I missed a few weeks at my new, supplemental comic shop The Comic Bug, and when I showed up to browse last weekend I was thrilled to find that I’d lost track of time and the new edition of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen had finally hit the shelves. LOEG Century Vol. #1: 1969 picks up a good fifty-nine years after the last, LOEG Century Vol. #2: 1910, and in that time our returning heroes – still physically youthful and rejuvenated since their dip in the fires of eternal youth - Mina Harker, Allan Quatermain and the bizarre gender-rotating immortal Orlando have acclimated themselves to the times with short skirts, sideburns and, in Mina’s case at least, a predilection for picking up colloquial bedroom practices as well as phrases such as, ‘Groovy’ and ‘Bad vibes’ (much to her cohorts’ amusement). However it is not with light hearts that our heroes have embraced the age of the hippy – far from it.
If you read Century: 1910 then you’ll remember (or maybe you won’t – I had to re-read the thing in order to get my bearings again) that the ghost-finder Thomas Carnacki had set our heroes on the defensive after having numerous visions of Black Magician Oliver Haddo* conspiring to bring a Moonchild into the world and usher in the Apocalypse. 1969 continues this story but also flushes out the decades-long interim between editions; references are made to Mina having worked with some kind of a Watchmen-esque super team lead by (Shakespeare’s) Prospero and Allan and Orlando have traveled and… indulged (Orlando’s influence definitely seems to be all over Quatermain, that much is clear and developing into a bit of a stumbling block in regards to his relationship with Mina)?
Then there’s Haddo.
The Black Magician’s plans have piggy-backed multiple cadres of new recruits, all in the name of proving himself the Great Beast and slowly bringing about the end of the world. Shit has gone down in the world and with our heroes and no one is very happy with their eternal life, except of course Orlando, who continues to use his steady progression through people, decades, continents and their empires all in the name of basically being able to constantly say, “Yeah, I did that”. The message here seems to be immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, a common theme and one that definitely fits with Mina’s background. But you can see how ‘Lando might be getting on his immortal accomplices’ nerves, eh?
Moore’s characterizations are fascinating; upon reading the first two volumes back in the 90’s who could have realized that these two characters (Allan and Mina) would be his own personal avatars for time-traveling through history and exploring how it – from humanity’s perspective – alters and effects us. By having introduced us to Mina and Allan on the ground floor of a comic book super team (a grand and literate super team, but a super team nonetheless) we experience this new volume, Century, from a unique perspective. It’s one thing to knowingly pick up a story about time travel – the plot is contrived (well written or not, it’s contrived because it is designed to be what it is). But to go from a proto-steampunk team-up adventure to something growing to encompass our history, our world, our pastpresentandfuture, and what’s more, how that world is affected by the fictional worlds we as a species seem increasingly obsessed with creating and consuming, Moore gives us the novice magician’s perspective on the lapsing of time from a godly perspective. We get more than the story of these worlds than we know because we’re seeing them as they transpire in relation to one another. I don’t know if the point I’m trying to make comes through because LOEG has gone from a consensual story to something more akin to what Grant Morrison does in his books** – the story becomes holographic and begins to effect your central nervous system by deftly intertwining fact and fiction, making the boundaries between each a little bit harder to discern and a lot harder to tuck cleanly into language.
And Alan Moore wouldn’t have it any other way.
Century: 1969 advances the LOEG storyline into some pretty dark areas, especially considering where our heroes end up compared to where they begin. However, if life is a process and as a process a series of cycles, it makes sense that cycle wise, lengthening a person’s lifespan far beyond that of the average human, there would tend to be larger, perhaps more drastic highs and lows. That definitely makes for some thick, viscous storytelling that once again leaves the reader with that burning question for the creative team:
How long until Century: 2009???
* I’ll tell you what else I had to do – google-search a LOT of the characters present in these newer volumes of the serial. Shit, there’s even a well-hidden pre-Voldemort Tom Riddle in this one! One of my favorites, Haddo, is from the W. Somerset Maugham’s 1908 novel The Magician and in keeping with Maugham’s novel the character is a thinly-veiled caricature of one Aleister Crowley, who did in fact attempt to conceive a Moonchild, as did the American head of Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis, one John ‘Jack’ Parsons, who – if you didn’t know – was a deeply gifted scientist and one of the key people who developed JPL’s rockets that led the US to its lunar landing.
**And yes, Moore has done many times before as well (perhaps best with From Hell) – I’m not taking sides on the Morrison/Moore debate.