Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume two (2003)

Another vivid illustration of the Oscar Wilde maxim stating how talent borrows, genius steals - you might argue that not one single original idea is to be found here, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen succeeds by virtue of how it's put together. Alan Moore once again recycles the characters of every book he's ever read whilst Kevin O'Neill's work grows ever closer to a warped version of the illustrations which graced Punch magazine in the early years of the twentieth century. Not only does this second volume mash up all the usual suspects with Rupert Bear, Tiger Tim, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carpenter, all the while telling us with a straight face that Hyde Park was named in honour of Robert Louis Stevenson's transformed misanthrope and H.G. Wells' Dr. Moreau was related to Gustave the symbolist painter; but it juggles all these balls with its entire story bolted onto the underside of The War of the Worlds. It should by all rights be a complete pig's ear, tantamount to the absolute worst crap devised by the sort of moron who would consider Daleks versus Klingons high concept, but somehow it's wonderful, and absolutely original despite being comprised entirely of stolen material. Particularly impressive are the new lives given to these characters beyond the novels from which they derive, particularly Hyde and Mina Harker - the latter having had a somewhat underwhelming minor role in Dracula where her main function was apparently to be ill for a long time whilst failing to suspect there could be anything weird about waking up with a sore neck each morning. Here she's a lot more interesting - blasphemy though that may be - not least during a surprisingly touching erotic interlude shared with Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain. As a rule I tend to dislike romance or sex in fiction, not through squeamishness but simply because authors so often get it horribly wrong, and it can be difficult to enjoy a book once you've started to feel sorry for those responsible in the wake of some horrendously juvenile attempt to get all sticky and squirty.

Only the inevitable supplementary prose section at the end lets the volume down, as tends to be the case with DVD extras in general. It's a travelogue of every fictional land, city or realm Moore could come up with off the top of his head. Although I didn't notice anything pinched from Tolkein or Clark Ashton Smith, it seems otherwise exhaustive, taking in Alice's Wonderland, More's Utopia, and all those places to which Swift's Gulliver travelled just for starters. It's the sort of background detail that would work in the strip, but is actually kind of dull as a list set down in plodding narrative form when a list set down as a list would have served just as well. More than anything else it feels like an extended exercise in continuity - which is of course precisely what it is - so it probably depends on how many references you get in order for it to work, but even then forty pages of dense text seems excessive.

Still, with a main feature of such quality, I'm not complaining.

No comments:

Post a Comment