I’m just prescient that way.
Leigh Walton of Top Shelf was kind enough to send me an “advance uncorrected black-and-white galley” of some new comics periodical called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 by some guys named Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Man, they’re never going to become stars if they keep the titles that long! I’d like to thank Mr. Walton for sending it over to me. It’s coming out next month, but now is a fine time to review it, right?
Century is a nice return to form for Moore after the well-written and beautiful mess that was The Black Dossier. This book actually has a plot, although it’s not complete, as it’s the first of a trilogy. Moore, however, does a fine job setting up the rest of the story. Plus, we get a rousing adventure to boot.
The basic plot is easy enough to cover: Captain Nemo’s daugher, Janni, rejects her father’s orders to take over the Nautilus and flees to London (kids today!). Meanwhile, back at the League’s HQ, the newest incarnation is having problems. Thomas Carnacki is dreaming of a diabolical ritual, and when the league investigates, they find out that Mycroft Holmes is concerned about occult happenings as well. Plus, a killer who left London in 1888 has returned from overseas and is taking up his craft again. It’s all very vexing.
In this volume, we get as far as Nemo’s daughter, Pirate Jenny (she Anglicizes her name to fit in with the character from The Threepenny Opera), taking over her birthright (and causing mass destruction in the process). Moore zips from story to story, as we see Jenny slowly realize she can’t escape her past, the serial killer ripping his way through London’s underworld, and Mina and the league investigate what’s going on. These three stories come together at the end, but Moore, as is usual with him, pulls the rug out from under us more than once. Jenny’s story is the most straightforward, as she leaves her father, enters the tawdry underbelly of London, and experiences things that make her realize where she belongs. The other two stories play on our expectations, but Moore does a good job twisting the plots – the killer is not who he seems, while the league, as we’ve seen from The Black Dossier, is relatively ineffectual. The ending is a bit anticlimactic for this reason (I should say it’s not that the ending is unexciting, because there’s quite a lot of excitement, just that it’s oddly anticlimactic), but as it’s the first part of a trilogy, I don’t really mind. There will be more about the occult ritual, and presumably more from Pirate Jenny.
What makes the book fun, of course (and keeps Jess Nevins in gainful employment) is the way Moore sprinkles the book with literary figures. That has always been the hook of the LoEG books, and while it overwhelmed The Black Dossier, in this it remains subject to the story, which is nice. There are plenty of cameos that I know I missed (I think Popeye shows up early on, but he didn’t debut until 1929, so who knows if it’s him), but they don’t interfere with the narrative. Moore even uses a character who first appeared in 1997 (as the inestimable Mr. Nevins has pointed out), but one who travels through time, so it’s not surprising he shows up in 1910 (and makes a Harry Potter comment, which Mina and Allan Quatermain don’t get). Unlike The Black Dossier, the way Moore blends the literary aspects with the real-world aspects (the book revolves around the coronation of George V) isn’t overdone and helps the book move along nicely.
The other thing that makes the book fun is O’Neill’s art. O’Neill has been working on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and little else for years now, so he doesn’t get the opportunity to shine too often, so when a new iteration of this comes out, it’s so very enjoyable. I’m sure Moore’s scripts are amazingly dense and therefore O’Neill doesn’t get a ton of input, but it’s still amazing. The corners of the panels are packed with weird tschotkes of past adventures and, I’m sure, famous novels, while the people of London are wonderfully weird and beautiful and ugly and the architecture is magnificent and dominating and slightly insane. From the splash page, which shows a fully naked (from the front, because there’s no squeamishness about nudity in this book) Jenny diving into the sea, we know we’re in for a treat. Jenny is inverted as she falls, and the waves reach up toward her while the cliffs scream toward a too-big moon and a too-starry sky. Nemo’s city is a horrifying blend of Bond villain modernity and shabby ghetto, London is a cramped slum filled with tragic figures, and the arrival of the Nautilus is stunning and terrifying. O’Neill is one of the few artists who could even attempt to give Moore’s scripts the attention they demand, and he pulls it off with aplomb. I cannot wait to see this in full color.
Ultimately, Moore is more concerned with philosophy than plot (the name of this chapter is “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” and the question is answered on the final page by a character about whom we thought we knew a great deal but didn’t, it seems), but that doesn’t mean the plot doesn’t zip along. Moore, though verbose, usually balances the more esoteric parts of his books with the pulpy meat of the narrative, and that’s in evidence here. Even as he gives us things ‘sploding all over, he digs into the darkness of humanity, both the obvious and not-so-obvious. This is marvelously layered comic (not surprising), and when it shows up on the shelves, you really should pick it up. Come on – it’s Moore! It’s O’Neill! Do you really need me to tell you to get it?