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A lot can happen in a Century...,
This review is from: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. III Century (Hardcover)
Century is the appropriately titled third volume of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, wherein Mina Murray's fantastic League pick their way through the tumultuous events of the 20thcentury. On the face of it, Century sees the plucky band trying to stop the fulfilment of a prophecy that will lead to the birth of the Antichrist; scratch a little deeper and it's really about the true horror of immortality and the imaginative bankruptcy of modern-day fiction.
We start in 1910, mere days away from King George's coronation. The Edwardian League's resident occultist Thomas Carnacki is plagued by visions of a mysterious cult and their efforts to create an Armageddon-bringing `moonchild.' The League is swiftly on the case - but as the ominous trail of events play out, they begin to feel increasingly outclassed and over their heads. Running alongside their investigation is the story of Captain Nemo's daughter Jenni, who has rejected her dying father's legacy and run away to London. An ill-starred fortune awaits her in the stink of Wapping docks, which unbeknown to anyone will lead to the birth of a monster and the deaths of hundreds... This is a darker, meaner century than the League are used to, and their brand of late-Victorian derring-do has had its heyday. It's a brutal awakening that sets the scene for worse to come. At the close of this initial chapter, Mina wonders aloud if they've managed to achieve anything useful at all - little suspecting that they've kick-started the very prophecy they were trying to forestall...
We pick the action up again in 1969. Mina, Allan and Orlando are all that remains of the once mighty team - heroes of Victorian and Edwardian stature being few and far between in these days of hedonism and social upheaval. Exhausted with the demands of keeping up-to-date with ever-changing fads and fashions, Mina and Allan are beginning to realise just what immortality means, and the implications are making their heads reel. Cracks are showing in their relationship, and they're finding Orlando increasingly tiresome. With the team becoming rudderless and inward-looking, the Moonchild plotline is kept bubbling over by the underworld investigations of London gangster Jack Carter, who keeps things nice and grounded with his brand of cockney scepticism. We also find out quite a bit about Oliver Haddo, the mystic who has been pitting his wits against the League in various forms since 1910. Various sub-plots come together at a concert in Hyde Park with terrible consequences for Mina...
By 2009, it's left to Orlando to carry the narrative. Having buried him/herself in war for the last quarter-century, he/she finally re-emerges from her nervous breakdown to pick up the threads of the League's last investigation. Mina has been missing since 1969; Allan and Orlando parted ways in the `70s. With no idea how to find either of them and time running out to halt the apocalypse, a desperate Orlando turns reluctantly to the League's former employers in M15 - and finds a surprising ally. Her investigations bring home the full horror of the end of the 1969 mission and force her to ask some awkward questions of herself. Finally the long-forestalled Apocalypse looms, as a broken and bitter Moonchild reluctantly confronts his destiny...
Overall, this is - admittedly - a far more difficult read than Volumes I and II. Those wanting the simple high adventure of those delightful romps might initially struggle with Century - but ultimately there's far more depth to this narrative. Not content to rest on his former laurels and crank out endless steampunk adventure yarns, Alan Moore instead uses Mina and the League to ask some big questions about the imaginative bankruptcy of fiction today, when so many `new' series seem to be simply yet another retread of Sherlock Holmes or Dracula or so many of the Victorian greats who shaped the genres. It's best not read in isolation either, as the Black Dossier and Nemo stories do snake in and out of this narrative. And then there's that conclusion, which is... well, divisive to say the least. It certainly comes with reservations, then, but all in all this is another worthy entry in the League's history, written and illustrated to the usual high standard, a beautiful love letter to popular culture.