By Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout)
The Victorian era saw the birth of mass publishing, particularly in imaginative, entertaining escapist popular literature. The modern genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror and adventure all grew out of the latter half of the 19th century. Writers of varying skill and unshackled imagination recounted personal concepts of honour and heroism, wedded unflinchingly to an unshakable belief in English Superiority. In all worlds and even beyond them the British gentleman took on all comers for Right and Decency, regarding danger as a game and showing “Johnny Foreigner” just how that game should be played.
For all the problems such material might raise with modern sensibilities, most of these stories remain uncontested as classics of literature, generating all the archetypes for modern fictional heroes. Open as they are to charges of Racism, Sexism (even misogyny), Class Bias and Cultural Imperialism the best of them remain the greatest of all ripping yarns.
An august selection of some of these prototypical champions were seconded by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill at the end of the last century, resulting in two more great books about great heroes.
In Century: 1910 the first of a tryptich delineating the hundred years following the previous shared exploits of vampire-tainted Wilhelmina Murray, Great White Hunter Allan Quatermain, Invisible Man Hawley Griffin, charismatic “Hindoo” savant Captain Nemo and Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mister Hyde, the repercussions of both League of Extraordinary Gentleman volumes I and II are being felt through a shaky Empire still recovering from a Martian Invasion.
It is twelve years later and Nemo lies dying. His daughter Janni escapes his deathbed wishes and proclamations, fleeing to England on a ship which also carries the returning Jack the Ripper. Once “Mack the Knife” resumes his old occupation, psychic ghost-breaker Carnacki begins receiving troubling visions which might impact upon the upcoming coronation of the new King.
As ever spymaster Mycroft Holmes is on top of the situation and assigns Miss Harker, Quartermain, gender-optional immortal Orlando, gentleman thief Raffles and time traveller Andrew Norton to deal with the colliding events, but opposition from a circle of magicians led by “the most wicked man that ever lived” threaten to undo everybody’s plans. Meanwhile Janni’s fortunes have been ill-starred and she resignedly takes charge of the super-vessel Nautilus to exact a terrible vengeance…
Moore’s astounding imagination and vast cultural reservoir have provided the detail-fiends with another elite selection of literary and popular culture touchstones to enhance the proceedings, and this darkly sardonic tale is illustrated with the usual brilliance of the graphic-compulsive Kevin O’Neill.
This certainly bodes well for the future of a concept far too good to abandon. Just be glad there are no more films to tarnish the glister of this superb series…
This book is another fascinating blend of scholarship, imagination and artistry recast into a fabulous pastiche of an entire literary movement. It’s also a brilliant piece of comics magic of a sort no other art form can touch, and just as with the previous volumes there is a text feature at the back, which some might find a little wordy.
Read it anyway: it’s there for a reason and is more than worth the effort as it further outlines the antecedents of the League in an absorbing and stylish manner. It might also induce you to read some other very interesting books…
© & ™2009 Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill. All Rights Reserved.