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Britain's Best Comics by FullAuto Written on 22nd November 2005

Alan Moore is a bit of a talented bloke, really. Responsible for revitalising DC's 'Swamp Thing', creating landmark titles like 'Watchmen' and 'V for Vendetta', starting his own line up featuring 'Top Ten', 'Tom Strong' and the subject of this review, 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'. He's shown a great aptitude for writing that he couldn't exploit in Britain unless he worked solely for 2000 AD. And Moore obviously doesn't like to confine himself to one story or even one genre at a time. Despite bringing literary worth to a medium usually labelled as juvenile, both DC and Marvel treated him shabbily, which just goes to show no good deed goes unpunished.

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"Thish filmsh shite."
Before I even start, forget the fucking film, ok? Moore has terrible luck with films. 'From Hell' is based on a comic of his, and 'Constantine' is based on the character he created. The upcoming cinematic version of 'V for Vendetta' should also be taken with a pinch of salt. Moore now, understandably, disassociates himself from film projects based on his work.

If you have seen the film, you'll have washed your eyes in burning bleach anyway, so it's a safe bet you won't be reading this. But no doubt you've heard how shit it was. Be assured, it's nothing like the comics. The film shat all over the comics, which just goes to prove Hollywood can ruin anything if you let it.


Anyway, for those unfamiliar with the title, I shall give you a quick summary. It is set in an alternate history 19th century, where the British Empire is considerably more technologically advanced and most of the characters from Victorian literature actually exist. The League is made up of such, from previous works by great and not-so-great writers, formed to protect the British Empire from such insidious evils as Fu Manchu (Vol. I) and outright alien invasion (Vol. II). The League consists of Mina Murray (Dracula), Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), Allan Quatermain (King Solomon's Mines), Dr Henry Jekyll/Mr Edward Hyde (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) and Dr Hawley Griffin (The Invisible Man).
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Eton's 'special' class wasn't popular.

Each brings their own unique talents to the fray, in the best style of heroic groups everywhere. Mina Murray is intelligent and keeps the League from splintering, despite the fact that she has been disgraced and divorced, she fights to defend the society that made her a pariah. Captain Nemo, despite hating the British with a passion, brings the Nautilus (his anachronistic submarine) and other advanced weapons and technology. Quatermain is a great colonial explorer (the prototype for Indiana Jones et al) and he ends up as Mina's sidekick. Despite his vast experience and considerable skill, he's just not as clever as she is. Dr Henry Jekyll is a small, ineffectual man that doesn't do much, but when placed under stress he transforms into Edward Hyde. A savage beast that could quite easily kick the shit out of the Incredible Hulk, and would then probably eat him afterwards, Hyde is held in check by the vague remnants of manners and Mina's sharp words. Hawley Griffin is invisible (as if you hadn't fucking guessed. Sorry, I hate patronising folk, but if I don't some contrary fucker will no doubt say "You didn't tell us Griffin was invisible, wah wah wah." between tossing himself blind over gay monkey porn and posting on and is as moral and principled as he is easy to see. Exactly. The man's a cunt.

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The Labour party's image consultants had went insane.
Moore throws in jokes and knowing references a-plenty, a good example being the Channel Causeway, a bridge being built between Britain and France. Added to this are cameos from such literary luminaries as Sherlock Holmes, Auguste Dupin and the Artful Dodger, and every named character is from one piece of Victorian literature or another. A lot of people categorise the work as steampunk, which describes the science and technology of the setting accurately enough, I suppose. The society is firmly Victorian, full of stiff upper lips and moral values, staunchly patriarchal, with warnings about the sly Chinee and dusky Mohammedan. In fact all Johnny Foreigners, white or not, are treated with a degree of suspicion.

It's drawn in fine Victorian style by fellow Brit Kevin O'Neill, yet another man who went the 2000 AD to USA route. It's a pretty unique approach even among the wide variation of art used in modern comics. Added to the whole Victorian/steampunk/technobaroque style, most structures are sharply defined with clear lines, while the characters get more detail, making them clearly organic and helping them stand out. O'Neill also has a nice sense of motion, which is shockingly rare among comic artists. Comics basically act as snapshot after snapshot, each panel showing gradual or sudden progression, and O'Neill knows just what moments of movement to show so our imaginations fill in the flow between them easily. Combined with Moore's writing, it adds up to a damn fine comic.

The characters themselves are of more interest than the story, though that itself is by no means poor. Mina's constant struggle to lead in the face of entrenched sexism, Nemo's hate of the British and love of adventure and the sea, Quatermain trying to live up to the legend he never was, Jekyll's hope for a cure being swallowed up by Hyde's vicious all-consuming hatred and Griffin's unrelenting self-interest, all mesh into a complex web, and you know how each character feels about the others in depth.
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Special needs Nemo was ignored after pissing himself.

The story follows Mina as she gathers up the various members of the League, under the auspices of one Campion Bond and the mysterious 'M', to combat the threat presented by the Lord of Limehouse, the otherworldly Oriental known only as Fu Manchu, who has stolen a substance with anti-gravitic properties, known as cavorite. With this in his grasp, Fu Manchu could build a flying ship capable of raining fire down upon London. Imagine that. But things, as always, are never as they seem. I wonder if, one day, someone will dare to write a story where everything is as it seems. I suspect such a subversive writer would be dragged out into the street and shot, but Moore's twists are pretty good anyway.

It's a fucking great comic and Moore deserved better than the shaft he got. Quite laughable, really, as this quintessentially British comic was published under the 'America's Best Comics' imprint, while being written and drawn by Brits. If you like a bit of brain with your brawn, this is the stuff for you.

Rule Britannia.


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