect the more nihilistic feel of era. What caught my eye however, is the caption that starts these pages: 'Eight years later'. I was struck by this temporal shift that is mirrored in reality - it was really just ten years from 'Sergeant Pepper' to 'God Save The Queen'. In cultural terms, these seem epochs apart, but they're bookends of a decade. I'm not going to say that the decade-long journey of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is comparable to this, but it does show that in culture and comics ten years can fly past and evolve before your eyes. It's glorious to read a title that doesn't stand still no matter how slowly it travels. Here's to the next century! 9/10

For annotations om Moore's latest, click here.


Rob N said...

It is indeed superb. And you're absolutely right when you comment on the dramatic and seismic changes that occurred in British 'pop' culture between the late sixties to the late seventies. There were rapidly changing and every distinct movements back then, whereas now it seems popular culture incorporates a lot of sampling of earlier styles into a mixing pot and there's less of a sense of a single movement that defines an era.

One thing to add though - The Jack Carter character is actually a composite of (as you rightly observed) Jack Carter (from Get Carter) and David Callan (from the TV series Callan). So, sort of a Jack Callan I guess. :)

- Rob N

Rob N said...

I might add that the Rolling Stones gig at Hyde Park (which plays a pivotal point in the story) is generally considered as being the literal 'day one' of the Prog Rock movement, as King Crimson were on the bill, and being seen by 650,000 people obviously got them noticed in a very big way. Their debut album (In the Court of the Crimson King) that was released a few months later is considered to be the actual point when psychedelia (already growing increasingly complicated from its roots in circa '65) morphed into Prog, but it was the Hyde Park gig that made it happen.

- Rob N (wearing his 'Rock Historian' hat)