A League too far?

Has it finally happened? Have I gone off Alan Moore? What’s next: will I stop liking rare steak? (I admit, I like good quality beef and my carbon footprint looks like nothing so much as a gigantic hoof-print…)

Well, what has happened is this: I used to get most if not all new Alan Moore comics by default, and after reading League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009: Are there any more subtitles coming this way? that’s simply not the case any more. I haven’t liked any of Moore’s recent works as much as those created during his heyday – masterworks such as WatchmenFrom Hell, V for Vendetta – but I’ve found enough things to like even in decidedly lesser Moore such as Smax, his Top 10 spin-off.

For the record, I think that the first two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volumes are fantastic examples of strong storytelling and characterisation. Thematically they may not be as complex and rewarding as the works that made Moore famous, but they’re still examples of an author at the top of his craft. The continued adventures of the League though… To my mind Moore made two mistakes: one being that his ambition to create a world where all fictions are true overrode any wish he had to tell a good story with great characters, the other that the closer the story came to our present the less Moore had to say about the culture he was riffing on. 1910 and 1969 are still well crafted, and the latter even manages to intrigue as a story, but 2009 simply doesn’t say anything much of interest about modern pop culture. Its critique is shallow and lazy, making the Grand Old Madman of Comics come across as an old coot going, “You kids, get off my lawn!”

The greatest crime, though, is that a series that once featured extraordinary characters written with depth and sympathy (for the most part) – well, that series ended up with versions of the surviving characters that were uninteresting and exchangeable. Mina and Alan, as the century rolled on, were reduced to pale shadows of their former selves, in ways that made them boring to read rather than resonating thematically, which may be what Moore was aiming for.

It’s a shame, because throughout Century there are scenes that show Moore has still got it, and one of my favourite bits in all of the League is the deus ex machina he employs at the end of 2009, managing to be funny and chilling at the same time. But it doesn’t quite make up for the increasing tendency in the comics to indulge in Where’s Waldo-style “Spot the reference!” games – and, what is worse, games that lack the gleeful joy of earlier instalments. Too much of 2009 feels perfunctory. So, quite seriously, has Alan Moore become too much of a caricature of himself?

Sadly, even Kevin O’Neill’s art feels lacking in 2009 – perhaps because the (near-)present is a less exciting playground than the fictional past. He’s still got some great visuals, but both in terms of writing and art 2009 feels tired too much of the time. Perhaps it’s time for Moore to take a holiday? Watch some good TV? Get over himself?

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