The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Volume III: Century III, 2009
Alan Moore all but invented the OGN, or Original Graphic Novel, with works like Watchmen (and yes, i am aware that book first came in issue form, but what percentage of people really read it that way?) and they have essentially defined the mans work, and his chosen medium, ever since. It is this title, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, that has adorned the covers of Moore’s only real ongoing series since he first broke into the industry ( the likes of Top 10 are essentially closed stories) and that makes them singular even in an oeuvre as outrageous as Alan’s. LoEG is a series unlike any other and here it finally comes together and comes to an end, closing the world down with it…or so it seems.
I spoke earlier today about how Jeff Lemire was working some strong references and serialization into Justice League Dark and after reading this book I realize just how ridiculous such a sentence is. There simply isn’t a read out there as requiring as LoEG: if you don’t have an eye eagle enough to spot the references, an encyclopedic knowledge of the entirety of an era’s pop culture and the kind of cryptically cerebral mind able to convert one into the other then you are likely going to miss much of the books magic. While it was once possible to simply make do with the surface story Century came along and started swirling the comic’s own adventures into the collective mythos to which it referred; creating the most complex yet cohesive continuity that I’ve ever known. This isn’t a franchise for financial reasons but because Moore had a further point to make.
Besides the slow build the other strength of a series is of course the simple fact that arbitrary things get established early on and then you are free to experiment, the audience informed and willing to go along for the ride. The downside to this familiarity though is that the core concept loses its capability to shock; it is then no longer a surprise to see the settings and characters of certain canonical stories re-applied to this strange and chaotic world of weaved together fictions. Moore has made the most of the former, taking what was essentially a garish novelty graphic novel and turning it into what is arguably an opus. In fact he takes his experiments to such extremes that he all but renders the latter irrelevant; reinventing the wheel with each spin so that we can never guess where the gang will land or who will live to see it. I’m not just talking about the time jumping antics of this third volume, though that is an obvious example of what I speak.
We enter part three of Volume Three, Century in, you might have guessed, Two Thousand and Nine, before any of that though we get a big but blatant clue for where the book is going; the inside front cover features, as always, fake advertisements but instead of the Boy’s-Own “Send in a Shilling For…” style temptations we get the screen of an “iFad” showing a number of modern gadget based gags. On the surface it sounds like something you would see in MAD Magazine not a Moore book, but it works wonderfully in context. What begins as simple satirization of Digital trends and Internet ideas then expands out into more mainstream Pop Culture as the original did when it leapt from Quartermain to Stoker, more particularly it expands on its exploration of a certain Boy Wizard’s world as hinted in the finale of the last book. In lesser hands this would seem like jealousy or an obvious grab for controversy but it’s actually all vital to the theme.
Which is? I could tell you what i think, but i feel it would be better to let Moore speak for himself. A figure of great reverence, whose exact identity I will not spoil, has a number of spectacularly stunning soliloquies towards the end of the book, one of which sums up Moore’s potent metaphor perfectly to my mind: “I have a great many responsibilities. Foremost amongst these, however, is my concern for children. I am concerned regarding their well being, and the healthy development of their imaginations. I am concerned regarding their behavior… And I’m afraid, young man that I don’t care for you at all.” His response? “That is like Totally disrespecting me, yeah? I mean, you know that I’m the Antichrist and everything? I’m Well famous, actually.” Content aside the style of the speech alone sums up what we now know is the premise of the series: the degradation of and declined respect for both the English language and the literature that it was used to create.
After all their years fighting and surviving ancient threats it is youth that poses the biggest threat to the League; that of themselves and that of the world around them. The big bad is virtually youth incarnate, a petulant, pussy teen ( whose pimples are eyeballs) who tramples that which he doesn’t understand, a disappointment to his creator and utterly uninterested in the tales of those who stand against him because they’re no longer as famous as he. As a weapon he uses youth culture, current stories and what can better define the literary culture of two thousand and nine than Harry Potter, a series that uncoincidentally came to its end that very year. Those books were the first books many kids willingly read and may well be their last; they’re not the bad guy, not really, but they signify his victory. Kids these days, by not caring about stories they are breaking down the barriers of our culture, that thing that defines our civilization; people without a uniting narrative are people in chaos. That seems to be his thesis.
While it would then be easy to read this as Moore making like the old man he looks to be and winging about kids on his lawn there seems more to the book than that; it’s simply his mediation on the Modern World and given the state London was in while he was writing this ( kids were outside rioting, setting the world ablaze) it’s hard to imagine how he could ever have crafted a comic that was anything but critical. The shock comes not from the commentary though but the tone; like most modern art this volume is darker and more maudlin than the last and thus it is strangely less satisfying. The characters, who are now centuries old, seem weaker; with their dialogue they mumble rather than declare, they are so shaken by what they see. This is at once another sign of their anachronicity and a subtle damnation of modern day storytelling styles and perhaps a sign of Alan’s wavering interest; see, there is simply so much going on here.
It took me two read throughs of Century: 1910 to figure out what was even happening and a hearty diving into some of the eras classic literature to recognize the characters so I’m sure so much of this book, even with its more familiar setting and references, was probably lost on me, but here are a few things that jumped out as I went along. Prospero has always been powerful but here he comes across as almost Godlike and instead of serving him Orlando is scared by his presence; this perhaps is a statement akin to Nietzsche’s, Moore showing how we have turned from god over the years and in turn god has turned on us. This, however, is sullied somewhat by that aforementioned surprise character who also claims herself to be god; though the pair are both of the Blazing World so perhaps it is simply a sign of the strange, subliminal strength of stories.
And yes, ‘She’ claims to be god but that’s not the most feminist part of the book. Every main character is a woman: Orlando turns over the first few pages and then stays, Mina returns to form but Allan ( who looks more and more like his namesake Moore) does not and when they visit MI5 it is M not Daniel Craig’s Bond that they speak too. Why though is still beyond me, perhaps something to do with creation, perhaps in honour of J.K. Rowling. It could well be anything. Something that stuck me as being particularly purposeful however were the final few pages which end with what seems to be a callous callback to the failed film adaptation of these very books, talk about meta referencing. Though of course Moore would never admit to ever having seen the film, so who knows?
What I do know though is that I loved this book, this volume and this series despite and probably because of just how strange they are. This third volume (and trilogy in its own right), Century, has however taken the cake on that front; it’s been singular even within the series, a crystallization of concept and test of will for the reader and publisher. The characters that Moore employs – Malcom Tucker, Tracey Jordan, Driveshaft, Harry Potter and Oliver Haddo to name a few – are obvious but entirely unofficial.; it’s a wonder that he hasn’t had himself sued or shut down. Speaking of, while this seems something of a climax for the series I still have hope for more, because Volume Two seemed an obvious close of the curtain for the comic and yet here I sit reviewing the sixth book in the series. Though what he does to them doesn’t suggest it Moore must really love these characters; all of his others he grew sick of after one story and threw them away, banning others from ever picking them back up, but he keeps returning here. I don’t know where their world will go from here, nor our own, but so long as he still loves writing these books I will still love reading them and that almost seems enough. I just hope he knows that there is still one youth out there who loves stories.