Thursday 19 February 2015

Panel 15: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Panel No.15: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill) is the comic book I come back to more often than any other. First and foremost it's an exciting tale, an old school adventure, a rip-roaring yarn. Beneath the Boy's Own exterior, however, lies an intoxicating gallimaufry of conspiracy, literary references, alternate history, old myths re-examined, new myths coined, lovingly observed historical details and a welter of London locations.

It is the fag end of the 19th Century and the Empire is in peril. The new century looms and with it a new world order armed with an alarming array of new fangled machines. Only the most extraordinary characters can save us now…

As a blend of fact and fiction, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would be fun enough. The added dimension of mingling fictional characters of the past with newly minted creations, however, creates a new level of fascination. The interweaving of adventure story and Alternate History adds further piquancy. Sounds a bit heavy? Never fear. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen never forgets to be a thrilling comic book.

But the great by-product of the book is that it throws us back upon the source material that it references so freely in the narrative. It is so well written and executed that it genuinely feels like a part of the 19th Century canon of adventure stories.

Mina Murray, the wife of Jonathan Harker in Dracula (having reverted to her maiden name) is the driving force of the League. Indeed it is she who is charged with leading that most dramatic of set-pieces, Rounding Up The Team. First she enlists Allan Quatermain (of Rider Haggard's King Soloman's Mines and sequels) a dissipated shadow of his former heroic self. Captain Nemo, Doctor Jekyll (and Mr Hyde, of course) also join in the fun, as does a deliciously sordid Hawley Griffin (AKA the invisible man). H.G Wells is a recurring reference, with his War of the Worlds being woven into the narrative near the end of the collected volume one.

Cameos include Mycroft Holmes (the original Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother!), as shadowy as Conan Doyle implied him to be in the Sherlock Holmes stories and Auguste Dupin, the legendary French detective of Poe's Murders In The Rue Morge.

Illustrator Kevin O'Neill also joins in the referential fun, my particular favourite page being his introduction to Chinatown

so redolent of a crowded Gustave Dore composition

The tale has spawned a number of sequels, each wilder than the last. It makes me wonder: with each flight of fancy, is writer Alan Moore making sure that Hollywood will stay away from his work by making his tales unfilmable? The writer has a famously spiky relationship with Hollywood's watered-down adaptations of his work. Whatever the reason, it's a wild ride with Moore and O'Neill and later volumes cover 1960s London and right up to the present day, with an ever-increasing Greek Chorus of literary characters crowding in. It's fun to spot them, but if you miss the references (and I'm sure I've missed a ton of 'em) the story can still enthral. Moore is not an easy writer to follow (as I said, it's a wild ride) but he's never elitist and no reader is excluded from the narrative. 

The London location that I'll choose from the book is the League's hideout from early in the series, the British Museum… 

I choose this not only because the collection at the BM features a number of cartoons (including work by George Cruikshank) and that it's also handy for the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street, but because I'd rather like to have a secret lair there myself!

The book's London references are a delight to a London Walks guide and when I make passing reference to them on my London Walks, I can always identify kindred spirits in comic books by the delighted looks on their faces. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the work of Mr Moore generally, inspires great devotion in his fans. The alternate history material is both provoking and witty – this last best illustrated in the tale of Hyde Park. Did you know how Hyde Park got its name? No? Well read on, gentle reader, read on in Messrs Moore & O'Neill's blockbusting comic. You can buy The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at Orbital Comics on Great Newport Street.

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