A number of years ago I saw a film called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I remember loving the concept, but lamenting the missed potential. It was an extraordinarily crappy movie that could have been so much better if only someone had bothered to write a decent script. I remember complaining about it to friends, who went on to assure me that the crappy film was actually based on a rather good graphic novel written by Alan Moore. I’ve been meaning to read that graphic novel ever since… but I’ve only just gotten around to it, nine years after the film’s release. 🙂
Now having read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol.I, I’m happy to report that’s it is not much like the film… it’s actually really good!
A plethora of literary figures populate this piece of Victorian-set, almost steampunk-esque, spec-fic adventure. Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde and the Invisible Man are all recruited by the British secret service to carry out a special assignment. Reporting to Campion Bond (who may or may not be an ancestor of the famous 007), they are given the task of retrieving Professor Cavor’s antigravity substance from Fu Manchu who has stolen it, planning to use it for his own nefarious purposes. But it seems that not everything is as it appears, especially regarding Mr Bond and his mysterious superior, M.
It’s a rollicking good adventure with some great character development and sly humour. And it is chock-full of literary references. As well as the already mentioned characters, we also get to see Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Professor Moriarty, C. Auguste Dupin, Ishmael, Quong Lee, Colonel Sebastian Moran and even the Artful Dodger. No… I’m not going to tell you the books these character originate in. Look ‘em up! 😉
Many times, I found myself feeling that I was missing things — passing comments that seemed to allude to other things; mentions of people who might be characters from other works; place names; vague hints. I’m certain that Mr Moore is considerably more well-read that I. But this never detracted from my enjoyment of the story.
Being a graphic novel, it is just as dependent on the artwork as it is on the writing. And the artwork of Kevin O’Neill does not disappoint. Dark and mysterious, sometimes grotesque, sometimes funny, always compelling, it is a perfect accompaniment to Moore’s words.
And the whole thing finishes with the promise of more adventure and more literary references to come in Vol.II.
Originally published in five parts, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol.1, is now available in a collected volume — which is what I read. This volume also includes “Allan and the Sundered Veil”, a short story prequel by Moore. In all honesty… give it a miss! It is remarkably tedious and laboured. Like the graphic novel, it is full of literary references and famous characters, most notably the time traveller from HG Wells’ The Time Machine, but none of the vigour and engagement. In my mind, this story is proof positive that Moore should stick to writing graphic novels.
Tune in next time for Vol.II.
Catch ya later, George
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