If you're a fan of Victorian genre literature and have any interest in comics, this will very probably appeal to you. I'm a very casual comics reader, never buying any but borrowing anything that's at the library except for manga or pure superhero fare. As for 19th-century genre lit, when I was a child, I read some Stoker, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the like. All that said, this is a highly entertaining work, probably the most purely enjoyable trade comic volume I've encountered.
The concept is pretty outstanding: Moore's taken public-domain "heroes" of the 19th-century and remixed them into a classic superhero team in the spirit of Justice League, X-Men, etc. They are tossed into a steampunk version of Victorian London to do battle with a nefarious villain from the same era of genre-lit. In this volume, the head of the British Secret Service orders his minion (Campion Bond), to assemble a team for a secret mission. He starts with Ms. Murray (the widowed wife of Mr. Harker from Dracula), who drags the gaunt former adventurer Allan Quartermain (the intrepid explorer of H. Rider Haggard's stories) from the depths of a Cairo opium den. They are spirited to safety by H.G. Wells' incomparable stern Sikh pirate, Captain Nemo, in his magnificent submarine technological wonder The Nautilus. Next stop, the backstreets of Paris, where a beast is terrorizing the prostitutes of the Rue Morgue. This ends up being the terrifying Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, whom they barely manage to subdue. The final stop is to the "Rosa Cootes' Correctional Academy for Wayward Gentlewomen", where a mysterious spirit has been "possessing" some of the boarders. This bizarre combination of boarding school and S&M academy is where we meet Hawley Griffin, aka The Invisible Man.
These initial adventures do a very good job of both establishing the marvelous setting and the individual nature of the five heroes. Each is a formerly respected, now somewhat fallen member of society. When a storyteller assembles such a team of flawed misfits, the result is usually either slapstick comedy or some form of redemption. In this case redemption is the order of the day, as the team is assigned to recover a stolen container of "cavorite", a mysterious compound which makes flight possible. It seems an evil Chinese East End triad leader named Fu Manchu has stolen it in order to build a superweapon. The remaining 2/3 of the book details their attempt to infiltrate his Bond-villainesque secret base and recover the material. A major plot twist halfway through reveals yet another literary criminal mastermind at work, one that many readers will have guessed at early on. Things build to a climactic and chaotic aerial battle above London's East End, with crazy fighting kites, firebombs, and plenty of wild action.
There's a lot to like in the book, notably an attention to detail that is head and shoulders above most graphic adventures. When Arabic and Chinese speaking characters are encountered, their dialogue is rendered in the actual script. The story and visuals are packed with 19th-century literary inside jokes that will reward repeated reading and the curious who seek out their meaning. (Alternatively, you can pick up Jess Nevins outstanding Unofficial Companion to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which decodes the inside jokes and tells you where everything came from.) This is not to imply that the book is stuffy or dull, because the writing is actually quite witty and arch -- providing you like puns, double-entendres, and other such wordplay. The artwork perfectly supports the story, as O'Neil's techno-gaslight London vibrates with energy and activity. The paneling is traditional and straightforward, as befits a retro-romp such as this, and full-page pieces teem with background activity and wit. There's a lot to look at in these pages, such as pickpockets and thieves operating in the background, or more amorous silhouettes... And when things get violent, they get very violent, as we are shown limbs getting ripped asunder, heads getting blown off, and soforth.
This is an outstanding work, although definitely not for younger children. Without being overly sensitive, one has to also keep in mind that in keeping with the setting and origin of the characters, one of the villains is a pretty vile stereotype of an evil "Oriental". Perhaps more disturbingly, the serial rape committed by the Invisible Man is treated as a subject of humor. This latter is slightly counterbalanced by having the team led by Ms. Murray, a setup which seems improbable for the setting. However, minor caveats aside, this is a splendid work of escapist adventure that is much better than the movie made from it. There is a second volume, which finds the team battling a Martian invasion.
on 7 December 2002
I knew they would never be a sequel to Alan Moore's classic comic series "The Watchmen" (and I wish Frank Miller had let well enough alone with "The Dark Knight Returns"), but certainly "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is a kindred spirit in key regards. If the Watchmen were supposed to be superheroes that we recognized, even though we had never seen them before, then the League offers up recognizable fictional characters that we have never seen together before. Going back a century for inspiration, Moore creates a Pax Britannia circa 1898 where the "superheroes" are fictional characters who had been created by that particular point in time, to wit: Mina Murray (Harker) from Bram Stoker's "Dracula," Captain Nemo from Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea," Alan Quartermain from H. Rider Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines," and the titular characters of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and H. G. Wells' "The Invisible Man." There is also reason to believe that "M," the shadowy figure who orders the League about, might in fact be Mycroft Holmes (and if you do not know what literary series he is from then just totally forget about enjoying this series).
If that, in and of itself, is not enough of a hook to get your interested in checking out this collection of the first comic book adventure of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen let me remind you that Alan Moore is doing the writing. The artwork by Kevin O'Neill is certainly evocative of the turn of the last century, or, more to the point, does not look like a contemporary superhero comic book. Moore and O'Neill also maintain a wonderful conceit throughout the series of presenting the comics as being published at the time of the story, filled with wonderful "ads" that are often as interesting as the story (one of which actually required the initial print run of one of the issues to be destroyed, a story you will have to find related elsewhere, patient reader).
Moore's intention was to deal with a superhero group before all the clichés were established (again, similar to how "The Watchmen" was in a different reality unencumbered by the DC and Marvel universes). Seeing an obvious parallel between the Hulk and Jekyll/Hyde, Moore let his imagination roam in his alternate, technically more advanced version of Victorian London. The more you know about literary history from this period (e.g., Emile Zola's Nana is killed in the Rue Morgue by Hyde), the more you will enjoy all this work. But this first adventure for the League still works if late 19th-century fiction is not your forte. British Intelligence has discovered that cavorite, a material that makes flying machines possible, has been stolen by a mysterious Chinese figure (Oh, come on, take a wild guess who it has to be). Campion Bond of MI5 has been ordered to assemble a team of adventurers to retrieve the cavorite, which is crucial to the race to get to the Moon.
"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is really much more fun than we usually associate with Moore's work. Certainly his tongue has never been further in his cheeks than with this series. The first three issues of Volume 2 have seen the light of day so far this year and if you read through this original endeavor you can quickly get up to speed with the current adventure. Just remember it is 1898 and Britannia waives the rules...
on 24 August 2003
Not only is the story fantastic (as many others have said), but the artwork is too. There is just so much detail in each frame that it took 3 reads before I found all of the little hidden extras! Even the front cover has a suprise (check near the cat). A really good read!
on 23 January 2005
Everyone loves the premise, and most people have heard it: take various characters from various different victorian literary sources, and assemble them into a single superhero-style team. If you saw the film and were disappointed by how poorly they lived up to that premise, i can only beg you to give the comic a chance, because it bears very little relation to the silver-screen incarnation (why buy the rights to a book and then change every detail in the adaptation? i don't know, you'd have to ask the film-makers...).
This is a great book. It's brilliant fun, but it's also sometimes creepy (there are at least two team members who'd sooner gut the other characters than work with them) and occasionally thrilling. If you know anyhting about victorian literature you'll love playing spot-the-reference; i don't, but i've spent hours following up clues and leads on the internet, and i can assure you that even experts on the source material can find new, sneaky references after their fourth, fifth and dozenth read!
You don't have to follow them up though, it functions as a straight-up adventure story too. Like i say, I'd read Dracula, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, King Solomon's Mines and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr Hyde before i picked up League, and had naively thought myself reasonably knowledgable about the source material, but i've since had my pride bruised and my mouth well and truly shut. Luckily, you can go into the story as ignorant as you like and just enjoy it as a ripping good yarn.
It's got many, many levels, this one, and it functions perfectly on all of them. Great stuff!
on 19 February 2004
After being disappointed with his 'Watchmen', Alan Moore has regained my trust, because LOEG really does live up the hype around it. Not only because of its strong central concept, but mostly due to Moore's sheer talent with characterisation.
Firstly, the premise is fantastic. Assembling a team composed of fictional literary characters? Pure genius! Obviously there's more to it than that, but the wonderful originality of the concept infuses the comic with a delightful charm that the medium needs every once in a while. I mean, all the standard superhero comics are great and everything, but to read something this original is plain refreshing.
What Moore does with this original premise is even more impressive though. He shows great skill with the sculping of the various characters, making each solid, distinctive and likeable. Wilhelmina Murray is the stern, no-nonsense, forceful woman, able to intimidate even the monstrous Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo is a dark, mad, cynical old bastard, quick to mistrust and not bothered by what others think of him and Allan Quartermain is an aging drug addict, far from the rash, brave adventurer of his youth but desperate to regain that man. Dr. Jekyll is a timid introvert, afraid and ashamed of his brutish alter-ego, who is a bloodthirsty, misunderstood fellow who just likes to rip people's arms off. Hawley Griffin is the best of the lot though; he's a cheeky rascal, who is found at a girls dormitory, where the girls are 'mysteriously' getting pregnant (well, what would you do if you were invisible!?). The relationships between the characters are believable and entertaining; Quartermain and Ms. Murray seen to be attracted to eachother, as Moore sows the seeds for a future relationship - note the superb moment when Allan accidentally sees up her dress - while Jekyll shows a slight affection for her, and Captain Nemo and Hawley look to be a good pair, despite (or because of?) their extremely different personalities.
What surprised me about the comics is how damn funny they are. The writing is punchy and fluid, provoking laughs in the quiet moments and the friendly nature of the characterisation. The Invisible Man gets most of the laughs with his light-hearted approach to the team's mission and various humorous outbursts, and even just his appearances (clothes floating, cigarette smoke coming from thin air, a teapot dangling by itself) always win a smile or two. It's not just him though; Moore obviously doesn't take his characters too seriously, which is not a complaint. It isn't supposed to be too serious, it's supposed to be enjoyable. It's supposed to be fun.
Kevin O'Neill's art was a bit offputting at first, but as the trade progressed I grew fonder of it. It suits the subject matter, with its periodic abstract style, and nails both the quite moments and the bigger, dramatic scenes. The reprints of the original covers, included at the back of the compendium, are wonderfully idiosyncratic. Speaking of the back of the trade, Moore's loose handling of the comic medium (shown in Watchmen with his various article and book extracts) is evident, with a short story on an early adventure of Allan Quatermain's included, and some throwaway puzzles and bobs.
Make no mistake about it, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol 1 deserves you money. Not because it is good, but because it is brilliant. It doesn't try to change the medium or stun the comic intellectuals, it just tries to entertain. It's obvious Moore and O'Neill are having a ball producing it, something no doubt any reader will share.
The Justice League of America or Marvel's Avengers may seem like a cool bunch - but they're nothing compared to this band of notable Victorians, this group of old-school legends, this League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Assembled to retrieve the miracle substance Cavorite and help protect the Empire against the dastardly plans of Fu Manchu - all is not quite as it seems and an even greater threat is revealed.
Alan Moore is well known for creating anti-heroes rather than squeaky clean super boyscouts and instead of a bunch of moralistic upstanding gents we get set of determined individuals who have been driven to success often through ruthlessness. The book starts with Wilhelmina Harker gathering the men who will form The League, and the gritty tone is assisted by a backdrop of murder and the fact that the invisible man also happens to be responsible for a series of `immaculate conceptions' at a monastery school. There's a reluctance from those approached to assist the British government, some feel disenfranchised, some don't quite see what's in it for them, and there's a general sense that they are simply a little too old now for such an adventure. The genius of the Moore is to pull together characters who don't really require any great level of backstory because they already exist within the era in separate works of fiction, this creates an alternate history where the great Explorer Quartermaine exists in the same world as Dracula and Captain Nemo, where Sherlock Holmes makes headlines and the monster Master Hyde terrorises the streets of London. He doesn't rely on what has come before though, he squeezes them into reality, what makes them so special is countered by the flaws of men and it all takes place in a time familiar but changed so that you accept anything.
There's something gloriously romantic about the age; the fashion, the passion for technology and the spirit of adventure. The wonderful Steampunk elements shift modern technology into the Victorian age, it's subtly done though (unlike the film loosely based on this!) and Kevin O'Neill's artwork is incredibly detailed. The costumes are sumptuous and the backgrounds capture the foggy London streets and the brass levers of the vast Nautilus. The technology is retro-futuristic and is designed with the spirit of the age rather than shoe-horning modern artifacts into Victorian times. The story itself reads like an old-fashioned adventure, the end of each section (punctuating the end of the each individual comic which make up the volume) containing a write-up pastiche of what's coming next with great lines such as: "further scenes to divert and astonish, including episodes of a bawdy nature that our lady readers, being of a more delicate sensibility, may wish to avoid." ...which all adds to the fun.
In a nutshell: A Victorian Steampunk yarn which celebrates well known characters and places the ensemble in an adventure together. It's a fictionalised world which works so well because all the individual elements are made to fit together and look as though they've always existed in the same stories. This is probably better appreciated by older audiences, some of the themes are more adult in nature. There is great re-read value here too because subsequent reads reveal things you weren't aware of the first time, and there are so many nods to other bits of Victoriana that I'll probably never notice them all!
on 23 January 2015
This book (series) is equal parts work of visual beauty, interesting story and characters, literary wheres Wally puzzle. Every time you re read you will love the attention to detial in the lovingly crafted art work, embrace the flawed characters a little more, and find some bizarre in joke.
on 4 July 2003
What if you took some of those great heroes from Victorian fantasy literature and banded them together like super-heroes? Yes, in most hands you'd be left with a sticky derivative mess, but with the mastery of Moore on the case (not to mention the ever lively pen of Mr O'Neill) what you get is a charming little thriller, full of tension, drama and of course, bucketfuls of action.
Ridiculously well researched, but never overtly intellectual, this is one of the most fun books you'll read this year.
on 14 January 2004
This excellent graphic novel is a delightful publication, written in a Victorian style and using such well-known characters as Allan Quartermain (of King Solomon’s Mines), Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man et. al. It is full of homages to Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Sexton Blake novels, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and also features criminal masterminds, opium, sinister Chinamen and autoloading harpoon guns. What more could one want?
on 12 January 2007
If you're a fan of victorian characters such as Dr Jekyl and Capt Nemo, or you are a comics fan wanting a good read, this book is for you!
Don't be put off by the movie, the book is infinitely better.
Buy the hard-back - you'll read it often enough to warrant the extra.
Superbe. Alan Moore at his best.