Is It Wednesday Yet?
12 May 2009 Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!
Our grading scale is simple:
Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions / Knockabout Comics
Released: 06 May 2009
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neill
Colorist: Ben DiMagmaliw
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover: Kevin O'Neill
Review: Preston Nelson
If someone could kindly explain to me exactly why all the greatest comic book writers go completely insane, I would love to hear it. Maybe they start believing their own hype, or just maybe it takes a certain kind of mind to construct stories that work in comic book format. But to think that the same guy who wrote Watchmen and The Killing Joke scribed this is just depressing. It's not that this book is bad; it's just that it's clear that Moore is a shell of the man he used to be. Say what you want about his past works, it's hard to argue that Moore is anything but a master of his craft. Pacing, dialog, characterization and the storyline were all at his mercy. So to see his writing reduced to this jumbled mess is disheartening. To see one of the masters of the craft go back to the well unsuccessfully is painful.
Set in 1910, this book follows only two of the original five members of the League: Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain. Following the events of The Black Dossier, they're aided by Orlando, an immortal youth who can change his gender. And he carries Excalibur. The team is filled out by AJ Raffles and Thomas Carnacki, a thief and a medium, respectively. Nothing against the team assembled, but it's a far cry from the original lineup of recognizable characters with useful skills. And, while I consider myself something of a literary buff, I recognized none of the new Gentlemen, which grandly defeats the concept of the series. The League is about characters that mean something to the reader, united against a threat that none of them could defeat alone. Say what you want about the original League books, but the team members were all entirely distinct, with individual looks, attitudes and personalities. The new team is four men in suits and Mina. And none of these men have anything that resembles a personality. They all serve as plot points, but only Quatermain, Murray and Orlando do anything of worth.
Moore's strongest point in the past has been telling a story, while subtly injecting a grander purpose. His characters were all shades of grey no one was really a hero, but no one was really all bad, either. Those magnificent shades of grey are attempted here, but never seem to succeed. We find ourselves following the daughter of Captain Nemo, who runs away from home because of a fit, which causes the elderly and bedridden Captain to lose his will to live. She never expresses remorse, she never sheds a tear for her father, but in order for us to have sympathy for her, Moore relies on the most clichιd and sickening storytelling devices he can: she is raped and beaten. This act pisses me off, as rather than investing the time and effort into making Janni a character we care about, Moore just has something terrible happen to her. Rather than making us empathize with the character, he makes us pity her. I believe the root of this problem to be something remarkably simple: Alan Moore has no idea how to write women. Well, that's not entirely accurate. Alan Moore has no idea how to write women outside of two categories: the lecherous old crone, and the guarded / angry young woman who suffers from parent issues likely because her mother was a lecherous old crone. Not all of his female characters fit that distinction entirely Evey from V for Vendetta is among the rare exceptions but when Moore doesn't feel like totally investing himself in a female character, these are his two fallbacks.
O'Neill's art and DiMagmaliw's colors are admittedly masterful. There's a real gritty sensibility to what these men have created, and though they are illustrating far less fantastic things than they could be, they find a way to make the ordinary just a little fantastic in itself. The book is, undoubtedly, wonderful to look at. There's something so angular and foreign to the art, which marinades in the cool color scheme that has been created. The opening panels are some of the most memorable; they show the bedroom of Carnacki, but more importantly, they demonstrate the attention to detail that one expects from O'Neill. In the panels were the Nautilus is seen, the art truly shines, making something so impossible seem so real. Sometimes the faces are a bit more fluid than they should be with features shifting and faces changing but I think it's forgivable. The whole book has the look of a newspaper cartoon from the time. It's a period piece and the art reflects that, wonderfully. It's never hard to tell what's going on, and when finally given the chance, it really lets loose and delivers something well worth looking at.
In all honesty, the book feels recycled. Moore is relying on storytelling methods and imagery we've seen from him before and we've seen him do it better. He's trying to create more of his precious metafiction, but it comes across as a pretentious mess. It feels like Alan Moore has forgotten what comic books are; while it's nice to have something deep and thought-provoking, the fun to be had with a book should never be sacrificed. This is the first of his books that I honestly felt was a chore. In the past, I've read Moore's writing with glee, eagerly awaiting to see where this master of the story would take me next. But here, he's so ham-fisted with his message and his ideals of metafiction and depth, that there is no joy to be had. All that's left in this book is the angry rantings of a bitter old man. And to see one of the greatest writers in comic book history reduced to that isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Maybe I'm being harder on this book than I should, because of the names attached. Maybe I'm letting my preconceived notions warp my sensibilities. But this is Alan Moore! This man is the standard that all great comic book writers should aspire to. Maybe if this book was attached to another author I'd be kinder to it. But, it's not. It's attached to a man who has never failed to blow my mind before, and in that, it's the greatest disappointment of all. To be totally objective, it's probably worthy of a borrow, but I'm just going to pretend it never happened.