Sunday, November 11, 2007
EARLY REVIEW-THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: BLACK DOSSIER (2007)
So after what seemed like a delay-plagued eternity, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: BLACK DOSSIER hits the stands this coming Wednesday, and I’m quite pleased to be in a position to give you an advance review of this eagerly awaited graphic novel (don't ask me how I got it). And, yes, there will be spoilers, so stop reading this right now if want to approach it cold, but I’ll tell you right now that I enjoyed BLACK DOSSIER quite a lot.
Writer Alan Moore (WATCHMEN and a shitload of other stuff worth reading) and illustrator Kevin O’Neill (NEMESIS THE WARLOCK) kick things off nearly sixty years after the previous installment’s thwarted Martian invasion and Mina Murray’s dissolution of the League, dropping us into the Britain of 1958, a country recovering from the regime of Big Brother (yes, the very same Big Brother you’re thinking of). This bleak Cold War landscape seems infested with spies and intrigue, and in the midst of it two mysterious figures infiltrate the former headquarters of the League — at the humiliating expense of the most accurate version of Ian Fleming’s most famous creation to be found outside of novels — and steal the Black Dossier, a compendium of articles and information that details the complete history of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, an impressive and bizarre lineage spanning centuries. As the thieves seek to avoid the thuggish cat’s-paws of British Intelligence — the aforementioned “double-0” operative, Bulldog Drummond, and his niece who would later gain fame as the “talented amateur” half of a legendary 1960’s British TV spy duo — they are revealed to be none other than Mina Murray, leader of the League’s best known lineup (now sporting a blonde dye-job) and a mystically rejuvenated Allan Quatermain. During the ensuing chase, the intrepid lovers peruse the contents of the dossier, and we readers here in the real world share their discoveries, getting filled in on the minutia of the League’s origins and incarnations, the encroaching threat of unimaginable horrors from the tales of H.P. Lovecraft, and so much more that I can’t even begin to deal with all of it here. The book’s only 208 pages long, but it’s so chock-a-block with content in several formats and genres that it’s going to take me at least another read or two to fully absorb all it has to offer, and maybe more after that.
The narrative featuring Mina and Allan’s adventures serves as a framing device that allows the creators leeway to jump all over the place with the content (very reminiscent of one of those hardcover British comics annuals that have been around forever) and it's a frankly overwhelming grab bag that features, among many other diversions, a scholarly essay on the origins of the world’s gods and monsters, Shakespeare’s unfinished final work that features, members of the Elizabethan era League, a detailed biography of the immortal gender-shifter Orlando, an account of how the anti-Britain Captain Nemo came to join the League — which includes a terrific two-page cutaway spread of O’Neill’s fantastical version of the Nautilus — a look at the French and German versions of the League (which feature criminals and madmen such as Dr. Mabuse, Rotwang, Arsene Lupin, Robur the Conqueror, and Fantomas, among others), a brilliant and tone-perfect story that brings Lovecraft’s mind-bending extra-dimensional wigglies into Jeeves and Wooster’s quaint setting, a cautionary Orwellian version of a “Tijuana Bible,” and even a section requiring 3-D glasses (yes, they’re included).
Plus Moore even manages to integrate Dan Dare, the Man From U.N.C.L.E., and the future as imagined by Gerry Anderson into his cross-media tapestry, for fuck’s sake!
As you can see, it’s a pretty dense piece of work, to say the very least.
Perhaps the most daunting thing about BLACK DOSSIER are the often jarring stylistic shifts between the various prose pieces, most of which bear the mark of Moore’s excessive verbiage, even when appropriately applied to simulating the styles of other authors, but each wordy segment is essential reading for fully getting the experience, so don’t skip over any of it, time consuming though it may be (this is especially true of the "beatnik" novel excerpt, which is essentially a five-page run-on sentence that offers little, if anything, to the narrative. But that just may be my own personal prejudice since I loathe most things "beat.")
Oddly, my favorite of the prose bits, a loopy sequel to John Cleland’s porn landmark FANNY HILL, is relatively short and moves at a brisk pace, and it’s over way too soon. I mean, how could I not enjoy a story in which Fanny gets a proper seeing-to from an aged and vibrator-wielding Gulliver while Lilliputians get their hump on all over the place in the same room, or the bit where Fanny and the League, complete with horse-drawn coach, almost meet their doom while secreted inside the vagina of a Brobdingnagian giantess whose husband wants some lovin’? It’s very funny, greatly aided by O’Neill’s straight-yet-humorous artwork (the POV shot of the fleeing heroes from within the giantess’ nethers is downright hilarious), and I would love to read more of such smutty insanity, material which works far better here than in Moore’s turgid and far more explicit LOST GIRLS.
So, the bottom line is BLACK DOSSIER is definitely a meaty and challenging read and worth every cent of its thirty dollar price tag, just be prepared to spend a lot of time making your way through the text segments; if ever there were a comics series for the internet information age, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is it, requiring much after the fact researching to get who many of the walk-on characters are, a task made much simpler thanks to the web. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!