Alan Moore
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III: Century
Medium: comic
Year: 2009
Keywords: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neill
Format: Three 72-page chapters
Website category: Comics
Review date: 8 January 2022
WARNING: I'll be discussing SPOILERS.
I should like this more than I do. It's full-on Alan Moore, in that way I'd missed in earlier volumes. Our heroes get smashed to bits, locked up, driven insane and/or killed. It's huge, ambitious and comparable with Moore's other major works, both in scope and page count. Moore himself has said that he felt liberated by the change of publisher, "as if we feel freed from the conventions of boys' adventure comics", letting him write a slow-building work that is "a lot more atmospheric".
Unfortunately, I find its protagonists boring.
I don't dislike Murray and Quatermain, but they were never the League's most memorable members and it particularly hurts that again (except right at the end) they're plot passengers. The last time their choices made a difference to anything except each other was Volume One. Dramatic things happen to them, admittedly. Can't argue there. That would have been a more interesting sentence had it contained "are done by" instead of "happen to", but beggars can't be choosers. I also liked the book's final farewell to SPOILER. Ultimately, though, I'd mostly stopped caring about them, since their plot role is again just "wander around, meet people".
Also, in Volume 2, they're a bit childish and their relationship drifts downhill in what's basically a mid-eternal-life crisis. They need to grow up. Which is ironic given their age by now, although presumably that's the point.
Meanwhile, Orlando's as dull as usual. I don't see the point in the character, beyond the insufficient reason of "Virginia Woolf wrote a novel that would fit into this series." (S)he even annoys Murray and Quatermain and admits him/herself that (s)he's "very very shallow".
Considering my reaction to the Nemo trilogy, maybe immortals are just dull? That's what I'm seeing here, anyway. Our heroes go on, and on... but, in fairness, that interminability is one of the things Moore's talking about. The book's deconstructing franchise heroes whose adventures will continue forever, whether they like it or not. I can see what Moore's saying and I think it's a particularly valid discussion in today's world of never-ending franchises and sequels... but the problem with dissecting something dull is that you're in danger of being dull yourself.
All that's a near-fatal problem. Everything else, though, I'm fine with. Slow I can enjoy. Atmospheric is good. Bashing much-loved icons is a laugh. I enjoy Moore's argument, although I can see the open goals in it. He's attacking modern culture and saying that its soullessness is hollowing us out (which in the League's world is literal). This is true as far as it goes, but it's holding modern authors to a higher standard than the Victorian authors he's been strip-mining. They were no less rampantly commercial. It's hyperbole... but I don't mind a bit of hyperbole sometimes.
Today, after all, Hollywood and the UK comics industry (to name but two) are unrecognisable shadows of their former selves. The novelists' midlist died years ago. TV is the mightiest of the midgets, with plenty of genuinely strong work being produced thanks to America and the big streamers, but there's no comparison between, say, the modern UK TV industry's output and its level of artistic ambition fifty years ago. Besides, I'm pretty sure half my son's classmates don't know what's on terrestrial TV these days. They're watching YouTube on their phones, or playing video games, or have a family TV that's always playing Bengali channels. New, differently communal forms of entertainment will overtake their old-fashioned predecessors. The old things won't disappear, but we won't have shared experiences in the same way. Novels will never stop being written, for instance, but what about the bookshops? Online booksellers are more convenient, yes, but they can't replicate the experience of browsing physical shelves and seeing all those books. Similarly, e-books are great if you're looking to clear shelf space, but as a parent I like having those shelves for my children to look through. I don't believe we'll ever see another worldwide novel phenomenon on the level of Harry Potter, because of how bookselling works.
Obviously, I've gone way beyond Alan Moore's argument. Nonetheless, I don't mind him having a pop at his chosen targets. Yes, the Victorian era also had long-running cash cow series, sequelitis, etc. But so what?
Furthermore, I'd defend his specific targets. I like James Bond, but I'm happy to read an Alan Moore character assassination of him. I'm a Harry Potter fan, but I'm fine with Moore's use of him here. (WARNING: not everyone agrees there.) The key point is that this isn't J.K. Rowling's Harry. The real Harry Potter wouldn't do any of this, no, but he's not Aleister Crowley's beast of the apocalypse. Moore's writing about a Harry who was born to be the Antichrist and then learned that his adventures had been deliberately staged to turn him into a universe-killer. If I'd been him, I'd have been cross too. Besides, his overreaction was presumably due partly to his inner Antichrist emerging.
Besides, Harry Potter might have been the only choice for this book's finale. Moore's discussing modern fiction. He didn't have to be that savage, obviously, but it would have looked odd if he'd avoided Rowling. What other living author has achieved that level of cultural penetration?
All that aside, though, Century is a trilogy.
1910 might be the best instalment, with its subplot about Nemo's daughter trying to build a life away from the Nautilus and the father she hates. As for the League itself, it's a five-man band again, if you include the unmemorable Raffles and Carnaki. You'll hardly notice when they vanish between chapters. No hero does anything significant.
1969 is a crossover between two British films: Performance (1970) and Get Carter (1971). (Plus some Aleister Crowley.) Again, none of our heroes does anything significant, unless you count a mid-life crisis.
2009 gives us all the answers and a Rowling Antichrist. Also, excitingly, our heroes' plot role improves. Even after all this, they still don't achieve anything significant, with the ending being a literal deus ex machina, but they do at least crawl up from the holes they fell into in 1969 and make some valiant efforts.
RANDOM CAMEOS
1969: Patrick Troughton's Doctor is glimpsed, on a page that also has a Karkus comic book on newsstands. That's clever. The Karkus was a fictional superhero in The Mind Robber, so here he's fictional in the League universe. Then, later, Mina sees a Dalek in her hallucination in Hyde Park.
2009: William Hartnell and Matt Smith's Doctors share a sidelong look as a time traveller appears. UNIT and Torchwood are mentioned. Malcolm Tucker appears on TV and of course swears a blue streak, although O'Neill's drawing of him doesn't particularly resemble Peter Capaldi.
...and, of course, many more. Steptoe and Son. Andy Capp.
Do I like this book? Dunno. It's an intriguing experiment, but "like" is a strong word. I like Quatermain at the end, but otherwise I have opinions about its core cast. I'm also still wondering if O'Neill's art style makes it harder for me to empathise with them. He was perfect for Marshall Law, but this is Alan Moore. I don't dislike the book, though, and I'd defend it against several of the attacks it receives. I'll probably reread it one day, to see if my opinion of it changes.