About the Author:
Alan Moore was born in England and began scripting comic books in 1980.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
4.3 out of 5
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century - 1910
(Art by Kevin O'Neill)
Part one of three, which collectively make up the third volume of the League series. Featuring a reconstituted League; with the immortals Allan Quartermain, Mina Murray and Orlando, as well as the occult detective Thomas Carnacki and the gentleman thief A. J. Raffles. The League is tasked with investigating premonitions of an impending apocalypse whilst in London's Docklands, a young woman is about to come into her own as the successor of Captain Nemo.
I was very glad that I did soldier on through the often-tedious Traveller Almanac in Volume II (see my review below) because it's vital to understanding the status quo for where this book opens; with Allan young and masquerading as his own son, as well as being immortal with Mina and Orlando (from the Virgina Woolfe novel). If you go into this having only read the actual illustrated parts of the last book, you may well be confused.
It has to be said that the plot of this book isn't brilliant, serving more to set up a number of story threads to be paid off in later books. However, despite that, it's still a pleasure to spend time in this intricately created world with its complex characters who have long-since outgrown their origins as borrowed famous literary faces. On top of that we also get to see the compelling story of Jenny Diver, who rejects her legacy as Nemo's daughter and strikes out on her own, only to have a harsh dose of reality which hardens her far more than her upbringing ever did.
4 out of 5
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century - 1969
(Art by Kevin O'Neill)
Part two of the Century trilogy. Mina Murray, Allan Quartermain and Orlando return to London to once again confront and hopefully disrupt the apocalyptic plans of the occultist Oliver Haddo and his followers.
Reading this book I suddenly realised how much extra credit I'd given 'Century: 1910' simply for being a continuation of the series that I really enjoyed in its first two volumes. Luckily, that book also managed to keep enough of the aesthetic of the original two books that it felt like part of the same story, even if, realistically, it was somewhat lacking in plot.
Here, however, the dip in quality from the original two volumes is much more obvious. The reason it's so obvious is that, with the story moving into the 60s, the Victoriana aesthetic has long-since lapsed and is replaced with a faux version of that decade that feels like something out of an Austin Powers movie. Speaking entirely for myself, it was my love of 19th Century literature that made me fall in love with the original iteration of this series and now that those connections are no longer predominant, the shine has very much worn off.
That's not to say that there aren't things to like here; such as seeing Mina desperately trying to fend off the ennui of immortality by engaging with the present era, or seeing the free love and predominant drug use of the 60s sending Allan back into bad habits. But there's just not enough good stuff to outweigh that feeling that the magic of the original League has been lost.
3 out of 5
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume I
(Art by Kevin O'Neill)
It is 1898 and British spy Campion Bond enlists the services of the unconventional Miss Mina Murray to populate his 'Menagerie', gathering together extraordinary individuals such as Captain Nemo, Allan Quartermain, Dr. Jekyll and the Invisible Man. Operating against the crimelord Doctor Fu Manchu, they believe they are working as agents of the British government, but there is more to Bond's superior, the mysterious 'M', than any of them guess at first.
I avoided this series for a long time because of my love for 19th Century adventure/science fiction/horror and have always hated when writers appropriate characters from other people's great works of literature. I felt vindicated in that viewpoint after watching the movie version; a film so bad that it convinced the legend Sean Connery to quit acting forever (it also came out at a time when strip-mining 19th Century literature was popular with big blockbusters - see the equally terrible 'Van Helsing'). Of course, everyone who'd read the book said that the film was nothing like it, but nevertheless, I wasn't tempted.
I should, of course, have had more faith in Alan Moore. His greatest talent is deconstructing heroes and here he sets about doing so with ones who are far more deeply ingrained in our culture than even the most prominent modern comics heroes. But this isn't just exploitation of these famous characters, the attention to detail in their personas and the world around them can only have come from a genuine appreciation of the source material. And the authors referenced cover almost the entirety of speculative fiction of the era (including H. Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson, H. P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, Ian Fleming, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells), with elements from any number of stories from it hidden amongst the more obvious ones.
Perhaps the most important way that Moore uses these characters is to have them be past the time of their famous adventures and dealing with what life afterwards entails. For Quartermain and Nemo, for example, this means that they are old and have seen their glory days fade, leaving them broken and bitter respectively. Or Jekyll and Griffin (the Invisible Man), who have simply come to accept the monstrous sides of their natures. However, the stand out character is Mina; divorced and publicly disgraced for her dalliance with Dracula at a time in history where such things were unthinkable for a respectable woman. Unlike in the film, where she's basically a vampire herself, Mina here has no special powers and yet manages to be the most formidable of the League. She has an iron will and determination, little tolerance for her misogynistic colleagues and still manages to be entirely in touch with her femininity. In a world surrounded by masculine dominance, Mina is undoubtedly the one in charge and I loved that.
Respectful and insightful in regard to the sources it draws on, whilst not afraid to view them in a more modern and enlightened way, this book also manages to be the rollicking adventure story that is it's paper-thin disguise. The message is; never judge a book by it's big-budget Hollywood adaption.
5 out of 5
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume II
(Art by Kevin O'Neill)
Following directly on from the first volume, this book sees England attacked by tripods from Mars, with only the League standing in their way. Outmatched by the aliens' technology and betrayed from within, the League desperately seek some way to defend London from destruction.
First off, I will say that, whilst I should not have been surprised (given Volume I), I found the unexpected way that Moore blends the Martians of H. G. Wells with the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs to be a really inspired idea. However, somewhat less seamless is the inclusion of Dr. Moreau and his creations; which include a brutish version of Rupert the Bear, and which felt rather out of place.
Having introduced the main characters in the first volume, Moore uses this second adventure to begin to develop them. Mina's frostiness and isolation begins to thaw, Quartermain comes to terms with his age problems, Griffin's lack of morals follows to its inevitable end and Hyde becomes surprisingly self aware. The only character who doesn't really get much to do in this book is Nemo. On the subject of Mina and Allan, however, I have to say that whilst their growing romantic connection is well-founded and done in keeping with both of their character arcs, I honestly never needed to see a skinny-old-man-sex-scene in visual form.
So, overall, the main body of the book is very good but, admittedly, not quite as good as the first book.
However, this book also collects the Travellers Almanac which was published in part in each of the original comics and it proves to be something of a two-edged sword. On the one hand it greatly expands the world in which these stories are set and there is some great entertainment to be found in puzzling out an obscure literary reference, but on the other hand the Almanac is forty-odd pages of three-columned prose which, for the most part, amounts to listing fictional island names. Whilst interesting overall, the actual reading of it rapidly became tedious. I would have elected to simply skip it as non-essential 'bonus material' except that it rapidly becomes clear that it contains story points which are vitally important to the continuing tales of the characters from the main book and that these points are essential to understand later books in the series. It by no means ruins the book as a whole, but it really should've been trimmed to a fraction of the size.
4 out of 5
V For Vendetta
(Art by David Lloyd)
To understand 'V For Vendetta', you have to understand the times in which it was written. Britain of the 1980s was wracked by recession and with discontent against the Conservative government. Hanging over this was the ever-present Cold War mentality. The premise of this book is that the Conservative government are voted out (as Moore expected at the time, but which didn't come to pass) and the new Labour government insists on nuclear disarmament. So it is that when the Cold War becomes World War 3, Britain is uninvolved, but not unaffected.
As nuclear fallout affects the weather and radiation causes widespread death, a fascist regime rises to offer England stability and order. The price for this is the internment and execution of blacks, homosexuals, liberals and all those who don't conform to the fascist ideals. The future Moore paints is a bleak and painfully believable one. However, one man decides to destroy this new order so that freedom can be rebuilt from the rubble. The man is known only as V.
When it comes down to it, V is the greatest element of this book. He's cultured, witty, mysterious, charismatic and ruthless. Also, David Lloyd's design of the character as a man dressed in a smiling mask and Guy Fawkes costume is inspired. My favourite bit of the book is when V sneaks into the home of a child-abusing bishop and confronts the corrupt clergyman with a Rolling Stones quote; 'Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste'.
There are numerous other characters integral to the story; the widow Rose, forced to become a stripper; the Leader, an insane fascist in love with Fate, the computer which effectively controls England; as well as the various heads of the Party. However, there are two characters who reveal about V what he never reveals himself. The first is Mr. Finch, a police officer tasked with hunting down V, who undertakes a personal quest to understand V's mind (which includes an LSD trip in a death camp). The other character is Evey. At the beginning she is a helpless girl who turns to prostitution to make ends meet. However, after meeting V she begins an education at his hands in the meaning of freedom which breaks her and then remakes her.
At its most basic level this book is about freedom, both personal freedom and freedom as an abstract concept. Dark, disturbing and thought-provoking, this book still manages to be exciting and uplifting. Certainly one of the best pieces of literature (not just comic-form) that I've ever read.
5 out of 5
(Art by Dave Gibbons)
In an alternate 20th Century, where the advent of superheroes dramatically changed the course of the Cold War, a masked vigilante called The Comedian is murdered. This sets in motion a chain of events which takes the world to the edge of nuclear apocalypse whilst its costumed heroes, most disillusioned and retired, try to understand what is happening.
It's very hard to write a new review of 'Watchmen', since Moore's seminal graphic novel has been explored and dissected countless times since its publication in the mid-eighties. Also, its hard to convey the importance of this book to those who've grown up with comics of later days. The reason for this is twofold; the first aspect being that it is very much a product of the Cold War and of the sense in the 80s that armageddon could literally be weeks away. It's hard for those of us whose adult lives happened after collapse of Russian communism to appreciate the tension living under the threat of nuclear war imparted on the day to day psyche of the world. The other thing that makes the context of this book hard to convey these days is that everything that came after it was affected by it in some way.
These days the idea of deconstructing superheroes or setting them in a grimly realistic world is so commonplace as to almost be cliche. However, before 'Watchmen' came around comics were (not exclusively, but largely) a far less complex affair, rarely aimed exclusively at adult readers. Here, though, Moore sets out from page one to write a proper novel, with important things to say about the human condition, but told with the aid of the visual medium (hence this being the only graphic novel on Time Magazine's 100 Best Novels list).
This book has more layers to it than an onion and tackles everything from the complexities of human sexual interaction to the insanity of Cold War sabre-rattling. And, of course, it tackles superheroes. Here we get to explore a range of psychological profiles of why someone would put on a mask and cape to fight crime and we learn that even superheroes are human, with all our flaws, neuroses and contradictions. Among those presented here is a character who commits an unthinkable atrocity in the name of world peace and another who refuses to compromise his morality, but is nevertheless a right-wing psychopath. For me the most interesting superhero of this book is Dr. Manhattan (although, of course, Rorschach is my favourite) since he's clearly an extrapolation of Superman. Genuinely, what would it mean for world politics if a being of such power arose in America and, perhaps more importantly, why should a godlike being such as him even care about humanity.
Not to be read lightly, but this is undoubtedly the best graphic novel I've ever read (although, once again, not my favourite; that honour belongs to Moore's 'V For Vendetta')
5 out of 5