Monday, 10 August 2009

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 review, by Tim

Myself and a group of merry young fools were in Waterstones, killing time before going to see Public Enemies (Soundbite review - Not so much a biopic about Dillinger as a fairly good movie about a guy who was a bit like Dillinger). Since the most/only interesting place in Waterstones, for me, is the graphic novel section, that is where I headed; and we were leafing through the comics, making snarky comments, when I stumbled upon this.

Let me get one thing straight: Alan Moore is, in my opinion, probably the greatest writer in the English language, ever. Feel free to hoot in derision in the comment section, but every single thing he has written is brilliant, and that's not something I can say about any other writer (including Shakespeare, who wrote an awful lot of crap). Moore has created some of the greatest and most interesting characters ever written, from Rorshach to V to William Withey Gull (ok, Gull was a real man, but go and read From Hell anyway; it's like a massive What If for the Ripper murders of 1888). In addition, Moore is very good at taking existing character's (e.g. Superman in For the Man who has Everything; The Joker in Killing Joke) and making them much more interesting.

This is the thrust of Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series; he has created a world in which the characters from all his favorite novels, plays and films all exist and interact. To someone like me (i.e. oblivious to a fair percentage of the references), reading the series is a bit like following Moore on a strange journey through vaguely familiar settings and characters.

If this kind of world intrigues you, then read on past the jump to the review proper, in which I have a look at the latest offering.

Century: 1910 is the first part of Volume III of the League. At the end of the last proper story, several members died or left, leaving only Mina Murray (Aka Mina Harker, hero of Bram Stoker's Dracula) and her lover Allan Quartermain (from H. Rider Haggard's novel King Solomon's Mines). Since then it was revealed in Black Dossier (as in implied then steadily verified) that they have both gained immortality after bathing in the pillar of fire from, Wikipedia tells me, another Haggard book called She. Allan is certainly looking more chipper.

It was also briefly explained in the Dossier that Mina and Allan have recruited replacement team members to get back up to a team of five. Hawley Griffin, the invisible man, is replaced by A.J. Raffles, a definitely visable thief created by E. W. Hornung, brother in law of Conan Doyle who seems, according to the wiki article at least, to have been taking the piss out of Sherlock Holmes somewhat. Another Sherlockian character added is Thomas Carnacki, a supernatural detective created by William Hope Hodgson, who investigates hauntings and, in this story, has terrifying visions of the future.

The new powerhouse of the team is Orlando, an immortal whose gender is subject to change. Moore created Orlando from some half dozen different characters going by that name written by different writers at different times, because Moore is a fucking genius. Orlando has fought in almost every major war in history, and as such has become exceedingly good at killing, wielding the legendary sword Excalibur.

While the team investigate one of Carnacki's visions, Jack MacHeath arrives at the docks and starts slitting throats. He is Jack the Ripper, a descendant of MacHeath (Mack the Knife) from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. He sings a variation of the song Mack the Knife from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil's The Threepenny Opera which is an adaptation of The Beggar's Opera... I have read a few of Brecht's works, but never read or seen either of the operas, so if this is confusing for you, dear reader, you are not alone. As this is going on, we are also introduced to Janni Dakkar, daughter of Prince Dakkar or Captain Nemo. She wants nothing to do with her father, and while he is on his deathbed she stows away on a liner bound for London.

Events take an exciting turn when... Actually, I'm not going to spoil the whole story like I do with AstonSpid, because it's far more likely that one of you reading will want to buy this comic for yourself, and you really ought to. While it is by no means universally accepted that Moore is the best comic writer going, it is indisputable that he is one of the greats, and he is producing work that is just as good as it ever has been. If your experience of the comic/graphic novel is limited to Marvel or just super-heroes in general, works of Moore like The League are excellent stepping stones onto more diverse grounds of subject. Moore's stories usually have a super-hero element, but are far more complex and, indeed, real, then the usual comic fare. Did I mention that he's also the greatest writer in English ever?

As far as art goes, one of Moore's most prolific collaborators Kevin O'Neill demonstrates superb skill. There's a splash page near the closing of the novel that is utterly beautiful (and fairly bloody). I can count the number of artists at O'Neill's level on one hand; John Romita Jr, Eddie Cambell, the late Mike Wieringo and maybe Bob Kane... The point is, this is a worthwhile purchase for the art alone.

To conclude, I really ought to be paid by the marketing department at Top Shelf and Knockabout (the publishers). That said, this article is very late; Max isn't the only lazy writer on this blog. Regardless, I heartily encourage you to buy this comic, especially if you have enjoyed previous work by Moore (and O'Neill). The League is probably my favorite comic series (unless one counts serial work e.g. Spider-Man) and is well worth a look for any comic fan; especially those readers who may have outgrown certain output.
Flippin' BUY IT.

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