Saturday, February 07, 2009
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 -- Well, golly, it's good to have a new Alan Moore comic book in my hands at last. Better still to have that comic book be in the form of a new issue of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which with artist Kevin O'Neill's wonky, angular visual contributions is among the finest works in Moore's oeuvre.
At one point in this first chapter of "Century," a planned three-part series in the LOEG saga, Mina Murray says "Do you know, for the first time in my life, I feel stupid." Moore's visceral, brilliant use of language often leaves me feeling the same way; my first try reading his extraordinary prose novel Voice of the Fire, for example, left me feeling quite dumb and inadequate. When I revisited it with a couple of years more life experience, I found it a breathtaking, wild ride through history and the power of the imagination to change the world. I've said this before, but if you find an Alan Moore story unrewarding, the chances are very, very good that it's you that is the problem, not Moore's writing. He's always been ahead of his time, and the impact of that can be quite disorienting.
I felt a bit of this effect early on in the story, because it's obvious that Moore uses many, many references to historical and fictional people and events, and in such a breakneck manner that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by just how much information is being processed in any given panel, on any given page. But no matter how many references, in-jokes and allusions you do or do not pick up on, there's no question that no more baroque and diverse intelligence has ever written for comics, and after years of mistreatment and abuse by DC and Marvel, frankly we're lucky to have him writing any comics for any company at all. Better still, he's now writing them for Top Shelf Productions, known for visionary projects and extraordinary production values.
Being out from under DC's corporate thuggery allows Moore and O'Neill wide latitude to ply their trade as they truly see fit, so the language and violence found in this story are ramped up a bit from what came before in this series. LOEG was never children's fare, but Moore and O'Neill both seem a little freer in their imaginings than previous volumes might have suggested. The overall effect is one of added maturity, narrative depth and creative freedom. Additionally, using Bertolt Brecht lyrics throughout establishes a brutal Greek Chorus effect that culminates in a disastrously marvelous conclusion to the issue, and one that, despite the story being set a century in the past, seems devastatingly current in its observations and implications for our modern world. I doubt very much this is coincidence.
Like the previous release in this series, The Black Dossier, LOEG: Century 1910 feels like a departure from what went before. Some familiar faces are present, at least for a time, but some are gone and some are changed from how we last saw them. There's an exciting sense that the world Moore and O'Neill have created is a living thing, ever moving away from its own past and its own status quo, and speaking as someone who likes his comic books to reflect actual life experience rather than emotionally stunted fantasy, I find this element quite satisfying. It's good to catch up with old friends, but far more rewarding to share new adventures with them than stagnantly reflecting on old victories. No one feels safe or comfortable in Century 1910, and there's a feeling that anything can happen. New characters and ideas, like The Prisoner of London and a certain sea captain's righteously vengeful daughter, infuse the story with a power and immediacy that makes the long wait for this new release well worth while. LOEG: Century 1910 is everything this series has led you to expect: Fast-paced, visually dense and wildly imaginative. It feels to me like having comics back again, in all their unkempt glory. The League is back, and so are Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. I haven't read anything better so far this year, and I urge you to lose yourself once more in this extraordinary series.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 will be released in April, 2009 by Top Shelf Productions.
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