Saturday, 18 May 2013

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century (2012)

As everyone in the universe is fully aware, this came out as three separate volumes respectively identified as 1910, 1969, and 2009, each being set in the year for which it is named and featuring the same effectively immortal cast. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen recycles characters from existing fiction - classic or otherwise - mashing them all together into the same universe because it's funny, and because it's a neat way to say something about the art of storytelling, and because the state of the art of storytelling speaks volumes about the society telling the stories. Amongst the characters I managed to spot are Aleister Crowley's Simon Iff, Patrick Troughton's Doctor Who, most of the regulars from the Carry On films, at least three versions of James Bond, Wellington and Boot from The Perishers, Parker from Thunderbirds, Sid the Sexist from Viz comic, Michael Moorcocks' Jerry Cornelius, Turner from Nic Roeg's Performance, The Rutles, Andrew Norton from Iain Sinclair's Slow Chocolate Autopsy, and of course Harry Potter.

The point, as with the previous volume, is that culture is built upon mythology, and can thus be judged by the quality of its art and by extension its storytelling. If our magical landscape, our art and fairytales and fictions,
if that goes bad, Virginia Woolf's Orlando suggests, maybe the material world follows suit. Moore seems to believe that the quality of our storytelling, and by extension our culture, has been in decline for some years, as perhaps signified by the popularity of Harry Potter who turns out to be the Antichrist of Century, the terrible moonchild and herald of a cultural apocalypse brought into being by Oliver Haddo - W. Somerset Maugham's Aleister Crowley parody.

I've never really warmed to Harry Potter. I haven't read any of the books on the grounds that they don't really appeal to me, and it all seems to resemble similarly bespectacled schoolboy Tim Hunter from Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic from back in 1990, which itself seemed rather like a quaint mash-up of earlier material tapping into the growing market for cutesy English shite. Visiting a ruined school that was once obviously Hogwarts, Bram Stoker's Mina Harker observes this whole environment seems artificial, as if it's been constructed out of reassuring imagery from the 1940s... a storybook place gone horribly wrong, so I guess Alan Moore and I are on roughly the same page with regards to Harry Potter.

As a criticism, with the plucky wand-waving schoolboy ultimately manifested as a nightmarish many-eyed giant, Century hits its target with the same sort of impact as those records Tupac made about Biggie; and it's very, very funny, but at the same time, much as I dislike Rowling's chirpy juvenile tosspot of magic, I can't help feeling this is all a bit like shooting a fish in a barrel. Furthermore, I really have to wonder whether Harry is significantly worse than any of the 1900s pulp heroes in whom Moore seems to perceive at least some worth.

As a recovering former fan of that mysterious investment portfolio in time and space known only as the Doctor at least until Moffat daringly reveals that he's also known as Edgy McSex-Cock because that's like really gamechanging and brilliantly brilliant and shit I can certainly appreciate the idea that culture and by extension society were generally of a higher standard back in the old days when everything was better; but equally there's a danger of generalisations made by virtue of an extremely selective memory. Moore's brief rendering of the punk years in the final pages of 1969 seems in this respect particularly ambiguous, and I couldn't tell if it was a purposefully cock-eyed Two Ronnies safety-pin-through-the-head interpretation offered as a comment on historical revisionism, or if it really was just some beardy old fucker whining about it being too loud and not being able to understand the words but - hey - weren't the 1960s amaaaaaaazing...

Century is great, and I agree with what it does on principle, not least because it does it in a massively entertaining way, but I do wonder if there isn't an element of the new equated with the bad simply because it's new. Whatever you think of Harry Potter, or if like me you try not to, I'd say there are many more deserving targets out there.


  1. Just finished it myself, and I did like the Mary Poppins Ex Machina ending. (I actually spotted Doctors 1, 2 and 11 as well as Jack Harkness in there.) I don't think it's fair to accuse Alan Moore of simple nostalgia, since the earlier volumes pretty much skewered steampunk's whitewashing of the British Empire. I think - that like a certain Mad Larry of our acquaintance - he despairs at the current culture, but not necessarily because it's current, but because it's a reflection of a civilisation which - let's face it - ran out of steam in 1975 and is only still going because the Chinese haven't gotten their act together yet.

  2. I should also note that Century's filking of The Threepenny Opera has given me a certain inspiration for a certain musical storytelling project of my own which has lain dormant for a while...

  3. Yeah - not nostalgia exactly, I just tend to get a bit protective of punk rock, particularly when people suggest it wasn't as good as that to which it supposedly provided a response (and mainly because 'were the Sex Pistols better than Jethro Tull?' might as well be 'are dogs better than oranges?' so far as I see).

    Always good to hear about the progress of the certain musical storytelling project!