League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #1

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O’Neill
80 pages, color
Published by Top Shelf Productions

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Alan Moore’s career is that he’s never seemed willing to "play it safe." So with the return of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it would certainly be easy enough to follow the pattern of the first two mini-series, having the group confront a very specific problem, and call it a day. With The League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, though, Moore’s casting his net a little wider in terms of his story-telling, taking a bit of a chance—and so far it seems to be working out rather well.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has certainly seen better days. After fighting off an alien menace resulted in the five-person roster being reduced to two, thanks to two deaths and a third member quitting in disgust, others might be ready to quit. But Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain are continuing to defend England, having recruited three new members to the League. But can even the League stop a menace that they don’t seem to entirely understand?

People who have read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier may already remember the mention of the League’s 1910 line-up, bringing in slightly obscure members like Orlando, Carnacki, and Raffles. It’s a surprising but interesting set of choices on Moore’s part; Orlando (a conglomeration of not only Virginia Woolf’s character but other past characters named Orlando as well) is probably the best-known of the three, but even there it’s safe to assume that not all readers will know what Moore’s talking about. The other two may quite well send readers in search of information about their characters, although I suspect British readers might have a slight advantage in knowing about Carnacki or Raffles. (Bizarrely enough, the genre works of a Doctor Who novella and a Batman one-shot were how I knew who Thomas Carnacki and A.J. Raffles were.) At the same time, though, it fits the general mood of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century rather well. The League is already starting to feel a bit old and antiquated, its time of glory beginning to fade. Moore really shows Mina to be the true core of the group, not only pushing them forward but continuing to prove to be the sensible one in the League. So when even Mina finds herself slightly stumped by the turn of events here, well, it’s almost painful to watch them flounder helplessly.

Moore is also playing with the idea of a century-long story here in a way that I can’t help but think might disenchant some readers, with elements in this first installment not yet playing out in their entirety. The closest the book has to a true villain has yet to show its face, and it’s a move that I can’t help but applaud in its attempt to not go in predictable ways. Even more so, with the next chapter set due to be set 58 years later, it’s a given that most of the characters here—both main and supporting—won’t be around after this installment. It’s almost strange to realize that not everything will ever be fully explained, even as you scour the pages for hints of what’s to come and what has yet to unfold. With the promised apocalypse still around the corner, the League still has 100 years (and 160 pages) to finally accomplish what they couldn’t successfully defeat here, and that means the possibilities are wide open.

Kevin O’Neill’s art is at its finest yet, here, in what turned out to be an especially nice surprise. While I enjoy O’Neill’s art, here it seems unusually textured and rich; perhaps a more relaxed deadline, perhaps an evolution in his art, or maybe even just a level of excitement over what Moore has planned for Century. There’s such a beautiful level of detail here, from the opening panel of Thomas Carnacki tossing and turning in his bed while surrounded by strange artifacts, to the beautiful shot of Nemo’s daughter diving into the ocean, his careful crosshatched art is etching out every single shadow and ridge that needs to be drawn. Even the moments of chaos and disaster, like the foretold attack on the waterfront (as mentioned in The Black Dossier) are so perfectly sketched out that it’s easy to find moments of beauty in this otherwise bleak moment.

There are lots of nice touches on the character designs here, as well. I had to laugh at the League’s omnipresent question mark being front-and-centered on the robe of the forever-gender-swapping Orlando, for instance. And while all of the members of the League this go-round are very ordinary looking people, O’Neill is careful to make them all look distinctly different and give them their own touches. From Orlando’s boyish whisker stubble, to Raffles’s weathered and beaten down face, this may be a group of four men and one woman wearing period clothing, but it’s always easy to tell everyone apart.

There’s so much going on in this first third of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century that it’s a little hard to figure out what to talk about. Moore plays to so many of his strengths here; experienced fans of his writing will no doubt get a chuckle at Moore providing a potentially different "solution" to the Ripper murders, for instance, and Moore’s lyric-writing skills are still in high form. At the same time, there are so many different references to different works of literature, stage, and other art forms happening at once that it’s highly unlikely that anyone can catch them all, but Moore never makes the audience feel like they’re missing out on anything.

I’ll admit that I was a little wary about the return of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, after all of the frustration he’d had with the property thanks to the film version. It’s nice to see that Moore clearly feels recharged and excited about the comic, though, and he and O’Neill are hitting all of their marks quite nicely. I can’t wait for the second issue; things may be very different with Century, but at the same time it feels like meeting up with an old friend after several years away. Welcome back, indeed.

Purchase Link: Amazon.com

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