In League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910, there’s a scene where Mycroft Holmes grumbles about how the country is clearly going into decline. The follow-ups Century 1969 and Century 2009 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill seem to take the same view. Spoilers ahead, be warned.
Century 1969 has Allan, Mina and Orlando return to swinging London to make another attempt at stopping Haddo from raising the Antichrist (following his recent failure in New York—a reference to Rosemary’s Baby). Unfortunately Mina’s starting to crack as the nature of immortality sinks in; Allan, the former opium addict, has to fight his desire for the freely available drugs. And Haddo’s plan is not what they think … I have no idea what the creators’ views of the 1960s are, but the take here is that it’s a sour, joyless time, where drugs and sex are invariably a mistake and partying just makes you vulnerable to being kidnapped by cultists. And like Black Dossier, if you don’t get some of the references, you’ll miss some of the fun — while I get some of the throw-away lines in the opening scene, the awareness there’s stuff I’m missing was very distracting (in an normal comic, they’d have been just two guys getting stoned and screwing)—though admittedly on first read I was happy to go look them up online. Oh, and there’s no shortage of rape: Haddo rapes a woman in flashback, he apparently feels Mina up in astral space, and Tom Riddle (yep, the Harry Potter guy) almost rape Mina while she’s passed out.
2009 was my least favorite on first reading, so it’s not surprising it doesn’t feel quite as awful on the reread — but it still isn’t good. Alan, Mina and Orlando reunite to face the Antichrist, who’s actually Harry Potter, but don’t worry, Mary Poppins is God and shows up at the end (I guess it’s a true deus ex machina) to kill the bad guy with ease. There’s no rape (good) but there is more singing-as-captions (bad). And the book is very heavy-handed in making Harry Potter the butt of Moore’s scorn, although one critic suggests the issue isn’t really JK Rowling but the decline in originality, publishing refusing to take risks and modern culture in general sucking. And along with the culture, 2009 society as a whole is a bleak awful mess, so far fallen from the glory days of Victorian Britain.
If that is Moore’s point, I don’t buy it. It’s not like there weren’t franchises 100 years ago (Allan Quatermain appeared in lots of stories) or bad fiction. I don’t buy originality is dwindling, though I don’t deny publishers are getting increasingly cautious. But there’s also much more resistance to the kind of racial stereotypes Moore employs in Book I, more diversity (not enough, but still an improvement) — and much as I love Moore’s premise for the LXG series, recycling lots of fictional characters is hardly complete originality. And for all its many faults, today is still ahead of Victoria’s world, to say nothing of 2009 in LXG being the product of decades of British dictatorship. So I’m not sure it’s a fair critique of our world anyway. Lord knows I grumble about Comics Today! often enough but at least I try to acknowledge it as a matter of taste and not a sweeping indictment of culture’s decline.
My view of the three Nemo graphic novels — Heart of Ice, Roses of Berlin, River of Ghosts — hasn’t changed much from my original reviews, so although i reread them, I won’t re-review them. But like the main series, I could easily see the references getting in the way of readers who don’t recognize them; Roses of Berlin is the strongest partly because the plot (Janni Nemo leads a strike force into WW II Berlin to find her daughter) is strong enough to work even if you don’t know the references (I think).
Tomorrow, I’ll post a timeline for the LXG world that I’ve been working on.
Covers by O’Neill, all rights to current holders.