League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #1 Review
I published my review of the latest League adventure from masters Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill in the 2nd ish of Extra Sequential, but seeing as the book is coming out this month, I thought I’d run it here too, for those who haven’t read it. Obviously Moore and the League have a lot of fans, but Century may not live up to their expectations. Read on…
This third volume of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen opens at the bedside of a sweating man with feverish dreams involving a young lady swimming naked and cloaked cult members’ ambitions to create a Moonchild, whatever that may be. As the man, Tom Carnacki, the ghost finder wakes he speaks of his night-time adventures to his fellow team-mates, Orlando, A.J, Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain. Thus we are introduced to the latest batch of “gentlemen.” This has been an extraordinary series from the outset. Well, mostly. Writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, From Hell) and artist Kevin O’Neill unleashed their concept of famed adventurers from the annals of literature upon the world in 1999. Mina Harker, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula was tasked by British Intelligence to form a team and gathered Allan Quartermain, Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo and others along the way to saving London. The second volume was a great tie-in to H.G Wells’ War of the Worlds while the third was a stand-alone graphic novel entitled The Black Dossier. Dossier was not the high point that the first two series were, mainly due to its varied narrative and frequent use of Moore extras such as prose pieces, letters, maps and the like. The greatest asset throughout the series has been the constant relationship of Harker and Quartermain in the different time periods. Dossier was light on that but did fill in some details about other incarnations of the League, reminding comic readers again that Moore is no slouch when it comes to research.
Not nearly as accessible as the first two volumes, Century is the first to be published by Top Shelf, instead of DC Comics. This is the first in a trilogy of 80 page one-shots, with this introduction set in 1910. The next one will delve into the swinging 60s, with the finale set in the present day. That prospect intrigues me. However, this isn’t the Leagues’ greatest outing, though I am curious to see where it goes. O’Neill’s harsh lines are perfect to Moore’s creation, with it’s dark humour, nudity and brutal violence and he makes the most with the dirty world they inhabit. League has always been unashamedly gritty and multi-layered, like most of Moore’s work, but League has always been, not surprisingly, his most literary series. You either feel smarter for having read it, or dumber for not grasping the references to works of fiction scattered throughout each page. Student of literature will continue to have a field day with this series.
The problem with Century is that there is simply too much going on. I know doubting Moore’s genius is like slapping Shakespeare, but whereas the first two volumes were just manic fun with a boy’s own adventure feel stamped all over it, this feels unnecessarily complex. The number of characters is greater than a Cecil B. DeMille film and the League gets diluted because of it. Saying that, I’ll attempt to break down the plot as best I can. Here goes…
The woman from Tom’s dream, Jenny Diver walks past a popular reproduction of Captain Nemo’s impressive battle ship, Nautilus and discovers from Nemo’s old friend Ishmael that the Captain’s last wish was to give his recently changed beauty of a ship to his only child. The crew need a Captain, but the stubborn woman doesn’t want to be any such thing. She eventually changes her mind for some reason and goes on a mad rampage.
Tom, along with Mina, new League member Orlando (known as he-she, behind his/her back), thief A.J Raffles and Quartermain (who is introduced as his own to avoid suspicions of his newly gained immortality presumably) visit the Merlin Society. While the team wanders around a room full of occultists, A.J does some snooping around and the team discover Doomsday premonitions from magicians Simon Iff and Oliver Haddo. Tom eventually barges into the cult’s HQ and sees the events of his dream played out before him -almost. Amongst all this, there’s plenty of singing from various characters espousing exposition, claims that Orlando posed for the Mona Lisa, and wields the famed sword Excalibur, the return of a famed serial killer and a meeting with Andrew Norton a figurative prisoner of London. All of these characters and more are from old novels, though don’t ask me which ones, and they do serve a purpose in moving the story. However I think Moore needed to restrain himself. The majority of the scenes, and singing, just appear indulgent. This could have been a tale with fewer pages and it would have been a lot less shambolic. References to actual events of the time, such as King George V’s coronation, as well as the events of the brilliant previous series help give this perspective, but it’s not enough.
Fans of Watchmen will be familiar with typical Moore devices, particularly the panels that are filled with details that go over this uneducated fanboy’s head. After reading Century, I’m still a fan, but one of the earlier, and simpler tales. I don’t mean to say that I’m a fan of the much-diluted film version (which made Sean Connery retire from cinema) but Century has gone too far the other way. This is strictly for League lovers only. However, I am curious to see where the next two one-shots venture forth. League is far too grand an idea to let go just yet.