Friday, May 5, 2017

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen considered


Published by DC/ABComics and Top Shelf Comix
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill.

Imagine if you will a world that is alive with the fictional characters that have been created by creative artists, and that they've powers as written, so the world can't do anything but be different, and its history forms entirely differently than in our own world.

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is a work that not only has heroes and villains, as in the world of comics, but these are real, there are a vast number of them, and they have a real effect upon the world in which they live.  This is not Metropolis post Superman and Brainiac fighting, destroying the city, and the next day it is fine.  The cast fight and try to save the earth, whenever challenged, but they go about things differently than say, the Justice League, or Avengers, because they are not, for the most part, invulnerable.  The consequences of this vulnerability creates many story passages that are, ultimately, more satisfactory than the "superheroes", because there is a consequence of their actions, their heroism is performed at a cost, and they exist, afterward in the world that they helped save.  

The characters found in the LoEG are drawn from many sources, gods, humans, freaks, geniuses, and all genders.  They are drawn, also, from myth and legends as well as popular fiction, esoteric movies, and characters drawn from copyrighted material who are a pastiche, or deliberately called a less trademarked name.  For instance, James Bond is a part of the stories, but called Jimmy, to avoid the wrath of lawyers.  There are so many sources and choices for characters it is hard to collect them all and still be cogent.  As such, I should say, this is by no means a bad thing.  The depth of each character and use, brings all of popular fiction, from comics, to pulps, to novels, to movies, to legends, and myths and even Japanese Kaiju to the table.  When you can see Randolph Carter of HP Lovecraft's world being the grandson of John Carter, who became a Prince of Mars, you can enjoy the conceit of it all, at the same time be fascinated about every crumb of information passed down to the reader, through character interactions, mentions, front page of newspapers, and more.  

The main characters are both human and different from human.  While we see many odd events and use of powers, we don't see nearly so many as from superheroes.  And with the cost of each adventure being potentially death, there is a feeling of actual threat.  Whether encountering or fighting Fu Manchu, Godzilla, Moriarity, the Anti Christ, David Palmer from the series 24, nothing is taken for granted, the reader knows there are so many tricks that can be played.  At the same time, I am not suggesting that the surface level story isn't excellent.  The layers of lives, fictions, and events that are added together could well have been shit.  One simply needs to look at the movie of LoEG and see that, just because an idea is great, it doesn't mean everyone will have the same results in using it.   The series is also very interesting from a history of pulp novels, adventure paperbacks, and more, that it is able to recreate a league for nearly every era of civilization.  And as a historian I am deeply impressed with the writer's deft use of fiction and fact.

A great many people will read an issue of LeOG and not realize what they've missed.  That is a part of parody and satire that is "dangerous".  If a person uses an ethnic slur ironically, being deeply offended by the word, anyone not familiar with the person using it can, perhaps rightly so, imagine and condemn that person, with no knowledge of their motive/use.   This means, the more you know, the better this book is.  Anyone can enjoy it.  I have no issue saying that.  But the more you love the  characters used, in the way they are used, will yield significant enjoyment.

An aspect of the series that is often ignored, but is important, is the art.  The artist has a style that is very similar to the Victorian era works it here depicts.  The front covers are often torn from real sources and parodied, and while again, the reader might not see it, there is a level of fiction being created that has so many layers, due to the expertise of all involved.  This adds so much to the metafiction of Moore's characters and world.  I like the art as much as the writing.

I told someone that I was reading the works of this series, and they replied, "I don't get it."  And I asked what do you mean?  They said, "I don't know anyone and it is confusing."  I can say that if you read every page it will not be confusing.  If you wish to blast through all of the volumes in five minutes, well then you get what you pay for.

The depths of this work, like so many by Alan Moore, makes it one of the best works I've ever read.   It is constantly interesting, compelling, and rewarding.

As one might suspect, their exists a number of guides to understanding the LeOG.  They are excellent, but more for the aficionado than newb.  They add a layer to what I thought was already a lot of detail.


Not herein reviewed, just suggesting that the Victorian is a similarly intriguing tale, following the work of a hero destined to take down a major conspiratorial group that threaten the workings of government and finance.  These are highly recommended, but are not quite of the level of LoEG.


The Ruse series, by Mark Waid, Butch Guice, and others, follows a Victorian era detective who has a bright female assistant, and a dangerous, and beautiful enemy.  It is very much like a James Bond story from 150 years ago, and it is quite light and enjoyable.  It, like the Victorian, is very good, but not in the LeOG league, so to speak.

Thanks to Top Shelf for their providing Volume 3.  It was a joy to read.

I will be back next Friday with another entry into the world of Comics and popular culture.

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