Review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (part 2)
It was the best of books, and the worst of books… Last week I told you about one of my favorites, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This week I will continue the theme and tell you why that tired old line, paraphrased from Dickens, is as true about this comic trilogy as it ever was in A Tale of Two Cities. The sad fact is that trilogies seem tailor-made for uneven performances – just ask fans Star Wars or The Matrix; there just seems to be something about the format that is doomed to failure. In The case the trilogy currently under discussion though, we have – in my opinion, one good book, one great book, and one self-indulgent book.
Alan Moore’s career in the comic book industry is both storied and stormy, and much of that is reflected in this series in particular, as it was printed at several different publishers. I won’t bore you with the details, but they are available here if you are interested.
As before I will limit spoilers to specifics available only at the very beginning of each book, with broad strokes thereafter, so as not to discourage you from going out and reading these books if you have not already.
First, the good: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume II is, in my mind, the best book of the whole seris. All your old favorites from the previous volume make an appearance, and no League book would be complete without new and bizarre cameos. The story opens on Mars, where John Carpenter and Gulliver are prepared to go to war with a whole slew of classic martian pulp at their backs. This sets in motion a series of events which results in tripods attacking the Earth in a true War of the Worlds brawl. Ever wondered what Victorian super heroes fighting Victorian aliens would look like? Now you can find out.
This book ranks above its predecessor in my eyes for two reasons. The first is that the culmination, the actual fight wherein the heroes have it out with the baddies tied in far more with literature we are all familiar with, and because of that it feels more epic. The second reason is that the characters feel much more real in this edition. I told you last time that it was the character’s flaws that carried the day, and everything I said then is still true now, but more so. They betray one another for reasons that make sense, they fight, and sometimes even die. Unlike the previous tale, there are even threads of romance. In fact, this volume of League has, without a doubt, two of the strangest sex sequences you are ever likely to see. Though implied, and tasteful each of them are guaranteed to give you pause and titillate in equal measure. I highly recommend this book.
The Black Dossier on the other hand, I don’t have much praise for. While technically not volume three (That would be Centuries, a three-part graphic novel epic that has not yet been fully released) this book is certainly filling that role for now. Rather it is meant to be a source book to provide background on the universe in which the League books take place.
This book is less a comic, and more an experiment in mixed media. All of the League comics included short evocative stories that I found to be entertaining. This book is a collection of short stories with short sections of comic to tie them together. Some of them are interesting, some of them are difficult to follow, and all of them have two things in common: they are strongly influenced by other sources in the same way all of the League’s main characters are, and sex.
You heard me. This book has more pages with sex on it than those that don’t I have always appreciated when writers include sex as a motivation for characters, as it is a major motivation for most people; a story without at least allusions to sex feels flat or limited. This book is the opposite. It is hard not to find story lines that are not about sex. You know all those pieces of fiction I mentioned? At least three of them are nothing more than historical (and illustrated) sexual romps. It was actually very disappointing to read.
If you take all of that away, the story is okay – there just isn’t much left. The story opens in a post Ing-Soc world, where England is struggling to get out of the shadow of Big Brother. I thought this was very clever, as it strongly implies that everything that happened before in the League chronology was factually accurate, and erased or turned into works of fiction. We follow two character’s: Allan and Mina, as they seek out the Black Dossier, a folio containing all manner of secret histories, and later follow up on the facts and clues contained within. The book itself is meant to be a character in the story, and as such is supposed to be wonderfully printed on a variety of stock, and using a variety of techniques to make it qualitatively different from most of the mass-market graphic novels on the market today.
On a scale of 1-10, I would rate the books in order: a 6.5/10 (Part I), a 7.5/10 (Part 2), and a 3.5 (Dossier). The first two are must reads for any serious comic book fan, and the third is really only worthwhile if you absolutely fall in love with the world of League. Anyone out there have different opinions on the subject? Let’s talk about it.