League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1969

The first two volumes of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is probably my favourite metafictional comic, outside of Grant Morrison. The idea of Victorian fiction stars forming a team to combat the supernatural is just too great a premise to miss out on, especially for me. At first it was simple name recognition. Most of the characters I had encountered in one form or another, thanks to the numerous movies and reinterpretations of those 100 year old works. When I got a hold of it, I realized what Alan Moore had done. It was the literal opposite of his previous work. Instead of forcing the real world upon fictional characters, he was making fiction the real world. That revelation immediately pushed the League into my list of top comics.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1969 expands on that premise but in doing so, reveals its fundamental flaw: Continuity. Yes, the flaw that plagues superhero comics, the one that alienates new readers and contributes to overall confusion is the star of this Alan Moore epic. The problem I had with LEG:Century consistently throughout its first two chapters is that everything and everyone is significant for appearing in another work of fiction. Considering I know nearly nothing about 60s/70s fiction I decided from the onset that I would read this chapter with my laptop beside me and Wikipedia on my browser. It marginally helped, though to be honest I am still confused about one or two characters, and several events.

You don’t need to know all of this to read LEG: Century 1969. If you can get past the part where literally everything is a reference, it’s good. It’s not as good as Volume 1 or Volume 2, but it’s more enjoyable than Chapter 1 of Century, which was essentially a prolonged set-up. If you take it at face value and don’t try to parse out the nods to other stories it’s an easy work to follow. The plot is mostly straight forward if you have read all the ancillary pieces, especially the Black Dossier. The League is forced to face Oliver Haddo once again, except this time, it appears the world has gone as mad as Haddo was back in 1910.

Century 1969 suffers from the common problem of the middle pieces in a trilogy. It feels incomplete. It mitigates the non-existent introduction that plagues sequels, but leaves the reader with several loose threads cut prematurely. I imagine this is just the fault of breaking this series into three parts when it will probably work much better as a single graphic novel.

It’s nice to see the characters deal with their immortality (first mentioned in the Black Dossier). Mina, Allan and Orlando have their own way of adapting to different times and places. The story is ostensibly about how when times change, people don’t, leaving Mina and Allan alone and separated.  Orlando, having lived through every major event in British history, is a lot better at surviving in his new environments.

Since we’re talking about fiction, in which fictional characters from other works cannot keep up with their own fictional world, this could be interpreted as a larger statement on the nature of continuity itself. By the end of the comic, both Mina and Allan revert to a state they were in before the series even started. For everything they gain with their youth, they lose in terms of personality. They regress as time goes on, lost in this unfathomable new world of characters who seem to come out of nowhere. The only character that lives alongside the heroes is the villain, who just appears in new forms every chapter. Oliver Haddo, or the villain with many faces, follows the League as he attempts to create the Anti-Christ or moonchild.  To make this happen, Mina, Allan and Orlando go through a sexual (though not at all sexy) and psychedelic sequence of events, involving experimentation, drugs, a free rock concert, the astral plane, and (I kid you not) the tortured beginnings of a Harry Potter villain.

It’s a lesson Moore has repeated often throughout his life. As time goes on, we just produce more and more garbage, failing to learn our lesson. This interpretation validates Moore’s hyper post-modern referencing to every British work of fiction, though doesn’t necessarily make it more enjoyable. You still have to slog through the same sea of nonsense the main characters do. As much as Moore tries to equal out the plane, it is not very soothing to know that the characters are suffering as much as we are. My hope is that his last chapter has Mina and Allan relearning the things they once knew.

There’s also the possibility that Moore is just writing for himself. Moore has never really cared about his readers and at this late-stage work it can definitely feel, given the mountain of obscure comments, that he wrote for an audience of one.

Kevin O’Neil art fits the sixties. The period dress is appropriate and the scene instantly feels like the era it’s trying to emulate. A lot of it is the fashion and colour in each panel, which look very groovy . The colours have all the right yellows, blues, pinks and greens, and the skimpy clothes directly contrast the previous chapter’s Victorian style. Everything that was drab and dark is now bright and thinly dressed. The art compliments Moore’s themes, and when the absurd starts to break through, Kevin O’Neil meets the challenge with characters that wildly gesticulate, have giant eyes and are covered in the colour palette of unicorn vomit.

I wanted to review League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1969 or short of that, give it a ‘serious analysis’, but found that both were impossible. This is an incomplete work, and it’s hard to analyze a series not yet through its paces. On the other hand, it is very difficult to review if you haven’t read everything else in this series. As such, if you read the first chapter, the second one is better, though those who have read everything up to Century, will probably buy this automatically. I also didn’t read the stories Moore left at the back, because that text is going to be challenging to comprehend without the mandatory third chapter.

However, if I were to summarise my perspective on this chapter regardless, it would be a recommendation.  If you are willing to try to see what Moore is getting at, and don’t mind having Wikipedia open, it is a good, if not entirely statisfying ride. Century 1969 is like if Billy Joel walked off stage three fourths way through “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and left you wondering how the decade ended.

Score: Recommended

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Posted on July 28, 2011, in Comics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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