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The Redoubtable Alan Moore (Pt. IV)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Go to Part I / Go to Part II / Go to Part III

This is coming really late.  That should not really surprise any regular readers of this blog (if we have any), given that everything we write about tends to be months or years after the fact.  The Internet is all about promptness, and that we are not.  For this — humble apologies.  We come from a more genteel time.

However, if you’re a big Alan Moore fan and you just adore reading anything and everything you can about Mr. Moore and his comic-book exploits in the Blazing World of the imagination, then we do have something to offer you, namely our ongoing series on the Northampton wizard and some of his works.  I say some, because if you’re astute, you’ll realize we’ve only really touched on the mainstream Moore stuff here, and this whole post will ergo simply be more of the same — all League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, all the time.  If you’re a purist (read: geeky dickhead) and this offends you, then, well, keep reading and be offended.  If you’re not, then rejoice in the coming glory.  As you can see, though, I’m flying solo on this one; hopefully Beal will re-appear in these pages at some point later on.

In Which Alan Writes a Short Story Collection

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier is an interesting piece of work; half-comic, half-prose, it is an ambitious literary experiment in what was already an ambitious series in that it takes the model from the first two volumes (using characters and settings from Victorian-era pulp entertainment to create the world of the League) and expands it to nothing less than the entirety of existence — everything from H.P Lovecraft’s ‘Great Old One’ demons who roamed the earth before the dawn of civilization, to an Orwellian totalitarian society set up in Britain after WWII.  Also sprinkled in for good measure are various references to ‘exotic religions of the East’ and such, which perfectly compliment the fictional elements in their sense of being fantastical, and especially fantastical to the minds of the day the League is operating in.  The way that Moore brings together these countless disparate elements of the historical imagination is very reminiscent of Jorges Luis Borges, who undoubtedly has to be considered the progenitor of such a style, and it’s simply one more layer of pastiche that Moore is able to weave into this book, which, by and large, is both a shining example of, and homage to, the technique of pastiche itself.

The ‘short stories’ that he includes are all taken from the eponymous Black Dossier, a book compiled by the ‘1984-style’ government about the history of the League that a now immortal Mina Murry and Allan Quartermain steal and attempt to keep safe while on the run from government agents; the reader is taken through the stories as Murry and Quartermain ‘read’ them during the downtime of their escape.  Again, while I think this is a very strong concept, and I would say it’s a success based solely on concept alone, there were times where I found myself less than interested in some of the actual stories themselves.

For example, while I revelled in the historical scope and details of the history of Orlando, that forever young, gender-shifting solider of fortune, I have to admit I skipped entirely the ‘lost’ Shakespeare play Faerie’s Fortunes Founded; while I give Moore full-marks for doing something like this, at the end of the day I want to read a comic book for a quick and relaxing, though still hopefully interesting, adventure story, and so delving into the head-space needed to tackle Olde Englishe and iambic pentameter at that moment didn’t really appeal to me.  Including Fanny Hill as a member of one of the older iterations of the League was an interesting choice, as really her only ability seems to be her sexual prowess, and I’m not sure how that would have actually contributed to the success of the League in her time; there’s actually quite an ‘extraordinary’ (pun intended) amount of sex in this book — perhaps since Lost Girls, Moore has gotten much more feisty.  Not that I’m complaining, of course — I never mind a good little titillating aside — but I do admit it seems somewhat out of place here, unless it’s to add to and fill out the larger theme of the whole book, which is to revel in the glory of imagination and adventure, for of course sex is best when it’s imaginative and adventurous.

It’s at this point that Moore gives us what we arguably want the most: more stories involving the ‘classic’ roster of the League from Vols. I & II.  The brief description of Mina retrieving Nemo from Lincoln Isle seems like leftover, what he intended to originally begin Vol. I with but did not have the space for, but the whole section detailing the League’s encounter in 1913 with their French counterparts Les Hommes Mysterieux ends up the opposite: great material that becomes a glorious opportunity wasted.  At the time that Moore and Kevin O’Neil were planning and writing the Dossier they were in the midst of a nasty contractual tete-a-tete with DC Comics, and it’s possible that Moore believed this would have to be the final League book; because of this, perhaps he included this — a story that might actually have been intended as the entire next Volume — for fear it would never see the light of day otherwise.  Of course, we now know that the series has been continued and so this narrative could have been saved and used in Century; even if this wasn’t his original intention, it’s still what I would have wanted to see, given how good the premise of an English/French/German League triangle-struggle leading up to WWI is.

The Sal Paradise thing — also didn’t read it.  The Jeeves and Wooster one was entertaining.

Finally, of course, there is the overall narrative in which all these stories are interspersed — Mina and Allan with the Dossier, on the run from James ‘Jimmy’ Bond and Emma ‘Knight’ Peel, trying to get back to the Blazing World at the North Pole where their companions are currently hiding out.  This is the best part of the whole book, obviously, and bringing the realm of 1950s-era rocketry and space-travel fiction into it made for some great visual material, not to mention ‘action-packed suspense;’ it’s also where the main theme of the whole project, mentioned earlier — that of revelling in the glory of imagination and adventure — is given a didactic airing with a little monologue from Prospero (of The Tempest fame).  My big regret is that I was not able to see the Blazing World in all its 3D glory; maybe I should scrounge up a pair of 3D glasses and see if it works on a computer screen.

All Signs Point To An End

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III — Century: 1910 is the first chapter of what will presumably be the final LoEG story, a three-part epic spanning one hundred years from events and characters first introduced in the Black Dossier to those which currently reside solely in Mr. Moore’s obviously cavernous brain, and we won’t receive chapters two and three until 2010 and 2011, respectively.  He does give us hints about those future offerings, however; in fact, 1910 seems to function almost solely as premise and background for the next two chapters.

Whether Moore, having used up the great Hommes Mysterieux story, had to choose something else to work with, or whether it had been the intention all along, he flushes out in 1910 a brief mention in the Dossier of the League working to prevent disaster at the Royal Coronation, and meeting a mysterious person known only as ‘Diver;’ this turns into a tale about a cult looking to harness the power of a ‘moonchild’ for some seemingly nefarious purpose, the return to London of Jack the Ripper (not this one, another one), the appearance of a mysterious time-traveller, and the newest incarnations of both the Nautilus and Captain Nemo — the new Nemo being the old Prince Dakkar’s daughter, Janni, the mysterious ‘Diver’ mentioned earlier, who gets her revenge on part of London, bombarding it with the ‘Black’ Nautilus, after having been gang-raped when she was simply trying to earn a wage as a scullery-maid.

It all sounds quite exciting, but as far as action — and plot development, for that matter — go, there really isn’t much here; the next chapter will take place in the late 1960s, which means that Janni/Nemo and the Black Nautilus will most likely not be reappearing, making her story somewhat redundant, at least plot-wise — all the major happenings regarding the overarching Oliver Haddo cult ‘moonchild’ story will take place in chapters two and three.  So why tell it?  One reason that springs to mind would be that, with this being the first part, there obviously couldn’t be any sort of resolution regarding the plot, and Janni’s story provided a convenient excuse for an action sequence at the end.  But it also comes down to thematics.

We’ve talked at length in the previous posts about Moore’s favoured modus operandi of inserting, or even basing an entire book around, social commentary and moralizing, and this is actually another example of that, the topics here being something like ‘the oppressed have a right to fight back,’ and ‘let he who has never sinned cast the first stone’ and ‘we need to solve the problem of the major disparity between higher and lower social and economic classes.’  This is actually done pretty explicitly throughout the book with the songs of the minor characters Jack and Suki, and of course Janni utterly destroying her rapists, and everything around them, is an example of getting revenge against oppressors.  It’s slightly irksome when things like this are done so obviously — and perhaps that’s why Moore couches it all in song, to try and make it less ‘heavy’ — but it’s fine because it’s not enough to detract from the overall narrative, slight as it is; again, reading this is more preparation for what’s to come than anything else.

To help us along in that regard, whetting our appetites and filling in the chronological gap between this chapter and the next, we’re given a short prose piece at the end called Minions of the Moon, which, among other things, further highlights the overall importance the moon is going to play in Century, but also gives us many little interesting tidbits, such as that in this interim period Mina tries to form her own group of costumed superheroes, which ultimately fails; that mankind has established colonies on the moon despite the fact that there are native species already there who just happen to be warring with each other; and that, at the end of Vol. I, when Prof. Moriarty flew off into space with the Cavorite, he simply froze into a big chunk of ice and has been orbiting the Earth ever since.  That last one was a nice touch.

So — this will potentially be the last Alan Moore post for another couple of years, if we plan to only focus on LoEG and wait until Century is wrapped up to talk about it.  But maybe we’ll delve into his lesser-known works if we get bored of waiting.  Only time will tell.


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