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League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century #1 ("1910")

Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009
By: Thom Young

Alan Moore
Kevin O'Neill (with Ben Dimagmaliw, colors)
Top Shelf
The League of Extraordinary Gentleman Century #1 (aka "1910") arrives in stores on Wednesday, May 13. This is an early review.

With a total of 82 pages of material (including the inside covers), this "first issue" is as hefty as some so-called graphic novels (graphic novellas would be more accurate, I suppose). Additionally, of the 82 pages in this issue, 72 of those pages are actual comic book pages--or a little more than three times the number of pages in an average-sized comic book (but at only twice the price!). In other words, if this story is any good, it's quite a bargain in these depressingly bad economic times.

(By the way, I still need an editing or writing gig that actually pays me money, so if you know of anything, please send it my way. Hey, if Rich Johnston can do it in his "Lying In the Gutters" column after he was made "redundant"--the UK word for being laid off--then why not me?)

Fortunately, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's latest is not just a good story, it's an excellent story--so this is very much a great bargain at a suggested retail price of only $7.95 US (£5.95 GBP).

As this is the fourth volume of Moore and O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentleman, there is no space given over to introducing the characters--even though most of the League is no longer made up of the characters who were in the group in the first two volumes. All of the current membership were mentioned in the third volume, though--The Black Dossier (the review of which, by Dave Wallace and me, will be re-posted here on Wednesday, so check back then).

The plot in this issue starts off rather slowly. Thomas Carnacki (who was referenced in The Black Dossier) has been having dreams about Oliver Haddo (aka Aleister Crowley) bringing about an apocalypse, so Mina Murray and her new League set out to investigate (and plan to stop Haddo's plans, of course).

They discover that Haddo/Crowley has not yet began to put together any such plot--though they seem to end up planting the idea in his mind, which I suppose makes Carnacki's visions become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the meantime, Jack MacHeath is back in town--that's Mack the Knife from Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, of course (perhaps made more famous to the masses by Bobby Darin's version in 1959).



In Moore's story, MacHeath is wandering the streets of London (and killing people with his knife) while singing a song about himself (inspired by Brecht's lyrics). He's joined in song at the end of this issue by Suky Tawdry, who also sings a solo (in two parts) about Pirate Jenny--also from Brecht's Threepenny Opera.

The character of Pirate Jenny is filled in Moore's story by the daughter of Captain Nemo, Janni. Of course, Captain Nemo was a member of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman in the first two volumes of Moore and O'Neill's series.

Initially, Janni wants nothing to do with her father's legacy. However, after being gang raped in a London alley, she gladly accepts the offer of Ishmael (from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, of course) to captain the Nautilus after Nemo dies. Naturally, the Nautilus takes on the role of the Black Freighter from Brecht's story.

Observant readers will realize, too, that the Black Freighter was the name of the pirate ship in Moore's tale-within-a-tale in Watchmen. That's right, the pirate ship in the comic book that appeared in the graphic novel by Moore and Dave Gibbons was also the ship from Brecht's Threepenny Opera.

Additonally, this being the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, of course, there are numerous other characters and allusions to various literary works. For instance, Thomas Carnacki, whose dreams start the plot of Century, is from William Hope Hodgson's 1910-12 serialized novel Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder (collected in 1913).

I'm sure there are numerous characters and literary allusions that escaped me--particularly those referencing obscure works published in Great Britain and Europe in the early part of the 20th century (which is the titular century). A few things I noticed, but didn't have time to actually research and flesh out for this review are:
  • Orlando (the titular character from Virginia Woolf’s novel) appears to have received his/her immortality (but not his/her gender-morphing ability) from the obelisk in Africa that features prominently in the beginning of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    In Woolf's novel, of course, Orlando's life began in Elizabethan England (Elizabeth I, that is) and he simply chose to not grow old. In Moore's version, Orlando's life began before the dawn of humanity, and he/she was there when Clarke's Moon-Watcher discovered the "New Rock"--i.e., the black obelisk that jump-started humanity's evolution from the australopithecines into a sentient species. Once the obelisk fractured (at some point after Clarke moved from it to 2001 CE in his novel), it energized a pool of water and made immortal any who bathed in it.

    A possible australopithecine (or perhaps neanderthal) who also bathed in it, and who showed it to Orlando, may have been the DC Comics villain known as Vandal Savage--though I'm not certain that's the character to whom Moore is alluding in the text chapter at the back of this issue.

  • Additionally, Moore also has Orlando as the titular character in Pauline Réage's Story of O--with O's lover, René, being none other than H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain (who, of course, has appeared in all four volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and who bathed in the African immortality pool along with Mina Murray at some point between volume two and volumes three and four (which do not have a linear chronology).

  • There is also the first appearance since 1954 of the British superhero Captain Universe--who was created by Mick Anglo as a UK version of Captain Marvel (Shazam) after Len Miller was no longer able to reprint Captain Marvel once Fawcett was forced to cancel the character as settlement with the lawsuit brought against them by DC Comics (or National, at that time).

    Many readers will no doubt realize that's what Mick Anglo did in creating Marvelman as the UK replacement for Captain Marvel. However, before Marvelman (which Alan Moore also is known for), Captain Universe was the first UK replacement. However, after being threatened with a lawsuit over the "Captain Universe" name (I don't know why or from who) Captain Universe was re-born as Marvelman.

    What's interesting here is that Moore is having Murray operate in 1964 as a member of an apparent Justice League analog team led by Captain Universe, who relates a story in which he gained his version of a "Fortress of Solitude" (inside an artificial star) after defeating the original occupant--an un-named "superman" (lowercase "s") who seems to be a combination of Marvelman and Rob Liefeld's Supreme (both of which are characters that Moore is known for retconning).

    What's particularly amusing is Captain Universe's description of this un-named superman:
    Suspended as if floating at its centre was the freakish form of the defeated superman, an almost human entity some eight feet long from head to crown [probably should be "head to toe"], clad in a skin-tight suit of lurid turquoise. It had far too many ribs and an abnormal musculature, with parts that were wildly disparate in their proportions. The exaggeratedly long head was topped with blonde hair [probably should be "blond hair"] that had been frozen into spikes of an unnaturally bright yellow.
    In other words, the un-named superman appeared to have been Marvelman as drawn by Rob Liefeld.
Of course, there are numerous other characters and allusions that Moore has included in this story--and half the enjoyment of reading a League of Extraordinary Gentleman story is trying to figure out who all the characters are that have been plucked from other literary works--"highbrow," "lowbrow" and all brows in-between.

I don't know if this volume is easily accessible to people not already familiar with Moore and O'Neill's League. However, I also don’t know that this book requires readers to have knowledge of the first three volumes. I believe new readers can acquire the relevant information through a close reading of the present text--similar to the way we require "relevant information" in our day-to-day lives when finding ourselves in unfamiliar situations.

Finally, as always, O'Neill's illustrations are perfectly suited to Moore's story. As I mentioned in my review of Black Dossier, O’Neill is a master at providing illustrations that complement the story rather than work at cross purposes with it--which is contrary to how many younger comic book illustrators seem to operate nowadays.





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