The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009

“Just…just get away from me! I don’t do that stuff anymore. I … I can’t. Leave me alone!” So says a prodigiously bearded, broken Allan Quatermain to his former partner in heroism, the gender-shifting Orlando, before running away. And later, to his ex-lover Mina Murray: “That’s all shit! All the adventuring … Th-that’s what’s fucked us all up, isn’t it?”

The promise inherent in all Moore’s work is also its peril. The meticulous, ostentatious authored-ness of his writing—a clockwork of references, symmetries, analogs and analogies—invites you do dig in and decipher, since there’s so obviously something to be dug into and deciphered. But only up to a point: Once you feel you’ve unearthed the “secret” of a particular Moore book, you might well stop digging. And by god, the exchanges above sure do feel like the point where you hit metal instead of dirt and say, “Guys, I think we’ve got something here,” as you toss your shovel aside. Though Quatermain has one more “L” and way less beard than the magus of Northampton, the resemblance is striking nonetheless, and the attitude toward the general field and specific genre in which he made his name unmistakable. And you know, if that’s all there is to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009 (I am going to miss writing out these titles, I tell you) — if it’s just Moore casting a harried, horrified look back over his shoulder at the world of comics and superheroes he revolutionized, then rejected, then was rejected by — that wouldn’t be so bad. It would, in fact, be fitting.

Moore’s oft-expressed, arguably oxymoronic, simultaneously held ignorance and contempt of contemporary entertainment leaves his stab at a post-millennial literary mash-up a much less comprehensive, more idiosyncratic venture than past installments of this long-running series. The events of the issue are dominated almost entirely by pastiches of the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises, both of which he reduces basically to bad jokes: The various movie Bonds are a series of replacement agents who’ve all aged in real time, up to and including a wheelchair-bound nonagenarian version kept alive by M (who’s also Emma Peel) as punishment for being a dick; Harry is the Antichrist, which discovery he celebrates by massacring everyone at Hogwarts before transforming into a giant with hundreds of eyeballs all over his body who shoots lightning out of his dick. Nods to the two TV shows Moore has admitted to watching over the past decade are almost disproportionately prominent: The fathers of half the cast of The Wire are the protagonists of the prose backup story, while the fellow who curses creatively in all those YouTube supercuts assembled from Armando Iannucci’s various enterprises does so here for two full pages. There’s a half-hearted stab at satire, maybe, in the form of a few shots at the fundamental conservatism and lack of ambition at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s fantasy franchise, but nothing Rowling ever wrote was half as dire, daft, or, Glycon help us, reactionary as “People were desperately poor in 1910, but at least they felt things had a purpose. How did culture fall apart in barely a hundred years?” This is something Moore makes Mina say, as though being assaulted by Dracula, the Invisible Man, and Lord Voldemort weren’t punishment enough. Aaron Sorkin, call your lawyer.

But despite its flabby, fallow bits … no, wait, that’s not the right way to put it. Its flabby, fallow bits are kind of the point. If any living comics creator has earned the right to end his epic with an “Uh, so the giant evil Harrychrist kills Allan Quatermain with electric piss, but then, I dunno, Mary Poppins shows up and kills the giant evil Harrychrist with her magic umbrella powers, something like that. Also she’s the Biblical God. Alright, see you later,” it’s Alan Moore. I like that League, potentially his final work in comics, ends with a shaggy-dog deus ex machina even woollier than Watchmen’s. I like that the final boss has all the menace of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (whom I’m a bit surprised has never made an appearance, actually). I like that the archvillain goes down with the same lackadaisical ease with which he defeated our heroes in the previous installment. I like that Moore’s primary response to a culture he finds baffling and dispiriting is to make corny jokes at the expense of the few bits he’s processed despite himself. I like that he uses that baffling, dispiriting tone to have Kevin O’Neill draw a visual symphony of wrinkly paunchy sad-eyed hatchet-faced people—it’s like having Ditko draw a comic about hand models who communicate using sign language. I like that they embody it by spending about as much time over the course of the issue depicting Orlando and later Mina futzing around her apartment doing various vulnerable things — showering, menstruating, pigging out on the couch while watching TV, having sex, snuggling, brushing the knots out of Mina’s scraggly hair — as they do showing the climactic battle. After the Wold Newton-style world-literature world-building of Black Dossier, the bloodbath of 1910, and the emotional catastrophe of 1969, it feels like creators and characters have earned their exhaustion.

It hounds Allan (spoiler alert!) right into the grave, poor chap, said grave being the final splash-page image of the book. On the verge of killing himself, the old adventurer finds he can’t pull the trigger, and decides to turn his wit and weapon against evil once again, and dies saving the people he loves. Mina’s words to her dying beloved are way too touching just to be a lampoon of what Jason Aaron once cried into his pillow: “Oh, Allan, Allan. Please don’t die. Y-you’re … you’re my … my hero.” There’s a whole world of grief and loss and self-discovery in that line, since after all it was Mina and Allan’s attempt to be in love without acknowledging that love means you lose your independence, that you need another person as badly as oxygen, that ultimately drove them apart, and mad, after decades of life together. But it does no good for Allan, just as one suspects the love and the need that comics has for Alan and vice versa will do no good for him either. We’ve looked down and shouted, “Save us!” and he’s looked up and whispered, “No.”


19 Responses to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009

  1. Do we know if he’s going to continue moving the story forward from 2009 in it? (I know it takes place decades earlier, but this is the League, they can do anything.) Or is it the way it seems here, like this is the end of the League’s story, and future installments will fill in gaps in the past?

  2. Tony says:

    Wow, thanks for that link David, there’s always this gloom and doom over Moore “increasing aversion” to comics like any new book could be his last… news like that are always a relief.

    And at the same time Bagge announces new projects too:
    After Reset, Bagge visits historical biography, but this time with a Bagge-ian twist:
    “Once I’m done with this, I have a project waiting in the wings for Drawn and Quarterly, but I’m going to do a book length bio comic about Margaret Sanger. She was quite wild in her younger days. She was a tramp! No wonder she was so big on birth control,” he laughs.

    And brand new books by Ware and Burns are upon us after the summer… and collections by Crumb and Tomine… and another myriad of things.

    We truly are living in a new golden age.


  3. Paul Slade says:

    Right. What’s the Burns book?

  4. Paul Slade says:

    I bought vol.1, but I’d I’d actually forgotten there was a second one coming. Shows how much King of the Flies has outweighed it in my interest lately.

  5. Adam says:

    I’m more than happy with Nemo at the Mountains of Madness, but yes I think Moore is on record as saying that the story will continue in some form or other.

  6. Yeah, I recall him saying something like (paraphrasing) “There is a lot of fiction set in the future and I see no reason why The League cannot be involved in that.”
    Sadly, I don’t remember where I read that offhand.

  7. I know Alan at one point was contemplating a story set in the far future, so, yes, I think it’s fair to say there will be further stories set after 2009.

  8. Paul Slade says:

    News of various Moore upcoming projects at the Gosh blog here.

  9. H says:

    He actually said it in a video of him signing the book at a store. It was posted recently.

  10. R. Fiore says:

    So we’re complaining that something doesn’t have enough pop culture references now? Crikey. I don’t think this is altogether fair. For one thing, I believe there are a number of references you’re missing because they’re specifically British. This is about England’s dreaming, not the dreaming of world popular culture in general. For instance, Malcolm Tucker isn’t from “various enterprises” of Armando Iannucci, he’s a character in The Thick of It. The story doesn’t include just Emma Peel, but two other sidekicks of John Steed. Part of the problem is that Kevin O’Neill can’t do a likeness to save his life. None of the League books have been comprehensive catalogs of any given era. I don’t think being dissatisfied with post Thatcher/Blair Britain is necessarily reactionary, and I don’t think you have to morally approve of the empire to observe that it gave British culture a sense of purpose.

  11. Kit says:

    To be minutely fair, Tucker is also in In The Loop and has a spin-off book and swearing app. But he’s not in, for top-of-the-head examples, On The Hour, The Day Today, Saturday Night Armistice, Knowing Me Knowing You, The Smokehammer, I’m Alan Partridge, Time Trumpet, The Armando Ianucci Show, The Musuem Of Lost Keyboards, Veep, I Partridge, Armando Ianucci’s Charm Offensive, Mid Morning Matters, his Dickens documentary or Welcome To The Places Of My Life.

  12. moose n squirrel says:

    “I don’t think being dissatisfied with post Thatcher/Blair Britain is necessarily reactionary”

    But he’s not simply “dissatisfied with post Thatcher/Blair Britain.” He’s disgusted with its culture, and moreover, holds that the culture (i.e., the fiction, film, music, etc.) is responsible for what has transpired in the real world. Putting aside the fact that that last bit is a little batshit, consider that the culture he’s disgusted with is more diverse – as in, produced by and mindful of women, people of color, and LGBT folk – than ever before, while the culture that he lionizes and juxtaposes with it, that he holds up as richer and more meaningful, is the culture of a hundred years ago – the culture of imperialist, industrial England, when the British Empire was at its peak, had its talons firmly embedded in the throats of India, China, Africa, and the mideast, and was on the verge of world war. That’s the era Moore is mourning in this book, and he’s mourning it quite explicitly, as the old imperialist “great white hunter” figure Allan Quatermain is murdered in vulgar fashion by the hero of the most wildly successful series of children’s books in modern times.

  13. Tim Vermeulen (@CormansInferno) says:

    One last contemporary story to go – Mina’s inauguration of the Apocalypse in 2012. The next three League books will be shorter one-shots, tentatively concluding with Mina’s doomed super-league in 1963.

  14. Mike Hunter says:

    moose n squirrel says:

    …consider that the culture [Moore is] disgusted with is more diverse – as in, produced by and mindful of women, people of color, and LGBT folk – than ever before…

    Is he disgusted with it because it’s more diverse…

    (which anyone who knows anything about Moore works such as “The Mirror of Love” and the anthology he published, “AARGH” (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), not to mention countless richly realized, sympathetic women from Halo Jones on, and “of color” characters — like Nemo, in LOEG — is aware is utter nonsense)

    …or because of other reasons?

    You might as well say, how dare someone be disgusted with George W. Bush’s America, when “women, people of color, and LGBT folk” had more rights and were more successful than ever in all of modern history!

    …while the culture that he lionizes and juxtaposes with it, that he holds up as richer and more meaningful, is the culture of a hundred years ago – the culture of imperialist, industrial England, when the British Empire was at its peak, had its talons firmly embedded in the throats of India, China, Africa, and the mideast…

    And does the fact that he may appreciate certain qualities of that culture, certain fictional characters of that time, mean he’s a gung-ho imperialist?

    Might as well say, if you like Westerns, therefore you must approve of the Sand Creek Massacre.

    …and was on the verge of world war…

    Yeah, that’s the most vile misdeed of all!:

    On 28 July, [WW I] opened with the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia, followed by the German invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg and France….

    Damn those warmongering Brits, for having opposed them!

  15. So, by this reading, he rather likes the new Doctor Who, since Hartnell and Smith go gallivanting off together, not quite arm in arm?

  16. Don Druid says:

    I thought Prospero was (naturally) Moore?

  17. Don Druid says:

    As far as I could tell, the point of the last page was to put the White Hunter into the grave.

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