The British Empire has always encountered difficulty in distinguishing between its heroes and its monsters.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen : Volume 1
By Alan Moore, Illustrated by Kevin O’Neill
London, 1898. The Victorian Era draws to a close and the twentieth century approaches. It is a time of great change and an age of stagnation, a period of chaste order and ignoble chaos. It is an era in need of champions.
In this amazingly imaginative tale, literary figures from throughout time and various bodies of work are brought together to face any and all threats to Britain. Allan Quatermain, Mina Murray, Captain Nemo, Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde and Hawley Griffin ( the Invisible Man) form a remarkable legion of intellectual aptitude and physical prowess: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
This book had so much potential. Classic 19th century oddities coming together to fight on behalf of Britain? Sure, sign me up. But while the concept is indeed interesting, the execution is underwhelming in both its story and artwork.
League’s setting creates for several interesting callbacks to literature, combining people and places in one single universe that sees its version of London under threat. The overarching story is full of twists and turns, and was entertaining and satisfying in its conclusion. However, the plot took a long while to build, forcing readers to spend time in a world that if frequently very racist as well as sexist.
Yes, the Victorian era was not exactly known for its tolerance and political correctness, but this book was a little too in your face about it. It is as if the writer wants to get the point across that the Victorians were depraved and terrible people too… but it distracts from plot progression and character growth.
There is also a great deal of violence within these handful of issues, serving again to show that the prim and proper Victorian era was often anything but. Yet there wasn’t enough of the historical era that we all know. If the dates weren’t given for you at the start of each issue the violence, drug addiction, and prejudicial attitudes that permeate the story would not have established it as being singularly Victorian. Again, that era certainly saw all of those detriments, but the story needed some more balance to it.
Perhaps I am making a misstep in reviewing only the first edition, and that the work as a whole has a stronger message and presentation, but I have a hunch that the subsequent volumes are just more of the same.
Should You Read This?
If you’re a big fan of Moore’s work, or of any of the individual characters involved, you might want to pick it up. If you are in neither of those camps, then there are probably better comic options for you.
The premise, again, is an interesting one, and the overall story arc is engaging and imaginative when it becomes the focus. But the art wasn’t my cup of tea, the characters were weak, and the overemphasis on the backwards societal beliefs gets distracting. I was an alright book, but had the potential to be much, much better.
It’s a shame the movie was so bleh; I think this would translate far better to film.
Summary from Goodreads
I read it a few a years ago, I really liked the unfettered aspect of the story, the ability to override circumspection seems to be one of Moore’s strengths. It’s an examination of fiction through the extrapolation of established mythos, as such it’s a self conscious example of the kind of work Moore has produced throughout his career. Taking established characters, folklore and creating a narrative, usually with the intention of subverting the expectations represented by the legacy of the mythology he’s appropriating.
The artwork? Yeah well, it’s probably the best work from Kevin O’Neill, he’s a bit clumsy with figure-work and not particularly spontaneous, in fact a bit laboured really. His balance of black and white is quite good in this, adding strength to his compositional skills, which is his strength. Even so, I would’ve preferred someone like Alan Davis, although I gather there is some friction between Davis and Moore.
This is my kind of thing but I understand the reticence to recommend it, it’s not what I would call a light read.
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