L.O.E.G=W.T.H.?

(Spoiler warning: This essay covers plot points of the recent L.O.E.G. storyline.)

Ok, can someone tell me just what the hell Alan Moore is doing??

The last few weeks saw the long awaited publication of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY #3: 2009.  I believe that this brings the series to a close although Moore has announced that he may do “hidden cases” stories.  After reading this issue, all I can do is think, “What?  Is that it?”

The series’ first began in 1999 with a six issue limited series published by America’s Best Comics and seemed to make some sort of sense back then.  The League was a group of characters from literature who were brought together to fight a threat to the world.  Featuring Mina Harker (from Dracula), Allan Quatermain (from H. Rider Haggard’s novels), Captain Nemo (from Verne’s novels), the Invisible Man (from H.G Wells’ novel of the same name) and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (from Stevenson’s short novel), the League was successful in saving the day despite their differences and past demons. There were hints about previous Leagues having existed through the centuries made up of other legendary literary characters.  For all of its idiosyncrasies, it was a pretty straight forward plot and relatively easy to follow.

Even the second series seemed to make some sort of sense with the same team now taking on the Martians from H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds.  There was the usual amount of ‘in-jokes’ featuring other characters and concepts from literature but these didn’t get in the way of the story.  You could still enjoy the comic even if you didn’t know who everyone lurking in the panels was supposed to be.

That all changed with the third series, The Black Dossier.  Rather than a straight-forward story, Moore presents a sort of ‘sourcebook’ for the series which attempts to encapsulate previous events as well as taking the lead characters of Mina and Allan into the 1950’s.  The major shift came with the introduction of Moore’s version of the “The Blazing World”.

Originally conceived by Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle, in her 1666 novel, the Blazing World was a utopian kingdom in another world reachable through the North Pole.  In Moore, typically, it becomes much more and is overseen by Shakespeare’s wizard, Prospero from The Tempest.

Reading The Black Dossier is like drinking a Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster or “…like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick”.  Simply said, other than the framing storyline with Mina and Allan, it just doesn’t make a whole lotta sense particularly if you haven’t grown up in England in the 40s and 50s.

Which is where everything starts to go wrong.

By the time that LOEG CENTURY #1: 1910 rolls around, this aspect takes over the series.  So much so that you can’t read it without having an atlas open next to you.  Supposedly, this first issue sets up the plot for the entire CENTURY series in that a wizard, Oliver Haddo (Moore’s equivalent to Aleister Crowley borrowed from W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, The Magician), is conspiring to bring forth a ‘Moonchild’ who will usher in an eon of unending terror.  The problem is that the first issue is a disjointed mess with characters who seem to have no idea what they’re doing and then several of them breaking into song while they’re doing it.

In CENTURY #2: 1969, ol’ Haddo is still trying to bring forth the Moonchild (after jumping through several bodies) and the League is still ineffectively trying to stop him.  Set in the backdrop of the psychedelic 60s, the characters run through a series of incidents that seem designed primarily for Moore to make commentaries than for any plot to be developed.  Other than Mina’s disappearance at the end, I don’t see much point to this issue at all.

Finally, in CENTURY #3: 2009, the Moonchild is revealed and there’s a big fight and then it’s all over leaving me, as a reader, wondering, “Why’d I bother with this?”

(Spoiler Alert)

After the end of the second Century volume, it comes as no surprise that the Moonchild is Moore’s warped version of Harry Potter.  I’m not a huge fan of the Potter franchise but, obviously, Moore is less so as his version ends up leaving a nasty taste in one’s mouth and I can’t help but think that Moore has an axe to grind here and does so with a measure of vindictiveness.  Not content to make Potter the villain, Moore has him wipe out virtually everything in the Potter-verse.  To make matters worse, Mina and Orlando (the only remaining members of the League) are sent by Prospero to stop the Moonchild.  (Allen shows up just in time to get barbequed.)  As they are fighting the giant Moonchild (why is he a giant?  Well, why not?), a shadowy figure emerges from the Blazing World and pretty much defeats the Moonchild all by herself.  The figure is a stand in for Mary Poppins who wields so much power that one wonders why Prospero didn’t just sent Mary in the first place.  The victory does not belong to the League or to the reader but to the seemingly endless horde who are delighted by the game of trying to figure out “who’s who in that panel”?

Which leads me back to my original question; “What the hell is Alan Moore doing?”

I’ve always felt that Moore’s weakest points are his endings.  He tends to build tension and drama up to such an extreme that the endings are more of a letdown than anything else.  I have to wonder if Moore loses interest halfway through and just slogs on until it’s over.  And, with the overwhelming abundance of “in-jokes” and “cameo appearances”, they become the primary focus rather than the plot.  Without them, Moore could have probably told the same story in about 100 pages rather the 250+ pages these three volumes constitute.

I cannot help but wonder if Moore has fallen victim to the “Stephen King Paradox”.  This is the concept that someone like Stephen King becomes so powerful in their field that they are no longer edited.  Few would argue that many King books would have been improved by a more aggressive editor and I feel the same happening here.  Moore is still a god among comic readers who can pretty much get away with whatever they feel like doing and that is the main problem with the LOEG series.

It is self-indulgent.  It is Alan Moore showing off about how clever he is and all the great things he’s read and rammed into the story.  He’s forgotten that the primary focus is to entertain and LOEG no longer does that.

In many ways, I feel that Moore is doing to the readers what the Moonchild does to Allan Quatermain in the first panel on page 58.  (If you’ve read the book, you know what I mean.)

–Sam Gafford

(All opinions expressed are simply those of the author.  If you disagree, I’d love to hear why.  I’m sure that many readers will feel that I simply don’t get it.  To which I reply, “There’s a difference between not getting it and not liking it.”)

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About Sam Gafford
My name is Sam Gafford and I've been doing critical work on William Hope Hodgson for many years. I wrote the article "Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson" in which I presented evidence that WHH wrote his novels in the reverse order in which they were published. I've recently written an article on Hodgson's confrontation with Houdini and am currently working on a book length study of WHH.

3 Responses to L.O.E.G=W.T.H.?

  1. Ronny says:

    There is a fine line between creating your own artistic vision and simply being indulgent. If an artist wants to show how clever they are by, as you say, littering the book with “cameos” and “in-jokes” then they are forgoing a story meant for a reader. Instead they are just creating a self-indulgent ego-trip of narcissistic self-congratulation.

  2. And that is my main complaint with what LOEG has become. It is not longer a cool story about a bunch of literary characters but instead a self-indulgent “Where’s Waldo” type game. Moore used to be a guide as to how to write great comics but that isn’t true anymore.

  3. Ronny says:

    I like your point on editors. I wouldn’t be surprised if all he has is a copy-editor. There still resides a number of author-creator’s with almost no people looking over their shoulder. Who is going to talk back to them and say “I know you stuff has rocked in the past, but this just is not working man.”? Instead they have a bunch of sycophantic boot-lickers drooling with adulation for any piece of faux wisdom they can infer from their great leader.

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