When introduced to The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen in their first incarnation, we were given a Boy’s Own styleyarn for the modern age. Moore took characters from classic literature, recasting them as disparate, misfit heroes drawn together to form a sort of Victorian Justice Society. A second volume, shifting in tone, followed (as well as an irredeemable movie adaptation which we shall mention no more of here) and explored darker aspects of the characters and the age, ending in much death and dissolution.
Then came The Black Dossier, a supplemental history of the League packaged like an annual (reviewed here), with text heavy pieces serving as homage to various literary styles, stretching from the days of Prospero and his men, straight though to the 20th century. This showed the League that we knew, as more than simply a group of eccentric heroes, but rather a smaller cog in a expansive and creative universe. The Black Dossier took the confines of the previous books and pushed back their boundaries, leaving some readers a little overwhelmed by the lack of plot, narrative structure.
So that is where we left you, dear reader, as Messrs Moore & O’Neill began to steer the League away from the classic adventure yarns into altogether different and uncharted realms. With this in mind we come to the third official story from the League’s archives in Century: 1910 , the first of three books which will form the story of one hundred years in the life of the League, book two continuing in the mid-sixties and book three in the present day.
This instalment’s most obvious influence is Brecht & Weill’s Threepenny Opera, with Moore and O’Neill turning much of the action quite literally into a song and dance, as characters sing large portions of dialogue to further the plot or drive home portentous messages. However, knowledge of 1920s German Marxist operas is not vital, as song and dance interweaves with mystery and murder.
New league member Carnaki (a ghost hunter) is having apocalyptic dreams, so together with regulars Mina Murray and Alan Quartermain, Orlando (an immortal he/she) and Raffles (a gentleman thief), they set out on a mission to find the cause of these visions. Meanwhile, Janni (a reluctant pirate queen) arrives in London hoping to escape her terrifying birthright, only to walk into the nightmarish world of the Docklands with its filthy and violent inhabitants. Inhabitants such as MacHeath, a vicious character and quite possibly infamous Londoner, back from years at sea to rekindle his bloody business.
Moore shows us a largely ineffectual team, who, unlike in previous chapters, are often quite literally in the wrong place at the wrong time, wandering aimlessly with little clue about what is really going on, at one point actually sowing the seeds of this as yet unknown apocalypse. Elsewhere, murderers roam free, occultists plot, and a bloody trail of violence is wreaked, ultimately leading to furious retribution being paid upon the people of London.
To say anymore would be to spoil the book, but it’s clear that this is a League out of step with the problems of the modern age and that Moore and O’Neill will be using the next two chapters in this story to show how Mina and her followers cope, if indeed they can, with the mayhem and chaos of a new century.
Of course, it would be remiss to not say that, as with all of the other League books, Kevin O’Neill’s artwork is truly fantastic . His scratchy, energetic style (which solidified his name in 2000AD and Marshall Law) beautifully evokes not only the gritty feel of turn of the century London, but also serves to mirror the dark themes which are explored in this third volume, bringing a vibrancy to London‘s most reprehensible characters.
Century: 1910 is tremendously fun, and what may at first glance seem like a sidestep is, in fact, a compromise between the two ages of the League, with a welcome return to plot driven narrative for those of you who were less than enamoured with the detour taken by The Black Dossier, allowing Moore & O’Neill to show us a glimpse at what the future might hold in a world which is better served by the monstrous deeds of violent psychopaths, than the swash and buckle of gentleman adventurers.