Nemo: Heart of Ice
In terms of its title Nemo: Heart of Ice is an Original Graphic Novel, a new and standalone story from the medium’s greatest storyteller Alan Moore. The reality though is that the book is actually a spin-off akin to one of the many superhero series out there, like Nightwing, that clutter the comic shelves. It is, like all spin offs, built around an existing character, in this case one that Moore established in his modern magnum opus League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Given his oft-vocalised thoughts on the comic industry Alan Moore seems like the last person who would write a spin-off, succumb to the endless proliferation of a series in the name of profit and yet it seems so very appropriate that he has written this one.
League is of course a comic series built around the concept of re-appropriating old pulp characters into a somewhat modern seeming plot; though some would argue that it lost every era of them long ago. There is a nice irony then in Moore here re-appropriating the one original character that this series has spawned over its several volumes: the Daughter of Dakkar, the old Captain Nemo. He is borrowing on the equity of a loan, plunging further and further into the depths of meta-fictionality and yet there is a nice sort of innocence to the story that he tells about the new Nemo. Heart of Ice is perhaps his simplest and definitely the simplest League story in some years; a sigh of relief after the reference laden labyrinths that have been the post-Black Dossier editions.
Another lie of the title is the way it suggests this story is one of and about the titular Nemo when really the book is built around a basic human theme, not a big meta-literary one like the series has spun of late. Nemo is a strong, silent (and thankfully non-sexualised) woman whose constrained and confrontational persona pose her as an unknowable protagonist; she is a mystery to us in all but one regard. She struggles against the huge image of her father, the famous character in whose adventures she served only a supporting role. Compared to him she is but a new invention, she has no real name for herself – when you saw the title of the book you thought not of her, but of her father, yes? – while he has multiple, each more feared than the last. So she retraces his final footsteps across the arctic, hoping to set some of her own on from where he stopped, famous figures from fictional history biting at her heels.
Charles Foster Kane, at the behest of a most vicious queen he is entertaining at Kubla Khan, hires three uninvented inventors to track her down as she attempts an Antarctic passage; providing the plot a foil and a glass reflection for its themes. Kane is of course a man known for his own familial issues, issues that stem from a famous vehicle not unlike the Nautilus in the extent of its name recognition. Reade and Wright have the patented issues with their own paternal relations and Swyfte is as a son to them, the next generation of science, their replacement and by virtue of the field their inevitable better. Together team of tortured adventurers twirl this idea of burdening personal history into a touching text that touches on the way that the world itself is changing. More importantly though they created snow cars, air ships and laser guns which they use in a series of incredible action sequences.
O’Neil’s art showcases these scenes in a spectacular way, partly because it is simplified too. The layouts are straight and cinematic, mostly adhering to a small number of repeating structures (the five widescreen panel page and the double splash with a margin of cut-outs the two most popular) which would allow you to more easily comprehend the complicated backgrounds employed (filled as they are with the series trademark cameo’s and literary references) we’re they present. These too are streamlined in a way though, with only a few ‘feature’ panels really providing the kind of labyrinthine depths that we are accustomed to, the rest are reliably readable, allowing you to zoom through the story at the speed Alan suggests. It’s only after the plot is fully paletted that you can flick back and appreciate the awesomeness of the emotional facework and the eerie Lovecraftian landscapes that he fills the beautiful book with.
So Nemo is a return to the true roots of the series, it goes back before the first book to the original inspiration: the boys own adventure. Rather than subverting the innocence and simplicity of those stories by sexualising and nuancing them to an unrecognizable degree as the original series did Moore simply switches the sex of the main character; he makes this a boys own adventure about a girl, a daughter, and that is enough experimentation to make the old feel fantastically new. Mostly though this is just a well told and imaginative iteration of the form from two of its old masters, a simple pleasure from a man not known for offering such. If this is the result than I hope that this is a sign of him softening, of him selling out, that this spin-off lives as long as Frasier, lives longer even than its forebears. The captain is dead, long live the captain.