The latest volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from Top Shelf hits stores this week with Century: 1969. We’ve got a huge interview with Moore about the book coming up, but we thought we’d help readers out first while we get it ready.
We’re pleased to say that this is one of the most straightforward volumes of LOEG, but while the roles of the characters are clear in the story, they might go over the heads of many U.S. readers. Simply put, this story is immersed in British popular culture of the 1960s, to the point that Moore himself admitted in our interview that he couldn’t identify all the little jokes Kevin O’Neill drew into the book!
What’s more, many of the characters can’t be found with a simple Google, due to the fact that many of them are still copyrighted, necessitating that their names be slightly changed for the book. So we did some research with the advance copy we got with the help of Moore annotator Jess Nevins. Nevins, whose work you may have also seen in the backup of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Incognito, is a great authority on this work, having annotated all the previous LOEG volumes. You can read his annotations – or purchase the excellent hard-copy compilations of them – on his website, www.enjolrasworld.com.
With Nevins’ help, we powered through the references behind the major characters and settings in the book – and even helped identify a few he hadn’t found yet. Here now is a “cheat sheet” for Century: 1969, which will help you appreciate many of the subtler jokes and themes of the book. Let’s head back now to Swinging London at the end of the 1960s…
Tadukic Acid Diethylamide 26: The street drug of choice in Swinging London, it was previously known as “Taduki” and smoked by Allan Quatermain in “Allan and the Sundered Veil,” the text backup in the original LOEG series. Back then, it gave him visions of John Cater of Mars, the Time Machine, and Cthulhu. That’s good stuff! Here, it’s found its way to the general populace, and gives Mina Murray a very, very bad trip.
Baz Thomas: The murder of this decedent rock star sets the events of 1969 into motion. Baz was once younger and more innocent; he’s a grown-up version of Basil Fotherington-Thomas, a British schoolboy in a popular series of 1950s children’s books by Geoffrey Willans and the famous British cartoonist Ronald Searle.
Baz is a sex god and icon of millions in 1969, ironic since he’s considered effeminate and wimpy by Nigel Molesworth, the narrator of the books. The key clue to his identity is when Baz mentions he once went to a school nicknamed “St. Custard’s,” the setting of the Molesworth books.
Kosmo Gallion: This mystic is key to carrying out the evil plan of Oliver Haddo, the villain of the last LOEG book. He was previously known for battling the Avengers…no, not those Avengers, but the British spies of the long-running TV series in the 1963episode “Warlock.” Back then, the bowler-hat-wearing John Steed kept him from kidnapping rocket scientists; he apparently died, but his legacy might live on through…
Horace Spurgeon Felton: …this current enforcer of Haddo’s legacy. He’s based on Horace Spurgeon Fenton, star of a trilogy of semiautobiographical novels by Jack Trevor Story, who wrote the book that was the basis of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film The Trouble with Harry. Fenton has grown up to be a writer, and sadly, fallen in with Haddo’s people; he’s out to do some nasty business with the unwitting help of…
Terner: …Baz Thomas’ band-mate in his group the Purple Orchestra, and a fan of Haddo’s work who plans a tribute concert for Baz in Hyde Park. He’s based on Turner, the character played by Mick Jagger in the 1970 film Performance, which is referenced by Vince Dakin (see below) and directly by Norton, the Prisoner of London in this book.
In Performance, Turner is a sexually-liberated rock star who’s “lost his demon;” whatever could that mean? At Hyde Park, he performs a number that pays tribute to one of the Rolling Stones’ best-known songs of the late 1960s. Hope you’ve guessed its name.
Captain Universe: Mina Murray has a flat in London from the time she spent with a superhero group earlier in the decade, as mentioned in The Black Dossier. Not to be confused with the identity-swapping Marvel Comics character, his space-hero was a fusion of the SF tropes of the 1950s with the classic Captain Marvel, able to access his power with the not-quite-a-catchphrase “GALAP!”
Significantly, he was created by Mick Anglo, who also created Marvelman/Miracleman, the character who helped launch Moore’s career in Warrior in the 1980s. You can read more on him here.
The Vril: These strange, winged creatures perform sex shows in London’s West End during several of the scenes with gangsters. They’re actually from what’s considered one of the first categorized works of science fiction, Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Vril, the Power of the Coming Race, which…oh, Moore. You dirty, dirty, boy.
The Vril are a subterranean race that caused quite a sensation when the book was first published, as some believed them to be real, with rumors of a “Vril Society” in the 1960s. For more information, check out this piece Nevins wrote about the book’s 140th anniversary for io9 a few months ago.
Vince Dakin: This gangster who has the death of Basil Thomas investigated is based on Vic Dakin, a character played by Richard Burton in the 1971 British crime film Villain. Dakin is in turn based on Ronnie Kray, who with his brother Reggie, were two of the most notorious organized crime figures in London in the 1960s; both went up the river in, not coincidentally, 1969. You can read more about the Krays on this site.
Vince mentions some rival gangsters who are also based on the Krays, including Harry Flowers from the aforementioned Performance, Harry Starks from Jake Arnott’s novel The Long Firm and the Piranha Brothers, a parody of the Krays from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
(Video of this sketch if you want to embed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZkWL-XvO0U)
Wolfe Lovejoy: Dakin’s homosexual lover is two references in one. In Villain, Vic Dakin has a lover named Wolfe Lissner, played by a young Ian McShane of Deadwood,, Kings and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. In the 1980s, McShane rose to fame in the UK as the title character in Lovejoy, a long-running mystery series about a crime-solving antique dealer. Clearly, Alan Moore knows his Ian McShane.
Jack: This enforcer helps Dakin track down more information on Baz’s murderer; he’s the protagonist of a series of novels by Ted Lewis starting with 1970’s Jack’s Return Home. You might know him better from the 1971 film of that novel, or (ugh) its 2000 remake. Think Michael Caine. Or maybe Sylvester Stallone.
Jeremiah Cornelius: This black-and-white trans-dimensional spy shows up to chat with our heroes briefly; fans of SF and fantasy will know him from a series of novels by author Michael Moorcock, whose influence is all over this volume.
This particular version of Jerry has dark skin and white hair, indicating it’s from his appearance in Moorcock’s A Cure for Cancer. Jerry exemplifies the anything-goes spirit of the times, changing styles, genders and even dimensions as he sees fit. He’s a pretty cool guy.
Jerry is a recurring character in Moorcock’s works, appearing in four novels and in variations throughout the Multiverse of Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion” books; he’s also influenced a number of comic books, most notably Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles and Bryan Talbot’s The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. Matt Fraction’s Casanova is also recommended for fans of Jerry’s time-tripping-pan-sexual adventures.
Moorcock himself appears in a couple of different forms in 1969; the text backup from “Lewd Worlds” is written by “Jack Colvin,” a pseudonym Moorcock used when editing New Worlds, a groundbreaking and controversial British SF magazine from the 1960s.
Max Foster: Not seen on-panel, he’s mentioned as the current US president who’s got everyone over 30 in internment camps. That’s a reference to Max Frost, the character played by Christopher Jones in the 1968 cult classic Wild in the Streets, who indeed forces the older generation to chill out and take LSD. Times are changing for the League, man.
Tom: This teacher at a small university helps Mina out during her bad trip at Terner’s concert. This one is too good to spoil, but pay careful attention to the clue he gives about his name, and where he goes at the end. He might well be the best-known character in 1969, and that’s all we’re saying.
Read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1969 in stores now, and keep watching Newsarama for our all-new interview with Alan Moore! And special thanks again to Jess Nevins, whose work you can read at www.enjolrasworld.com!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!