The times, they are a-changin’…

… and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is changing with them – but it seems that time is catching up with the League.

When I first read it I wasn’t terribly fond of Alan Moore’s Black Dossier, a source book-cum-smorgasboard of literary pastiche continuing the ongoing tales of some of literature’s strangest, least likely heroes. What I liked best about the first two volumes of the League’s adventures was how Moore combined exciting tales with fascinating characterisation, bringing to the fore the undercurrents of Victorian genre fiction in smart ways: the sexism, the racism, the sense that an Empire was slowly rotting from the inside. I enjoyed how Moore could bring out humanity in his monsters and vice versa. While I appreciated the achievement of Black Dossier a lot more when re-reading it, it’s still mainly a show of Moore’s considerable skills at parody and pastiche. What it isn’t is a strong story.

The first issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III: Century was a lot more centred on telling a story, but it was clearly a first part. Having been a Moore fan since my first trip into his mindscape (From Hell was my starting point, and what a wild ride it was) I trusted that the grand old man of Northampton knew what he was doing, but it was difficult to discern where this was going: the issue was self-contained, but in terms of story it was relatively thin, being more interested in doing a retelling of Brecht and Weill’s Three Penny Opera in the world of the League than in giving us a plot to care about – which was most likely exactly that Moore had intended, in homage to Brecht’s literary politics (or should that be political literariness?).

Moore and his League artist Kevin O’Neill are notoriously late with their work; the second issue, 1969 (AKA “Paint It Black”, although I haven’t actually seen that title anywhere in the comic itself) was originally scheduled for spring 2010 but finally came out in August 2011. And while it’s as much of a middle part as 1910 (or “What Keeps Mankind Alive”) was a beginning, it’s easier to discern where the writer is taking this storyline. Arguably, this is the Empire Strikes Back of Century, and it ends with Moore’s dark equivalent (darker even if you take in the appendix) of Han frozen in Carbonite. It’s quite surprising how an artist who in an interview boiled down his Lost Girls to “Make love, not war!” (I’m sure Moore was fully aware this was an oversimplification) presents such an ominous version of the Age of Aquarius. This is not the Summer of Love so much as a wicked, clever Nicolas Roeg-inspired romp that spirals out of control and ends in madness, mayhem – and a certain unexpected character vanishing into a wall at Kings Cross Station. That’s right, Moore brings a certain someone from a much beloved franchise into his storyline and gives him a prominence that proves surprisingly effective.

What’s next for the League? 1969‘s epilogue, set in a punk club in the ’70s, with Mina out of sight and literally out of mind, Alan Quatermain back on the drugs that almost killed him and Orlando (female once again, although far from feminine) giving up on his erstwhile friend and lover, suggests that the third issue – to come out next year, if Moore, O’Neill and the gods of publishing prove kind – won’t start in a happy place. The issue’s title, “Let It Come Down”, doesn’t exactly sound optimistic, does it?

And now, guys and gals, make sure to pray to your 2nd century imaginary sock-puppet hoax of a snake god that the book comes out while we still remember what happened before, okay?

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