Two entries for you lucky people today, as I’m off to Wales for the next few days and can’t honestly see myself having the energy to write an entry on Wednesday. Hurrah!
Anyway, this is an entry I’ve been meaning to write for a while, on the subject of one of my favourite comics of all time, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
A brief introduction for those of you who are not familiar with the comic (note: being familiar with the film is not the same thing). The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a comic set in a universe populated entirely by pre-existing fictional characters. The characters on the left are Allan Quatermain (of King Solomon’s Mines), Mina Murray (from Dracula, better known as Mina Harker), Doctor Jekyll (feat. Mr Hyde in mirror), Captain Nemo (20,ooo Leagues Under the Sea) and Hawley Griffin (The Invisible Man), who make up the titular League. In their first volume they find themselves up against a Chinese supervillain never specifically identified as Fu Manchu and in their second they come up against the events of The War of the Worlds. In the third book they find themselves smuggling information out of a post-Nineteen Eighty-Four Britain while pursued by “Jimmy” (whose close resemblance to James Bond is, of course, entirely coincidental), “Emma Night” (who, again coincidentally, has the same maiden name as Emma Peel and looks like her) and “Hugo Drummond” (sod it, he’s Bulldog Drummond and that’s that). The most recent story sees them on the sidelines of The Threepenny Opera while Oliver Haddo (of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Magician) weaves an occult plot. My, what a lot of parentheses.
This doesn’t come close to conveying the sheer density of fictional references crammed into every story. Anything can be a reference – a poster on a wall, a face in a crowd, a headline in a newspaper. What this means is that LoEG has what might be the densest fictional universe in comics, because not only do you have the stories themselves, but the stories behind the stories. For the most part, you don’t need to be familiar with the sources to get the comics, although I must admit that I did find the third volume, The Black Dossier, a little bit too reliant on its source material. For instance, has anyone here actually read The Blazing World? How about The Golliwogg? Well, surely you’ve read the Billy Bunter stories?
Having said that, it does mean that, as with many of Alan Moore’s comics, they reward rereading. I must have read the first volume twenty times and I’m still finding new stuff. And a lot of fun can be had when two or more sources are combined. For example, in Volume 2 it’s revealed that Rupert Bear, Mr Toad, Tiger Tim and the various creatures of The Wind in the Willows are human-animal hybrids created by Dr Moreau, who is the uncle of real-life painter of mythological creatures Gustave Moreau.
What’s all this doing on a blog about London? Well, in the entry immediately previous to this one, I mentioned that London has an alternative history based on mythology and fiction. LoEG, of course, takes place within that alternative history. In this world, London really was founded by Brutus. John Dee really was an accomplished magician (well, he would be – he was just Prospero in disguise). Six of the city churches were designed by Satanist architect Nicholas Dyer from Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor. Jack the Ripper existed, but was he Mack the Knife or Mr Hyde? Associates of the League include Norton, from Iain Sinclair’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy, and Mr Kiss, from Michael Moorcock’s Mother London. As every story takes place to a greater or lesser extent in the city, Moore and O’Neill really enjoy themselves combining the many characters associated in one way or another with the city. One of my favourite sequences in Volume 1 is one in which an elderly Artful Dodger is seen leading a gang of pickpockets made up of the ancestors of Eastenders characters.
It’s a comic with much to offer, even if you’re not a comic book fan (although I always think that lumping all comics together as a genre is a bit like assuming all movies are action films, or all novels are romances). Moore and O’Neill are both well known for their subversions of comic book convention, and LoEG is basically them going mental on a page. It’s highbrow, lowbrow, smart and silly all at once. Just remember one thing:
http://www.enjolrasworld.com/Jess%20Nevins/League%20of%20Extraordinary%20Gentlemen/LoEG%20index.htm – Jess Nevins has attempted to chronicle every single reference in the series. Worth a look when you’re reading the comic.
What really became of Captain Nemo? Find out at https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/hes-a-slippery-one-that-captain-nemo/