Sunday, 17 February 2013

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume one

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume one (2000)
This is steampunk apparently, or at least it's steampunk according to something or other I recently saw floating somewhere on the electronic Sargasso Sea of the internet before a patch of drying paint proved too much of a distraction and drew my attention elsewhere. Fair enough really - it's important to know whether or not something is steampunk, isn't it? It's important to have that clarification, wouldn't you say?

I seem to recall having given up on comics when I first became aware of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the trade paperback of which I spotted in the window of some comic shop as I hurried past. The last I'd seen of Alan Moore had been either intermittent and seemingly impenetrable issues of From Hell - a few of which I'd missed thus rendering the story all the more difficult to follow - and 1963, which was fun but hardly what you would call a square meal; but it was the involvement of Kevin O'Neill which really caught my eye. I think I'd somehow forgotten he ever existed.

He's definitely one of the weirder artists to spring from the pages of 2000AD. You might say he covers up his not actually being able to draw with all that weird and slightly bi-polar detail somehow reminiscent of the sort of stuff that schizophrenics scrawl across the walls of their bedrooms with magic marker, except his figure-work is revealed as pretty much spot on under close inspection - it only looks like it isn't due to the harsh, angular style. About the most objective comment one can make would be that his art is unique, and I love it myself, although I'm still not sure why.

Anyway, resenting any money whatsoever spent on a comic book in case it turned out to comprise either
Sean Phillips potato print art or wearying references to chaos magick, I borrowed The League of Extraordinary Gentleman from our local library and realised I had indeed been missing out, and that the world of comics had not simply devolved into a self-conscious mass of Wolverine deconstructions simply because I'd been looking the other way. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, as even remote tribes living in what's left of the Amazon basin surely know, was Moore's Victorian version of Justice League America with characters recycled from existing fiction. It might constitute some sort of comment on the nature of storytelling, and certainly it subverts the general Victorian model of the establishment as in any way progressive or morally upstanding, but the most important thing is probably that it's a huge amount of fun. There's no real reason why the novels of H.G. Wells shouldn't all have occurred in the same universe as those of H. Rider Haggard or Edgar Rice Burroughs, and this does nothing to devalue any literary territory because it succeeds in its own right rather than representing an exercise in nostalgia; and if anything, I at least prefer this Nemo and this Mina Harker to those appearing in moderately underwhelming works by Verne and Stoker.

Ignoring a somewhat unsatisfactory prose story which appears as an appendix, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman manages to be both ridiculous and yet brilliant at the same time - an absolutely solid and explosive piece of work.

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