Review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009A comic review article by: Danny Djeljosevic
Ho-lee shit, what excellent timing for a new installment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to come out. As of right now, we're four issues deep into the 35-part (!) Before Watchmen project, which at this point is comprised of about 80 pages of opening chapters (plus 8 pages of pirates) for nearly $16, working towards a grand total of $139.65. Which is -- let's be honest here -- completely fucking insane. On the other hand, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009 is an 80-page concluding chapter that costs $10 and is technically kind of self-contained in some vaguely superficial sense. And Alan Moore is the bad guy here?
Century 2009 will give the legions of fanboys feeling butt-hurt by Moore's lack of interest in superhero comics some more fuel for their straw-man arguments, but what's ultimately hilarious about this volume is that the guys making a comic that stretches the limits of "fair use" have created something far more vital and interesting than the thing it's at odds with -- a company producing a pile of comics that they're legally allowed to make.
This final issue of League Volume 3 opens 40 years after the ending of the previous installment (1969), where our volume's League of Mina Murray, Allan Quatermain and Orlando imploded. Mina's locked away and Allan's on that junk again, which leaves Orlando as the character of action, a soldier who spontaneously killed his entire squad in Q'Mar only to be mistaken as the only survivor of a bloody massacre. Back in England an in another feminine phase, Orlando gets motivated to bring the band back together to stop the Antichrist from bringing forth the Apocalypse.
Remember how League used to be? Back when America's Best Comics was a thing, Moore essentially had his own sequel to Watchmen where he (apparently) tried to lead the way in showing us what the superhero genre could do instead of just trying to reiterate and emulate Watchmen -- by tracing its ancestry (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), by taking its vestiges and re-growing them (Tom Strong), by coming up with clever hooks (Top Ten), by goddamn experimenting (Promethea). It's clear that that's not where Moore's interests lie anymore; the Black Dossier graphic novel signaled a pivoting as Moore took the concept of interacting disparate fictional characters and brought it into an era where he couldn't put (nor would be interested in putting) Omar Little and Jack Bauer on a superhero team.
But fanfic adventuring isn't really not the point of League anymore, is it? At least not in this volume. Moore's doing something different now, using these fictional characters to track the decay of culture and society -- to find out what's gone rotten in popular fiction through a story where our heroes have failed to stop an Antichrist from being born, and must now settle for just trying to stop it. Shit's gotten dire as the bright psychedelia of 1969 has dissipated, leaving only decay closer to the dark opening chapter, 1910. As such, the Brechtian diegetic musical numbers return, giving the overall series a sense of symmetry (in an Alan Moore comic? Pshaw!) as we make our way to the end.
As always, Moore and O'Neill litter their pages with intertextuality, except by this point a great deal of them them are instantly recognizable by people who have been alive and conscious for the last 30 years (especially if they're British). There are references to Doctor Who, Entourage, The Wire, James Bond, Arrested Development, Thomas the Tank Engine, 30 Rock, Little Britain and -- yup -- Harry Potter. When I say "litter," it's not an accident -- while Moore's hyperdetailed scripts have always suggested a busyness to the art that artists like Dave Gibbons, Gene Ha and O'Neill ended up handling swimmingly, often many of the background bits here seem to suggest a criticism/satire of modern culture and its dubious creative output. But, as always, if you miss minor cultural references, all is not lost.
Obviously, as part three of a three-part series, Century 2009 doesn't stand incredibly well on its own. Without context -- even just a cursory reading of the previous issues -- it's a where a woman searches for another woman, finds her, does some investigating and finds a monster before God comes in and saves the day. It certainly looks cool, but without the century-long buildup, it feels slight and damn-near meaningless if you haven't been reading along, but ultimately works once you realize what Moore and O'Neill are doing. The best approach to actually digging into this comic -- critically or just as a reader -- is to experience it in tandem with the prior installments but that's fodder for an essay*, not a standard(ish) review.
Outside of being a strange if oddly satisfying conclusion to a story several years in the making, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009 reminds us of the importance of Alan Moore, and of creators themselves. Ultimately, DC can make as many Watchmen comics as they financially see fit, but only Alan Moore can make an Alan Moore comic. I know which one I'd rather read.
*I know what my next big Comics Bulletin writing project is!
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.