Thursday, January 26, 2012

review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (volume 1 and 2)

Written by Alan Moore
Illustrated by Kevin O'Neill

Published: 2001

Synopsis:(Volume one) Captain Nemo! The Invisible Man! Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! Intrepid explorer Allan Quatermain! These and other amazing heroes of the Victorian age unite to save the world in Alan Moore's legendary tale, the inspiration for the 2003 Sean Connery film.

(Volume two) When alien invaders from Mars mercilessly attack London, the British throne quickly calls upon the League to protect the empire. When one of the members dies a horrific death, the members must call upon Dr. Moreau as their last desperate hope.

For 2012 I decded I'd only take part in two challenges alongside the general Goodreads reading challenge. The one I've been most excited about though is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge. Not only is it a unique and clever idea for a challenge but it's the push I need to read some of those classic texts that I constantly overlook.

I decided that before I read original source materials I waned to get an idea of how the characters are portrayed in the original graphic novel. Now, while I haven't read the books, I haven't been living under a rock, so I have seen other literary/tv/film incarnations of them. At the end of the year I'm going to revisit this graphic novel and the film and see if any of my perceptions have changed.

Now, on to the graphic novel! The copy I bought is the omnibus edition which includes volumes one and two as well as two short story/novellas and a series of art pages featuring the various cover art. It's a beautiful hard cover book that I'm more than happy to add to my collection. I mean, seriously, how sexy is a book with some weight to it?!

So! The basic story is, Mr Bond, working for Mr M ropes the divorced and disgraced Wilhelmina (Mina) Harker into finding a group of disgraced/old/villainous men for Mr M. The group, when assembled, will be a specialised group that will have all the necessary requirements to fight the good fight for England, protect the country, the people etc etc. Of course, it isn't quite as described, but that's the basic line fed to them as reason for working together. The graphic novel assembles Mina Harker with the Opium-sot Mr Quartermain, dastardly pirate Captain Nemo, infamous Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde and the devious invisible man, Hawley Griffin. They're a ragamuffin group of not-so-nice dudes (and lady) with very little going for themselves, but together they actually manage to get some things right. They never truly trust each other, and their insults for one another rarely subside, but together they seem to regain some of their previous glory, and they prove that they're perhaps not so dispensable after all.

The two volumes see them pitted against a new foe, with the added mystery of exactly who they're working for included in volume one. I won't go into much detail about either plot here, but I felt like volume two strayed just a little too far into the ridiculous. The attacking aliens was just... a little too bad Star Trek-y? Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Star Trek fan, but every now and then there was an episode that was just a little too outrageous and silly that didn't have a strong story or message at it's core to help it succeed. Plus, there's a love story and a couple of other side-stories that just didn't really mesh coherently for my taste. It definitely succumbed to sequelitis, which was a shame since I enjoyed the first volume so, so much.

A lot of reliance is placed on the reader knowing these characters, at least to some degree. It takes it for granted that you know that Mina is from Dracula, because if you don't, you may not understand what the disgrace that is mentioned is, and you'd probably miss the subtle hints regarding her always keeping a scarf wound round her neck. And even when the scarf is removed towards the end of the volume two you still possibly wouldn't make the connection regarding the marks on her neck with the cryptic comments she makes. This reliance on the reader is both one of the novels finest points, but also one of its slipping points. On the one hand, the novel is rich with characters that have decades (and in some cases centuries) of emotions, subtext and characteristics imbued into them, meaning that every action, every line of dialogue, every reaction can be studied at close quarters to gain nuanced meaning that would otherwise be impossible in a story of this size. On the other hand, if you don't know these character's pasts then you miss out on much of the subtle story that threads between the lines (or within the pictures), and the characters and story may appear simple or even under-developed. Alan Moore took a real risk with this approach, and while I certainly enjoyed it, I can imagine the confusion some readers may face. It's sort of like watching the Harry Potter films without having read the books, there are certain characteristics or issues that were downplayed in the film, but were crucial to the understanding of the series as a whole.

While I'm sure I missed some of the more subtle hints and references with these characters, it was fun locating the other literary clues dotted through the stories. In volume two they stay at "Bleak House" and Gulliver (edit: of the moon not the travels) and Dr Moreau (amongst others) make cameos. Some are more obvious than others, but all are deftly included into the story, rather than just thrown in as though exclaiming "YEAH! I read books,I'm smart, me" like a certain author who writes about glittery vampires... Plus, because it's a graphic novel it's kind of a Where's Wally literary edition, how many can you find?!

So the characters were the driving force of the story, and depending on who you are, and your reading history, that may be a positive or a negative thing. I think that's probably a fair way of describing how I feel about this book. While I really enjoyed volume one, I felt like volume two was a let down. I can completely understand how someone could finish this book and love it, but I can completely understand someone who comes out disappointed, or disliking it. It ran out of steam, it shot up with such energy, creativity and uniqueness that there was nowhere for it to go but back down. A really interesting concept though, worth at least taking a look at in your library.


  1. I still need to read this. Honestly, I set up the challenge in the first place and I haven't even picked up the graphic novel yet!

    To be fair, it is on my TBR at least. It sounds like it's a lot grittier and darker than the film. The character there are all kind of shiny and polished.

    I kind of like how it's reliant on your own reading history though. It just means you can keep going back and rereading it when you've learnt a little more. Kind of the point of this challenge, haha!

  2. Yeah I can't wait to read it again when I've finished the challenge and see what I think. Maybe I'll like it more, maybe less, who knows!

    I'll be watching the film in the next week or so, I haven't seen it since it first came out so I can barely remember it at all. But I'd say the graphic novel will definitely be darker, Alan Moore doesn't seem predisposed to happy outlooks!

  3. Great review! I'm doing this challenge too, though haven't started yet. I might do the graphic novel at the end so that I can appreciate the characters more fully.

  4. Thanks Belle! I think reading it at the end will be a good decision. I had been wanting to read his for awhile, so I couldn't hold back, but I think when I re-read it at the end of the year it'll be a completely different experience.

  5. Just a little note, in the review it mentions Gulliver appearing in Vol2, its not the one from Gullivers Travels but rather from Gulliver of Mars. however the one from Travels is in their too in background pictures.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...