Shiny Shelf

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen#2.2

By Stephen Lavington on 05 September 2002

As a relative newcomer to the world of comics I often ponder what it is that led me to start shelling out good money week after week for picture books made for kids. There are a number of answers; The Dark Knight Returns, the awesomely cool Ennis/Dillon John Constantine, the need to understand just what a ‘Crisis’ is and why the assertion that ‘Hawkman must be a pretty simple character. He’s just a man with the powers of a hawk surely?’ raised guffaws of mocking laughter. But foremost among these were the skills of Alan Moore. Watchmen, From Hell and Swamp Thing have all done their bit to topple me over the edge but picking up the collected editions of the first ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ was the final straw. And now Moore’s doing it all over again.

The plot of the latest adventures of Mina Murray, Alan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffen (The Invisible Man) and Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde were foreshadowed in the last panel of their first serial, and Moore and artist Kevin O’Neil have fulfilled all expectations with an awesome rendering of H G Wells introduction to the Martian invaders of War of the Worlds. The titanic space capsule, the invisible heat-ray and the ‘lumps of afterbirth’ of the Martians themselves all rendered perfectly with the wide-eyed wonder and terror of the Victorian crowds at the crash site expertly captured on paper.

The byplay of the individual Leaguers is also written brilliantly, from the delicate but firm leadership of Mina Murray to Quatermain’s bombastic cowardice to the scatological, profane but still recognizeably Victorian outbursts of Edward Hyde. Indeed, the internal politics of the group is of greater importance in this second run, whereas the first primarily concerned itself with their recruitment and battle with Fu Manchu, this one already has skullduggery and conflict at its heart.

The references to contemporary fiction are still there, though slightly reduced in the main story – after the myriad cameos in the first series one might wonder that there are any characters or settings of Victorian literature left to plunder. However, Moore swiftly confounds this with the comic’s second section; basically (a compendium of pretty much every period science fiction/ fantasy story ever written correction ends) brought together in the world of the League. What is best about this are the tangential references to other adventures of the League, as well as its earlier incarnations and foreign equivalents, adventures that are likely never to be fully told.

The League… provides a rich continuity, but one based on something other than a seventy year accumulation of superhero storylines. It is nice to recognize a pub sign from a Dickens novel, or the protagonist of a Powell/Pressburger film in a well written and beautifully drawn comic, a conceit that gives undeniably widespread appeal to committed comics fans and newbies alike.

Admittedly there are a lot of superhero team-up comics out there, but the setting of this one, not to mention the separate non-comic provenances of the characters, really sets this one apart. You would have to be an active hater of comics to have a reason not to buy this, and even then you’d be missing out on a great piece of work; an absolute must for both devoted comics fans and newbies like myself.

But please don’t bother telling me about Carter Hall, Kator Hol, Egyptian princes, archaeologists, Hawk Avatars or bloody Thanagar. I’ve heard enough to last me a lifetime.

Line Break

By Stephen Lavington

Comments are closed.