The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume one

By Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, with Ben Dimagmaliw & Bill Oakley (America’s Best Comics/DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-665-1 (HB) 978-1-56389-858-7 (TPB)

The Victorian era saw the birth of both popular and populist publishing, especially in the sub-genres of fantasy and adventure fiction.

Writers – and accompanying illustrators – of varying skill, but possessed of unbounded imaginations, explored and proselytized the concepts of honour and heroism, wedded unflinchingly to the underlying core-belief of English Supremacy in matters of culture and technology. In all worlds and even beyond them, the British gentleman took on all comers for Right and Decency, viewing danger as a game and showing “Johnny Foreigner” just how that game was played.

In today’s poisoned political environment, it’s rather odd to see so much of that dated and offensive rhetoric revived and bombarding us from venal politicians’ untrustworthy mouths and online arsenals without a hint or trace of the splendid irony used in this delicious exercise in retro-imagination…

For all the faults our modern sensibilities can – or at least should – detect in those stirring sagas, many of them remain unshakable classics of adventure and the roadmap of all modern fictional heroes. Open as they are to charges of Racism, Sexism (and Misogyny; so, so much misogyny), Class Bias and Cultural Imperialism, the best of them remain the greatest of all our store of communally-shared ripping yarns.

As heroic prototypes, a gaggle of these Imperialist icons were fabulously deputized by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill for a six-issue miniseries in 1999 (coloured by Ben Dimagmaliw and lettered by Bill Oakley) which managed to say as much or more about our modern world as that far ago one, and incidentally tell a truly captivating tale as compelling as any of its antecedents.

Available in deluxe hardcover, trade paperback, digital editions and omnibus collections, the story is also one of the best superhero exploits you’ll ever read, all presented as a faux seasonal compendium of that bygone age, with puzzles, paint-by numbers pages, pin-ups, a cover gallery and text features (such as novella ‘Allan and the Sundered Veil’ gilding the lily: a book no fan of fiction should miss.

Wilhelmina Murray survived a clash with a supernatural bloodsucking monster but was forever altered by the encounter. Some years later, recruited by British Secret Service chief Campion Bond, she is charged with organising a team of superior operatives to defeat an insidious foreign menace growing within the very heart of the British Empire. To this end, she circles the globe and convinces the greatest hero and most iniquitous outlaws of the era to band together.

Aged Great White Hunter Allan Quatermain is unlikely company for Invisible Man Hawley Griffin, Captain Nemo and Mister Hyde, although diffident and cultured Dr. Henry Jekyll can be considered a suitable companion for a widow under almost any circumstance…

Despite differences of class, honour, attitude, morality and disposition, together they ultimately foil a most dastardly plot only to discover that all is not as it seems…

The story grew beyond the authors’ avowed expectations of “a kind of Victorian Justice League” to become a veritable steampunk classic, with fin de siècle technology, trappings, expectations and attitudes, to establish itself as a powerful allegory for our own millennial end of days, and the act of its creation materialising as a game for creator and reader alike as every character in the tale was culled from existing works of literature and the audience all-but-dared to identify them…

The wit, artifice and whimsy of the compelling mystery – for that, gentle reader is what it is – as well as the vast, complex array of sub-texts and themed extras (such as faux advertising broadsheets woven into the text) all add to a truly immersive experience the inevitable film adaptation could not match.

To be Clear. This book is better than the movie. Do not watch it. Read This!

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an incredible work of scholarship and artistry recast into a fabulous pastiche of an entire literary movement. It’s also a brilliant piece of comics wizardry of the sort that no other art form can touch.

If you haven’t seen the film – and even more so if you have – I urge you to read this. And then you can start in on Dickens, Rider Haggard, Stevenson, Wells, Verne, Conan Doyle, Stoker, Rohmer and all the glorious rest…
© 1999, 2000 Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill. All Rights Reserved.