Alan Moore
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume IV: The Tempest
Medium: comic
Year: 2018
Keywords: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, favourite
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neill
Format: Six 36-page issues
Website category: Comics
Review date: 14 January 2022
At last, the end. No more League after this. No more Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill in the comics industry, in fact. They both quit... no, correction, I'm wrong there. Moore and O'Neill didn't completely quit comics, but instead called this their last major comics project. They've both since done a few bits and pieces.
Anyway, my reaction to Tempest is the opposite of what I thought about Century, in that I'm trying to understand why I like it so much. The cast and plot don't matter. The survivors of Century are still here, but the story's not even pretending that they're important. Admittedly, there's some entertainment value in the enmity between Night and "Jimmy" (who's arguably this book's evil protagonist), but it's ultimately inconsequential. A plot breakdown would go as follows:
(a) heroes do hero things.
(b) some random bloke in fairyland is being apocalyptic because... well, maybe he felt like it or something.
(c) stuff happens.
(d) the apocalypse gets a comedy ending.
That's about it... but the book's great. It's a deconstruction of, loving homage to and (occasionally) vicious boot to the knackers of the comics industry. (This is largely UK comics, but not exclusively.) It's funny. Every issue is a pastiche of a specific British comics era, including TV21, 2000 AD, The Beano, etc. Mind you, they also cross the Atlantic for a pastiche of Hugo Hercules's 1902 adventures in the Chicago Sunday Tribune. There's duotone. There's one of those cutaway diagrams we used to get of spaceships and secret bases. There's a photo-strip! There's a James Bond UK newspaper strip. (007 had a regular newspaper strip for 25 years, incidentally, but I bet it wasn't like this.)
There are regular features in every issue, like:
1. A League Look-And-Lament Feature: Cheated Champions of Your Childhood. It's a non-fiction text page. Moore names six key UK comics creators (one per issue) and tells the stories of their lives. You'll see suicide, penury and other such consequences of what the comics industry sees as normal behaviour. Bloody hell.
2. The Seven Stars, a Justice League of 1940s and 1950s British superheroes. Yes, those were a thing, although they tended to be rip-offs of American ones. Marvelman/Miracleman was one of them, for instance. All this is done in black-and-white with authentically corny dialogue and bad plotting. It's the best thing in the book. I loved it. I howled.
3. Vull's Vault of Vital Statistics, giving the origins of those Seven Stars superheroes, in case you'd been thinking that surely Moore had made them up.
4. Send it to the Stars. A piss-take of comics letters pages, with openly fictional correspondents and laugh-out-loud gags. Moore roasts alive pretty much everything in sight, including himself.
Everything's there. Yes, everything. I just about died when some Viz characters got a walk-on. (Finbarr Saunders, the Fat Slags and Big Vern.) Mr Muscle quitting to sell cleaning products is a reference that I wouldn't expect anyone outside the UK to get, but it killed me. In my head, it was as if Moore and O'Neill had created all this exclusively for me. The breadth and detail of its parody reminds me more of a fanzine, because it's hard to imagine something this random and playful from the mainstream comics industry.
Is all this just my subjective viewpoint, though? I like UK comics history, so I connected with this book... but is that just me? Would Volumes 1-2 have been similarly mind-blowing for Victoriana buffs and Wells-o-philes? Maybe, but I'd guess not. This last League book is cool for multiple reasons. It's like an encyclopaedia of British comics (and a companion piece to the Moores' Albion from a decade earlier). It's recreating the form as well as the content. It's funny, but savagely angry, but then still funny. And, despite everything, loving. It loves all these comics and it's still got the usual mind-blowing level of knowledge and detail. To pick a Who-related example, look at the Daleks in Epilogue III: The Universarium, 2164. That's not just "look, Daleks". Doctor Who fans will have noticed Moore's praise of Ron Turner's TV21 Dalek strips earlier in the same issue, observed that O'Neill's specifically drawing Turner's TV21 Dalek saucers and then also noticed that the date of 2164 fits the TV21 lead-in to The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
Mind you, I'd still claim that the plot and characters don't really matter. In outline, the book's merely okay, but to say that is to overlook its stylistic explosions, its jokes and the way a coherent, comparatively normal story is being told through a kaleidoscope of Beano, Viz, 2000 AD, 1960s brain-damaged nonsense, 120-year-old comics archaeology and more. While regularly taking the mickey out of itself. And it works. It made me laugh and it's wonderful. If you drifted away from the League after Century, you might consider returning for this. (Especially if you're in the UK.)