The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #1
From: Top Shelf
Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Kevin O’Neill
What if, underneath it all, Alan Moore's just trying to tell us that he really likes jazz? That’s one of the questions that occurred to me during the reading of Century: 1910, the latest installment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This notion presents itself as the story is suffused with characters from The Threepenny Opera (itself written to be performed by a jazz combo), which in its tunes contains lyrical allusions to favorite themes of Moore (like a black pirate ship, among others). Then again, and possibly more frightening, maybe this book is what it looks like when Alan Moore is just having . . . a good time?
When we last saw this League, it was in the pages of the Black Dossier. I enjoyed that book, but at the time that I reviewed it, I wondered if the presentation had more to do with Moore and O’Neill pleasing themselves (what with the Fanny/Tijuana Bible insert and the 3D section) over the delivery of a story. This time out, they eschew those extras and drive forward with the first of three new 72-page installments in the Century “arc”. Granted, there is one funny recurring gimmick (befitting the influences of Threepenny and The Beggar’s Opera, characters are wont to burst into song), but it’s not as obtrusive as the previous inserts or that volume’s apparent preoccupation with depicting lots of sex (must have been Lost Girls hangover).
Once again, we have Mina Murray in the thick of the action, as is the de-aged Allan Quartermaine. Their compatriots this time include Orlando (who put in face time in Black Dossier), A.J. Raffles (E.W. Hornung’s “gentleman thief”), and Thomas Carnacki (William Hope Hodgson’s detective of the supernatural). It’s an interesting mix, one that lends itself a touch more to detection that the bombast of Nemo and Hyde. Then again, Nemo does appear, as does his daughter (in a significantly larger role).
In terms of the narrative, Moore revisits some of his favorite themes (Whitechapel, magicks, apocalypse) and gives them that slightly musical spin. The story is, by turns, sinister and, yes, whimsical, with bursts of action. As per usual, Mina cuts the central figure, and I would just love it if someday Moore would break down and just do the Dracula tale start-to-just-prior-to-the-first-League from Mina’s point of view.
O’Neill’s art is terrific and richly detailed. This longer form with breaks between is probably his optimum format. Some of his depictions of the underside of London are beautifully ugly; truly, the man has a gift for depicting misshapen teeth. And really, no one does haughty expressions better. From a design aesthetic, O’Neill mostly uses the grid approach, breaking it only on occasion when narrative need arises. It’s a method that makes the large panels and full pages a bit more shocking when they arrive, emphasizing their importance on a grander scale. Frankly, O’Neill never gets enough credit for all of the tiny bits that he has to realize for the world to work; from the technology to the characterizations to the architecture, every League piece of art is a feat.
I really enjoyed this one, and part of that comes from the sense that the creators are having a good time. In a way, the League continually strikes me as one of the best introductions to 19th Century literature that you could ever find. Moore’s spent a great deal of time discussing magic, but his true wizardry is the way in which sees the world, drawing connections between literature and weaving it into a grand design of his own. He and O’Neill can be right proud of that, because the concept remains as strong as ever.