The Fiendish Plot of the Devil Doctor

League of Extraordinary Gentleman Volume 1: written by Alan Moore; illustrated by Kevin O’Neill (1999-2000; collected 2001): When it began, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentleman (LOEG) looked like a worthy successor to the such predecessors as Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp’s Harold Shea stories and Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton works. The literary and legendary characters of many different authors and cultures would turn out to live in the same world, where they could interact. Warren Ellis and John Cassaday were even working on a similar, contemporaneous project, Planetary, at the same comic-book company.

But things changed. Or things were gradually revealed. And coming back to the first volume of LOEG after reading the most recent volume, Century, I find that these changes were always indicated by plot points and lines that seemed like throwaways at the time. Nonetheless, the first volume of LOEG still reads like a somewhat sarcastic team-up of characters from different literary works of the 19th century. The really bizarre stuff was still mostly two volumes away.

So in 1898, Dracula‘s now-divorced Mina Harker (nee Murray), H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, H. Rider Haggard’s African adventurer Alan Quatermain, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo are tasked by James Bond’s grandfather Campion, who is working for the mysterious M., head of the British secret service, with stopping Fu Manchu from destroying England with the aid of the anti-gravitational Cavorite he’s stolen from Professor Cavor (a substance and a character in H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon). During the course of this adventure, we’ll also meet and mingle with Pollyanna, Moby Dick ‘s Ishmael (he’s Nemo’s first mate), Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes, Poe’s French private detective C. Auguste Dupin, and a host of other fictional characters major and minor.

Artist O’Neill is called upon to do a lot of things — stage epic battle scenes, keep things light when they’re supposed to be light, reimagine Mr. Hyde as a giant, Hulk-like grotesque, draw hundreds of cameo appearances — and he does them all well. He’s a cartoonist of real wit and subversive tendencies.

Plot-wise, things get hinky very fast because things, as usual, are not what they seem. The at-least-slightly less metafictional aims of this first volume make for a slightly less introspective feel — one doesn’t feel like the whole enterprise of fiction is being interrogated on every page, even if it really is. The prose piece that concludes the volume takes us into some of the history of the members of the League, as we discover what led Alan Quatermain to the dire condition Mina finds him in near the beginning of this volume. Highly recommended.

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