Friday, May 3, 2013

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1969

The beat goes on...or does it?

By 1969 (Century's second volume) the events of interim adventure The Black Dossier have already played out, Mina and Allan are fugitives from the Government and working for Prospero, Shakespeare’s exiled Duke of Milan now ruling over The Blazing World. Pointedly here is now no ‘League’ as such, all Imperial obligations having been tossed aside with the surviving members near-fugitives themselves and only the Dossier’s eternal wastrel Orlando hanging on, dropping names and changing genders with deliberately tedious regularity. In fact, tedium and the tedium of immortality appear to be a running theme in this trilogy, the three League survivors now being themselves, effectively, immortal and in pursuit of an immortal enemy, Alan Moore’s adopted Aleister Crowley analogue Oliver Haddo, who collects new identities and earthly vessels almost as regularly as Orlando replaces his. The two crucial 'new' allies of the League, Orlando (an immortal and ultimately impotent wreck, deliberately drawn, I'd say) and ‘prisoner of London’ Andrew Norton, (another immortal and cryptic Greek chorus - pointedly also not able to directly intervene in the story) lend another disturbing themes to the Century storyline – impotence. The League are, it would appear, designed to never win, or never achieve a victory that isn't itself Pyrrhic.

And so to Moore’s alternative pulp literature London the league drift, transported by Nemo’s daughter Janni aboard the Nautilus; however as much as stepping off the submarine Mina, Allan and Orlando are also stepping away from the series’ past and the kernel of Moore’s conceit. We’ve already had one out-of-sequence story in The Black Dossier (itself a format-challenging collection of multimedia in-jokes – a 45 rpm record, a Tijuana Bible, Orlando’s randy and bloodthirsty story told as a series of Look and Learn picture stories), now it seems the added conceit (admittedly Moore’s strongest suit in this series) – recreating the world of the past through fictional analogues, has beaten Century’s plotline to near impotence itself. It’s very clever, of course, and Kevin O’Neill’s witty artwork does wonders to mollify the loss of intrigue, but I came away from Century 1969 feeling like I’d read less and merely traipsed along with Mina, Allan and Orlando through a literary Where’s Wally? Which was much of the fun of the original series of course, but by 1969 popular culture is everywhere, more recognisable (I can – only just – say it’s outside my own lifetime) and with its familiarity less exotic. Where in the past there was an intrigue to the inclusion and rubbing of shoulders between Conan Doyle’s Moriarty, Fu Man Chu, Verne’s Nemo and Wells’ Professor Cavor, there’s less surprise and novelty in seeing Thunderbirds’ Parker filling up on a motorway lay-by while Michael Caine’s Jack Carter provides voiceover. Even more, the cameo of Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor passed me by, and I can’t decide whether it’s because he’s already too familiar a face to me as a Doctor Who fan, or because on reflection the brief appearance of a Sixties time traveler in a story about literal time travelers is just not that interesting.

That said, 1969 does at least push the major story line forward in a way, teasing out the series finale by way of another thinly-veiled franchise-bothering character (“My first name’s Tom, my middle name’s a marvel and my last name’s a conundrum.”) Once you’ve reached that point you’ve perused appearances from all James Bonds (a lovely scene, really), Nicholas Roeg’s Performance (every Rutles needs a Stones analogue, naturally), and crucially, a denouement borrowing heavily from the Hyde Park memorial concert for Brian Jones, deftly tying three plot strands together, but stranding the hapless League all the more. It’s a downbeat ending to an important chapter, but I cared less this time around. Where to from here?

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