Wednesday, July 31, 2013

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009

"London is a country coming down from its trip. We are sixty days from the end of this decade and there's gonna be a lot of refugees. They'll be going round the town shoutin' 'Bring Out Your Dead'."

Rounding out Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's most recent LoEG series is the final chapter in the Century trilogy, set a mere four years ago in our time, a more recognisable world in parts, and that's a problem for me. But first, a recap. When last we encountered the core surviving League (Alan Quatermain, Mina Murray, Orlando), it was 1969, and the above prophecy of Withnail and I's fried hippy Danny (not featured in that strip - boo) has rapidly and unexpectedly taken form. Oliver Haddo's Moonchild is slipped into the world, and the League is once again rendered impotent and separate from one another for thirty quite years.

So, apparently, nothing of import ever happened to the ex-members of the League in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties? Which is interesting. Mina by the opening of 2009 is, as she was left at the end of 1969, in a sanitarium, Alan completes his League circle and retreats to a vagrant, narcotic denial of his existence, and Orlando continues his/her doomed existential holding pattern, signing up to fight for Queen and country in far-off places. Only when Moore analogue Prospero intrudes to literally push the narrative into second gear does Orlando find her purpose and the rags of the League reassemble themselves.

I have to say that to me 2009 is the most frustrating of the series, particularly for its references which play either as being outside of my familiar zone (I haven't, to my shame, yet watched The Wire or The Thick Of It, but apparently neither has Moore) or too far into them; once you've seen one fanfic where the current Doctor and companion turn up in the background then you've really seen the lot. I've a British friend who is to this day unable to bring himself to critically assess Britpop because for him 1994-1997 is still too recent history. I feel much the same with 2009 - it's playing Where's Wally with contemporary culture, and in the age of the Internet and fan fiction, DeviantArt and the like, it's not more than anywhere else Moore's magpie tendancies show the master up - his recent griping about a small screen adaptation of the original League series (yes, it will most likely miss the point and be awful, but then again it might not

There's less of an element of literary discovery this time around because of that overfamiliarity, so I found it less fun. I also feel some sadness at the easy surrender Moore seems to have made to Twentieth-century media - heroes and villains of literature in this trilogy have been usurped by those of cinema and TV, meaning Kev O'Neill's previously imaginative recreations of the formerly described now becomes a duty of caricature. It's a role he fills like a pro, of course, but he's also better than this.  It's disappointing also to see Moore, whose version of the Doctor in the Doctor Who Weekly strips had such a profound impact on the modern era of the show, reduce the character's role of that of a walk-on. Add Torchwood and Ashes to Ashes and the box-ticking seems all the more obvious.  By the time we get to the inevitable reveal of the Antichr- sorry, Moonchild himself the novelty is sort of spent - a twisted vision of a boy magician ubiquitous in books, films and all manner of visual merchandising? It's painting one's self into a corner. The two highlights I took from 2009 were returns to already-established or covered characters - the various Jimmy Bonds and Andrew Norton. I will concede the final Deus Ex Machina is fantastic, however - almost matching Black Dossier's WTF Golliwog moment for bravado and genuine surprise. But getting there was not half as much fun. League's immortals have long become burned-out monsters, with only one expendable member remaining to meet their demise here. If this is the last we'll see of the current League then perhaps it's for the best.

I did wonder while reading 2009 what the point of an aside to Janni Nemo and her terrorist offspring might have been, given they have no significant role in the main story. Fortunately there's a spin-off recently out, Nemo - Heart of Ice, which is filling in some pieces rather neatly.

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