Shiny Shelf

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910

By Jim Smith on 03 May 2009

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

On the face of it this is simply another instalment of Moore and O’Neill’s series of metafictional japes in which characters from many different kinds of fictions act and interact in a manner akin to that in which in superheroes do. Even on this basic level it’s an unqualified success. In pure plot terms, we follow a version of the League that includes Carnacki and Orlando as well as the expected Mina Murray and a (not ‘the’) younger Quartemain. They battle an emerging diabolist conspiracy, interact with the repercussions of the death of former team mate Nemo and consult with a character from an Iain Sinclair novel. Along the way a character from a Peter Barnes play is fingered for being Jack the Ripper (in an amusingly self reflexive move on Moore’s part) and we get a lovely scene with Melville’s Ishmael. Nothing you wouldn’t expect from a ‘League’ book there. Kevin O’Neill’s art is beautiful, his storytelling clear in the murkiest of environments, his level of detail mouth-watering. So nothing unexpected there, either.

The elision of the dead Nemo’s Nautilus with the Black Freighter/Raider of Kurt Weill’s ‘The Threpenny Opera’ is one of the neatest in the history of ‘League’, particularly given Moore’s own prior association with the story of the Black Freighter, but it’s also the cornerstone of ‘1910’s own greatness; it’s a vehicle for Moore to include songs in the piece. That’s not just characters from songs (in this case the songs of the aforementioned ‘Threpenny Opera’, a Marxist take on John Gay’s eighteenth century ‘Beggar’s Opera’ which gave the world ‘Mack the Knife’) although there are plenty on show. No, it’s the actual songs which feature, because ‘1910′ is a musical.

Moore includes what appears to be new translations of ‘Mack the Knife’, ‘Pirate Jenny’, ‘Death Message’ and ‘What Keeps Mankind Alive’ (he’s certainly not using Marc Blitzstein’s standard version) and has characters wander across the pages singing them. It’s a musical without music, or should be, except that with tunes as well known as these, you don’t actually need the music to be there. More, the rhythm of the panel breakdowns and actually forces the metre, the experience, of the music on you; O’Neill’s art pushing the insistent drumbeats of Weill’s orchestrations into your head unbidden.

Alan Moore has said that his work should, if done right, provoke a fugue state in his audience; that hallucinatory, or at least synesthetic experience, should occur. The exhaustingly entitled ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910′ comes closest, I think, of all his work to achieving that fantastical ambition. There is something genuinely unique about reading a comic that causes your pulse to quicken when you hear the band strike up. Magnificent.

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