Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of the latest freaking League of Extraordinary Gentlemen story (Top Shelf, 2011).

Have things really become this awful? Honestly, the best that I can say about the latest, interminable, bloodless exploit of the restless and bored adventurers of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is that it's not quite as bad as I thought it was when I first read it. It did improve markedly on a second read, but I still didn't like it at all.

I was not expecting much; Kevin O'Neill, whose work stopped thrilling me at some point between Metalzoic and Marshal Law many years ago, has always had trouble hitting deadlines, but the amount of time he spends drawing these comics only for them to emerge looking so darn ugly just leaves me baffled. It's not as though he's phoning it in; the amount of detail that he packs onto the page really is amazing, but it all looks so flat and it doesn't serve any damn purpose whatsoever other than to give Jess Nevins something to annotate. There's not a point in the world in agonizing over putting caricatures of the actors who played Steptoe and Son into the crowd scenes of your pages when they don't serve the story, slow you down, and, oh, look like they've been run through the ugly machine. Well, not that those guys were winning beauty pageants in the real world, but still.

So, I was predisposed to dislike this comic because I greatly dislike Kevin O'Neill's art, which is certainly heretical in many of the quarters in which I visit, and because I'm amazed that he keeps getting a pass from a fandom for taking such an absurd time to finish the work. I know that sounds like a reverse Woody Allen complaint, but, really, when artists whose work I enjoy more could have illustrated this story in far, far less time, it really feels like a story that I (once) wanted to read is being held up by substandard art. I've given previous editions of the book a break because I was willing to overlook the art that I find unappealing in order to get to the story. Alan Moore often gets that kind of a pass, but often, lately, he's lost me. I'm not about to spend money on, to use a beacon-bright example, Lost Girls, because, while I've no objection to comic book porn, that doesn't sound like the sort of porn that I want to read, and worse, it's just about the most awful art that I have ever seen in any comic, ever, and is, by consequence, the least erotic thing imaginable. Johnny Ryan and Sam Henderson could have made a sexier comic.

But anyway, the flat reality, now that we're into the "Century" cycle of stories, is that I no longer want to read about Mina and the boys, and this art that I can't stand is just making matters worse. Mina's stiff and grouchy exterior played well as a supercilious Victorian, but what the hell is she still doing stomping around with a Victorian-era chip on her shoulder in the nearly-modern day? Socially, the world has become so much brighter and more effervescent since her time, but she's absolutely joyless when not hateful; she's given up, and her malaise infects the story. Orlando and Quatermain seem to want to move on and enjoy life, but they're stuck, loyal and subservient, for some mad reason, to her. When the climax sees Mina separated from her associates, I was left with relief. Soon, Orlando and Quartermain will be able to hang out with Jason King and have some fun for once.

It's always been amusing to watch Moore just get down in the dirt and mess with perceptions and expectations about how the great and the forgotten characters of fiction really would interact with each other. Seeing the not-James Bond-for-trademark-reasons James Bond get such a comeuppance for his vulgar chauvinism in The Black Dossier was a scream, for instance. But Moore has Adam Adamant so utterly backwards in his cameo that it drives home how unpleasant Mina has become, and how there is no longer any reason to read about her. The televsion Adamant was trapped in suspended animation from 1902 until 1966, when he was unfrozen and began solving the sort of cases that John Steed and Emma Peel would normally handle, and, much like Steed, he loved life. Swinging London confounded him for a few moments before he jumped in and took the city and the 1960s by storm. Well, as much storm as a cheap 1960s BBC videotape drama would allow.

So Moore takes a character, who, cut adrift from his stodgy old morality and culture, adapted to the 1960s with wild enthusiasm and abandon, and then lets the unpleasant and bored Mina undermine him and play him for laughs? It's long been suspected that Moore just doesn't like modern life at all, but perhaps more was revealed here in the telling of the joke than was intended. The old crank has lost me. Not recommended.


ADD said...

I liked this issue more than the previous one, maybe because I understood more of the references and dug the fact that, as you point out, it's closer to the present day.

O'Neil's art is trouble for me -- I don't dislike it, and sometimes I love it, but it's almost always a process of having to will my eyes and my consciousness to immerse myself in the world he's created. I'll note LOEG is the only art he's done that I do enjoy.

I still hold Moore in the highest esteem, and I think his ethics and values really are what put him at odds with corporate superhero publishers, but I will concede that his recent works, especially this and Neonomicon, are dark, challenging works and I can't fault anyone (like yourself) who has given them an honest try but doesn't want to go on the journey for those reasons, Grant.

Now, the fanboys who despise Moore FOR his ethics and values, or anyone in the industry who knowingly takes a paycheck while poking Moore in the eye (Watchmen 2 and everyone involved, I am looking squarely at YOU), can go fuck themselves.

In summation, while you and I got different things out of this book, Grant, I enjoyed reading this and I appreciate your point of view.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've tried to stick to the series, but this last stretch of stories has lost me as well.

I tried to like it, I really did, but by the end of it I didn't really know what I was reading. I actually felt somewhat insulted by the fact that I had wasted time reading what amounted to trash for me. Guess I expected more from Moore than hatred of most things modern.

The original incarnataion of the League and their adventures appealed to me more because they were still identifiable as elements from the classics. In this 'Century' cycle, they've lost that, and, what was worse for me, subtle caricature has turned into outright mockery. This is especially the case with the final book of the series, which really is a mess in terms of characterisation (though I did appreciate the appearance of Mary Poppins).