|Excalibur, Orlando, Anti-Christ, and Mina Harker (l-r)|
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century (1910, 1969, 2009): written by Alan Moore; illustrated by Kevin O’Neill (2009-2012): In the otherworld of Moore and O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LOEG) series, our fiction plays out as that world’s fact. Focused on the myths and stories of Great Britain, LOEG may or may not be Moore’s last comic-book series. This volume is now done, but an earlier story mashing up Captain Nemo’s daughter, the crew of the Nautilus, and H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness awaits.
Literary mash-ups aren’t new, and LOEG has been compared to many of its forebears (Silverlock, the Harold Shea series by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, and the Wold Newton universe of Philip Jose Farmer are three prominent ancestors) and contemporaries (Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s Astro City, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary).
No one in my experience, however, has gone more metafictionally mashy to such bizarre and telling effect. This can be frustrating at times (who the hell are some of these characters?), but overall the effect has been thrilling — indeed, more and more thrilling, at least in a intellectual sense, as the series has continued to become less interested in the bones of conventional superhero narrative and more interested in the nature of story itself, its care and feeding, its rises and falls.
At first, Century seems straightforward: the League of 1910 (now comprising Mina Harker, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Allan Quatermain, William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective Carnacki the Ghost-finder, and British super-thief Raffles) seeks to stop sinister mystic Oliver Haddo from creating both a Moonchild and the Anti-Christ itself.
Subsequently, things go galloping off madly in all directions, including the direction of Bertholt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. There’s a lot of singing in the three chapters. That Brecht’s play was a major reference point for Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen probably shouldn’t go uncommented. Andy Capp walks through several panels. Fictional characters crowd the background and foreground, most of them staring at the reader.
And there’s 1969, and then there’s 2009. Some of the major plot points are so weird and ultimately rewarding that there’s no point in me spoiling them. The identity of the Anti-Christ manages to be hilarious, horrifying, and perfectly apt within this world of Great Britain’s fictions, the narrative dream-time of an Empire’s rise and fall. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Bartlet administration of The West Wing gives way to the Palmer administration of 24. Lost‘s Driveshaft releases a new album. The armies of different fictional Moon-dwellers clash on the Moon, observed by characters from The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street. Whew.
Back in 1969, a rejuvenated Allan Quatermain suddenly looks a whole lot like Moore’s John Constantine. Back in 1910, revelations about the Jack the Ripper killings fly by, almost unnoticed. From Hell? So it goes. Boy, does Moore ever seem to hate James Bond. Highly recommended, though on-line annotation sites are also highly recommended.