The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest

By Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, with Ben Dimagmaliw, Todd Klein, Charles Barnard, Christian LeBlanc, Joe Brown & various (Top Shelf/Knockabout)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-282-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Fantastical Celebration of All That’s Profoundly Us… 10/10

The Victorian era saw the birth of both popular and populist publishing, particularly the genres of fantasy and adventure fiction. Writers of varying skill unleashed unbounded imaginations, expounding personal concepts of honour and heroism, wedded unflinchingly to the innate belief in English Superiority. 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 should be played.

For all the problems this raises with modern sensibilities, many of the stories remain uncontested classics of literature and form the roadmap for all modern fictional heroes. Open as they are to charges of racism, sexism (even misogyny), class bias and cultural imperialism, the cream of them remain the greatest of all yarns.

In 1999, an august selection of just such intrepid prototypes were seconded by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill for a miniseries saying as much about our world as that long-gone one; craftily relating a captivating tale as compelling as any of its antecedents.

In short succession there was an inevitable sequel, once more pressing into service vampire-tainted Wilhelmina Murray, aged Great White Hunter Allan Quatermain, Invisible Man Hawley Griffin, the charismatic piratical genius Captain Nemo and both cultured Dr. Henry Jekyll and his bombastic alter-ego Mister Hyde. As the concept grew – seemingly of its own volition – it eventually encompassed the best and brightest of the planet’s fictive print pantheon from drama, books and comics.

The idea of combining shared cultural brands is not new: Philip Jose Farmer in particular spun many a yarn teaming such worthies as Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Tarzan and their like; Warren Ellis succumbed to similar temptation in Planetary and Jasper Fforde worked literary miracles with the device in his Thursday Next novels, but the sheer impetus of Moore & O’Neill’s para-steampunk revisionism, rush of ideas (and the stunning, startling visuals that carry them) make this book (and all the previous ones) form an irresistible experience and absolute necessity for every fiction fan, let alone comic collector.

Now, after two decades and numerous further sequels and iterations – dotted like stations of the cross through periods of history both utterly imaginary and consensually real – the saga closes with a final chronicle pulling together all the strings of plot and parodies involving these beloved immortal characters, rendered in a startling array of styles from slapstick bigfoot cartoons to realistically-rendered girl’s comics to OTT, hyperkinetic Sci Fi pastiches, the doomed 1960s UK superhero boom and more. There’s even room – and necessity – for sections rendered in 3D (glasses included, kids!) and Fumetti photo stories. Oh, the debilitating force of that nostalgia!

This last volume focuses most ardently on the British comics canon, memorialising past monuments of mirth and mayhem through deftly managed pastiche and homage whilst also incorporating film and TV’s greatest icons as it draws its ever-fluctuating cast into a vast time-bending crisis designed by devious villains to end and remake all existences…

You don’t want me to spoil the deliriously crafted intricacies of this yarn but just let me throw some other names at you: Jerry Cornelius; Captain Universe; Ayesha; Justin – or is it Mark? – Tyme; Tommy Walls; Jason King; James Bond (all of them); the Purple Hood; Quatermass and a leather-clad 1960s daredevil dubbed Emma something, all interacting with subtly altered (curse you, intellectual properties laws) characters you know but can’t mention aloud…

As previously stated, each chapter (first released as six oversized comicbooks) is framed in the style of a bygone British periodical and begins with ‘Illustrated Masterpieces: The Tempest’ laying the trail as the wonders of the Earth are systematically destroyed, forcing a band of protagonists (no actual heroes here!) to undertake a fantastic voyage to stranger places and times in hope of averting impending Armageddon…

Further intrigue unfolds in ‘TV Tempest 2010: Adventures in the Present Century’ as forces malign and benign gather whilst ‘Mina – for Young Ladies’ further stirs the pot as pasts and futures collide with a most fragile present…

A rambunctious paean to Albion’s comedy capers comes via ‘Tempest – incorporating Thud! Gurgle! and Whimper!’, and our cheesy knockoff reprint era is channelled in ‘Blazing Worlds’ before trans-cosmic catastrophe is averted(ish) for earthlets and other sentients in Thrill-throbbing conclusion ‘2010 A.D.’

Since each chapter celebrates an era of homegrown tomfoolery, there’s opportunity for a well-drafted balancing of historical scales. Bringing a tear of injustice to most eyes is a linked prose series of potted biographies memorialising and championing some of our greatest creators.

Leo Baxendale, Frank Bellamy, Marie Duval, Ken Reid, Denis McLoughlin and Ron Turner were all uniformly and deliberately used, abused and written out of history in the name of corporate dominance, and here Al & Kev strike a blow in their name. After looking them up online, you can read the less studious impartial (and therefore more accurate and honest) appreciation of their talents, achievements and fates here…

Celebrating our long-cherished love affair with comic cuts, this epic wheeze treats us to a tantalising taste of gloriously cheap, tawdry and irresistibly wonderful pop entertainment, intended for momentary juvenile diversion, but which locked us all into our own childhoods forever.

An undeserved but so welcome treat for a lost generation of British comics apologists who can now hold their heads a little higher as all the weird, cheap, shamefully knocked off, knocked out yet secretly adored cartoon ephemera of childhood is granted a measure of validity and immortality.

It’s enough to make you join a library and read some other very interesting books…

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume 4: The Tempest © & ™ 2019 Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill. All Rights Reserved.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest will be released on November 28th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads see Knockabout Comicsand Top Shelf Productions