Saturday, April 20, 2013
Reader's Diary #987- Alan Moore, illustrated by Kevin O'Neill: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
It just occurred to me that I've read enough graphic novels at this point to no longer feel like an outsider looking in. A few years back I decided to jump into the world of long comics headfirst. I made one list after another, knocking off almost all the most critically acclaimed books, the absurdly popular books, and a few random suggestions for good measure. I still wouldn't call myself an expert in the field, but definitely upgraded from merely curious to informed fan.
Still, there are two graphic novelists that I've been trying to get a better handle on: Alan Moore and his nemesis Frank Miller. Both considered legends, I've struggled to find an appreciation for either. With Miller I'm still not completely there, and after being let down by the Watchmen and lukewarm to V for Vendetta, I was starting to suspect that perhaps Moore also wasn't my cup of tea. I decided to give him one more shot with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Loved it! The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a reader's comic. The writing in itself isn't particularly literary, but it's written for literature lovers. The League, for the uninformed, is comprised of Captain Nemo (Jules Verne), Wilhelmina Murray (Bram Stoker— and I'm not sure how a woman is a gentleman), Alan Quartermain (H. Rider Haggard), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson), and Hawley Griffin (H. G. Wells) make up a team of crime fighting superheroes. Moore initially conceived of them as a Justice League of Victorian England (I'm more of a Marvel Comics guy, so I had drawn parallels to the Avengers), but started having fun working in as many literary references and characters as he could. Even the minor characters are borrowed from other literary creations.
I had a ball. I got a lot of the references, but still had to look up others (including Quartermain) to see what books they originally appeared in.
Hawley Griffin, however, soured the experience somewhat. He first appears in the book as a rapist. He's invisible, he's at an all girl's boarding school, you can figure this out. So I had a hard time accepting him into the league. Granted the others have their flaws as well (one of Hyde's is his tendency to the rip off people's arms with his teeth) but I guess have my limits and the character of Griffin went past it. It felt grossly misogynistic. Fortunately, I read that Moore gives Griffin his comeuppance in Volume 2, so I'm encouraged to think that he was equally disgusted with this character. Plus, now I have even more of a reason to read the second volume.
Kevin O'Neill's artistry in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen suits it well. A mix of classic superhero and steam-punk overtones lends the book a cool, pulp quality.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is less serious or political as the Watchmen or V for Vendetta, and while I normally go for such things, I might prefer Moore's fun side.