The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century 2009

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century 2009 is the third and final part of the Volume III Century trilogy in Alan Moore's series. This comic is set in an alternate reality where famous characters from the world of fiction are real and inhabit the same universe. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a secret organisation formed to protect Britain and has existed for centuries. Volume III concerns the League's attempt to prevent cult leader Oliver Haddo (Aleister Crowley type character from Somerset Maugham's The Magician) from creating a Moonchild or anti-Christ and ushering in a dreadful new aeon. The problem is that the League is now down to only three members and when we last saw them in 1969 things were not looking very good for our now immortal and perpetually young heroes.
Mina Murray (from Bram Stoker's Dracula) had a bad acid trip during a concert in Hyde Park and encountered Haddo on the astral plane - the entire experience and bat hallucinations (which given her history were understandably terrifying) driving her insane to be carted off in an ambulance. Meanwhile, Virginia Woolf's gender bending Orlando (keeps changing from a man to a woman and wields the mighty sword Excalibur) and Allan Quatermain (the legendary adventurer from H Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines) are suddenly lost and directionless without Mina as the sixties slides away and the punk era dawns. Allan falls back into very old habits and becomes a drug addict and down and out while Orlando decides that as she is turning into a man again she might as well join the army and make herself useful. She has been a warrior for thousands of years afterall. So, Orlando fights for the British Army in the war raging in the middle-eastern country of Q'mar but soon goes bonkers and is involved in a "friendly fire" incident. Orlando was in Q'mar during the time of flying carpets and Sinbad and thousands of years of conflict around the world have taken their toll.
He is shipped back to London where he becomes a woman again and takes up lonely residence at the League's funky secret headquarters in a London underground station. After an unexpected visit by Prospero from the "Blazing World" demanding to know why the remaining League members have apparently gone their separate ways, given up on their mission and failed to stop the birth of the anti-christ ("Find your confederates and fabled blade! Find me the Moonchild that the stars foretell lest all the world be ruinously unmade to join thee and thy colleague Faust in Hell!"), Orlando must now somehow locate Mina (who they haven't seen for forty years) and Allan and then confront the terrifying Moonchild. She will have to make a familiar face from a previous volume an offer she can't refuse to get the information on Mina's whereabouts and a trip to a "school of magic" on a very unusual train from a very unusual station awaits. Yes, it appears that the anti-christ was none other than Harry Potter. Well, maybe. Will Stanton from The Dark Is Rising is probably who Moore means but that doesn't stop him aiming a few barbs and references at Potter.
This is possibly my favourite comic series and it's always wonderful to get hold of a new volume for the first time and immerse yourself once again in the fantastic art by Kevin O'Neill. With the numerous famous cameos and jokes by Moore one has to dwell on each panel carefully to make sure you don't miss anything. The armoured flying vehicle that picks up Orlando at the start in Q'mar is Thunderbirds 10. Back in London, he steps out of the bus station with a Tesco shopping bag that reads "We control every aspect of your lives" and Sid the Sexist and Roger Mellie from Viz can be seen walking past. And so on throughout the book. My favourite in-joke panel featured George Cole and Denis Waterman as Arthur and Terry from Minder. Terry was beating up someone who looked like Shane Ritchie (doubtless as punishment for the terrible Minder spin-off show Ritchie was involved in).
The two things that Moore riffs on the most here are James Bond and Harry Potter. When Orlando visits the headquarters of the British Secret Service she finds that the new M is someone they met back in 1958 in The Black Dossier. I won't reveal who the new M is but let's just say they are a lot older now and have a picture of John Steed on their desk. Orlando is met by two agents who are identified as JB3 and JB6. One looks like Roger Moore and one looks like Daniel Craig. O'Neil's rendering of Moore is excellent. It's a sort of Octopussy era Moore. Bit older but suave, looking permanently amused at something as Moore always tended to. He captures the Boris Karloff profile and pudding-bowl haircut of Daniel Craig quite well too in a couple of panels. Moore's JB3 is friendly and courteous while Craig's JB6 is monosyllabic and miserable. Just like the films! The conceit here of course is that James Bond (a name they don't use in the book for fear of legal action) is a codename passed onto different agents. The original Bond was such a national institution in the fifties that the British government felt his name should be passed on for propaganda purposes.

We learn that the original Bond (this is supposed to be Fleming's literary Bond I presume) is 90 years-old and paying the price for his less than healthy lifestyle but that M is keeping him alive as punishment for being such a swine. You also get Connery, Lazenby, Brosnan, and Timothy Dalton in the Vauxhall panels and Dalton is the only one that O'Neil seems to fumble (he makes him look like Tony Parsons for some reason). There are - as ever - far too many cameos in the panels to mention and I'm sure many passed me by. There are cameos by characters from The Fast Show and Little Britain, that Japanese bloke who kept trying to freeze time in Heroes, the William Hartnell and Matt Smith incarnations of Dr Who. What I liked about the cameos by the two Doctors is the way they look directly at us as if they know what is going on but have decided they can't interfere. Moore seems to riff more than once here on the work of Armando Iannucci with Orlando's television showing a series inspired by Time Trumpet, Iannucci's spoof of those tiresome retro "I Love..." talking heads shows. Also an interview with the foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker conducted by Jon Snow.
Spying all of these cameos, references and jokes is fun and even if you do feel they sometimes become too much of a distracting gimmick (I've never really felt this way myself) they seemed to be slightly less prevalent to me in this concluding chapter of Volume III anyway. Despite the fact that the League is now in the present day (well, 2009), Moore is not exactly on firm footing when it comes to contemporary popular culture and doesn't really seek to present a very detailed or realistic interpretation of Britain as it is now. He makes it clear that that he thinks the modern world is pretty awful ("How did culture fall apart in barely a hundred years?" asks Mina) and constantly infuses the story with a more mystical and magical bent.
The riffs on Harry Potter give the story some impetus as Orlando and Mina must head for an "invisible college" of magic (a thinly disguised Hogwarts) by means of Kings Cross Station (the centre of all fiction) where their trip through a wall leads to a most gruesome discovery. You don't need to be a genius to work out that Alan Moore doesn't seem to like Harry Potter much. Our wizard anti-christ massacres all of his friends, fellow students and teachers and razes everything to the ground - including the surrounding village. Some good surreal art here by O'Neill. "This whole environment seems artificial," says Mina as they near the school of magic. "As if it's been constructed out of reassuring imagery from the 1940s." Alan Moore is actually a magician himself I think so something about Potter and JK Rowling has obviously got his goat. I must confess that I've only seen half of the first Potter film and never read any of the books so I'm sure some characters and references passed me by here.
Maybe Moore wraps things up a bit too conveniently at the end but his surprise guest deus ex machina is conveyed by some fantastic art and the coda is touching. I think the strength of this comic is that it very rarely deluges the reader with action and is all about the characters and how much they have come to rely on one another. When Orlando rescues Mina from Rosa Coote's Disciplinary Psychiatric Ward (nice joke if you've read the first volume) there are three pages of Orlando putting her to bed, preparing a breakfast and then combing the knots out of her hair. It's quiet moments like this that make this comic special, especially if you've been following it all the way along and feel like you've come to know the characters. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century 2009 is a solid end to Volume III and of course now allows the reader to enjoy all three parts as a continuous trilogy.
- Jake


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