The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Cover of Volume I
Publication information
PublisherABC/WildStorm/DC Comics (1999–2007)
Top Shelf and Knockabout Comics (2009–present)
GenreAlternate history
Steampunk
Metafiction
Publication date1999–present
Number of issues15, plus two original graphic novels
Main character(s)Mina Murray
Allan Quatermain
Hawley Griffin
Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde
Captain Nemo
Orlando
Creative team
Writer(s)Alan Moore
Artist(s)Kevin O'Neill
Letterer(s)Bill Oakley
 
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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Cover of Volume I
Publication information
PublisherABC/WildStorm/DC Comics (1999–2007)
Top Shelf and Knockabout Comics (2009–present)
GenreAlternate history
Steampunk
Metafiction
Publication date1999–present
Number of issues15, plus two original graphic novels
Main character(s)Mina Murray
Allan Quatermain
Hawley Griffin
Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde
Captain Nemo
Orlando
Creative team
Writer(s)Alan Moore
Artist(s)Kevin O'Neill
Letterer(s)Bill Oakley

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a comic book series written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill, publication of which began in 1999. The series spans two six-issue limited series and a graphic novel from the America's Best Comics imprint of Wildstorm/DC, and a third miniseries published by Top Shelf and Knockabout Comics. According to Moore, the concept behind the series was initially a "Justice League of Victorian England" but quickly grew into an opportunity to merge several works of fiction into one world.

Moore and O'Neill have stated that they plan to map out many different eras in the League series with Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray being the two constants.[citation needed] Elements of Volume I were used in a very loose feature film adaptation of the same name, released in 2003 and starring Sean Connery.

Plot[edit]

Volume I[edit]

In the aftermath of the events of the novel Dracula, a now disgraced and divorced Mina Harker (née Murray) is recruited by Campion Bond on behalf of British Intelligence and asked to assemble a league of other extraordinary individuals to protect the interests of the Empire. Together with Captain Nemo, Mina travels to Cairo to locate Allan Quatermain, then on to Paris in search of Dr. Jekyll; finally in London she forcibly recruits Hawley Griffin, The Invisible Man, who completes this incarnation of the League. Meeting with Professor Cavor, the League is sent against Fu Manchu in his Limehouse lair, who has stolen the only known sample of cavorite and plans to use it to build an armed airship, against which Britain would have little defence. Having eventually retrieved the cavorite, the League delivers it into the hands of their employer — none other than Professor Moriarty (nemesis of Sherlock Holmes), who plans to use it in an airship of his own, with which he will bomb his adversary's Limehouse lair flat, taking large parts of London and the League itself with it. An aerial battle above London commences, and the League eventually triumphs. Mycroft Holmes replaces Moriarty as the League's employer, and the extraordinary individuals are given the task of remaining in the service of the Crown, awaiting England's call. It is shown some kind of a meteor shower, leading up to the events in Volume II.

Volume II[edit]

Placed during the events of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, Volume II opens on Mars, where John Carter and Lt. Gullivar Jones (of Edwin Lester Arnold's Gullivar of Mars) have assembled an alliance to fight against Martian invaders. When the invaders are forced off Mars and land on Earth, they begin to build their tripods. Griffin leaves the League under cover of invisibility to form an alliance with the invaders before betraying it outright, stealing plans for the defence of London as well as physically and emotionally assaulting Mina.

Mycroft Holmes deploys Nemo and Hyde to defend the capital by patrolling London's rivers in the Nautilus. Meanwhile Murray and Quatermain meet up with Dr. Moreau in his secret hideout in the forest, and tell him that MI5 has asked for something known as H-142. Hyde returns to the British Museum and tortures Griffin; breaking Griffin's leg and raping him before murdering him. Hyde dies fighting a tripod, allowing time for MI5 to launch H-142. However, before he goes to fight the tripods, he asks Mina for two things: for her to give him a kiss, and permission to touch her breast.

MI5 then launches H-142: a hybrid bacterium, made up of anthrax and streptococcus. Nemo is infuriated about H-142, and Bond coolly replies that they will claim that, officially, the Martians died of the common cold, whilst any humans found dead will have been killed by Martians. Angered by the British government's heartless use of biological weaponry, Nemo leaves in the Nautilus and tells Quatermain and Murray to "never seek [him] again", mistakenly believing that they knew the details of the British plan.

The Black Dossier[edit]

Promotional image from The Black Dossier

Presented as a stand-alone sourcebook, rather than as the third volume, the Black Dossier has a framing sequence set not in the Victorian era but in 1958. Events take place after the fall of the Big Brother government from Nineteen Eighty Four. (The in-story explanation for this apparent date-shift is that Orwell's book was published in 1948.) The story itself sees Mina Harker and Allan Quatermain—now immortal after bathing in the fire of youth from She—on their quest to recover the Black Dossier itself (a confessed macguffin), in a metafictional unravelling of the secret history of the now-disbanded League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Out to stop them is a trio of secret agents: brutally womanizing young spy Jimmy (a thinly veiled James Bond), a young agent named Emma Night (maiden name of Mrs. Emma Peel from The Avengers), and Hugo "Bulldog" Drummond. The pursuit takes Mina and Allan from London to Scotland and eventually to the magical Blazing World, overseen by Shakespeare's Prospero.

Initially intended to be accompanied by a 45-rpm record featuring songs referenced in the plot, this addition was shelved ostensibly to be included as an incentive with the 'Absolute Edition', and ultimately dropped entirely—to the chagrin of the author/singer.

Volume III: Century[edit]

Promotional image from Century.

The third volume, a 216-page epic spanning almost a hundred years and entitled Century, is divided into three 72-page chapters, each a self-contained narrative. The volumes were tentatively scheduled to be released annually with Part 1 released on May 13, 2009; Part 2 released on July 28, 2011; but Part 3 not being released until June 2012.[1]

Century: 1910[edit]

Chapter one is set against a backdrop of London, 1910, with Halley's Comet passing overhead, the nation prepares for the coronation of King George V, and far away on his South Atlantic island, the scientist-pirate Captain Nemo is dying. In the bowels of the British Museum, Carnacki the ghost-finder is plagued by visions of a shadowy occult order who are attempting to create something called a Moonchild, while on London's dockside the most notorious serial murderer of the previous century has returned to carry on his grisly trade.

Century: 1969[edit]

Chapter two takes place almost 60 years later in the psychedelic daze of Swinging London during 1969, a place where tadukic acid diethylamide 26 is the drug of choice, and where different underworlds are starting to overlap dangerously to an accompaniment of sit-ins and sitars. A thoroughly modern Mina Murray and her dwindling league of comrades attempt to navigate the perilous rapids of London's hippie and criminal subculture, as well as the twilight world of its occultists. Starting to buckle from the pressures of the twentieth century and the weight of their own endless lives, Mina and her companions must nevertheless prevent the making of a Moonchild that might well turn out to be the Antichrist.

Century: 2009[edit]

In chapter three, the narrative draws to its cataclysmic close in London 2009. The magical child whose ominous coming has been foretold for the past hundred years has now been born and has grown up to claim his dreadful heritage. His promised eon of unending terror can commence, the world can now be ended starting with North London.[2]

Nemo: Heart of Ice[edit]

Presented as a stand alone hardcover rather than a new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen story, Nemo: Heart of Ice follows Janni Dakkar to Antarctica in 1925. The story opens with Nemo and her crew robbing a great treasure from Ayesha, who appears to have great influence over Charles Foster Kane. Nemo travels to Antarctica as her father once did on a trip that drove him mad. Kane recruits Frank Reade Jr., Jack Wright, and Tom Swift to retrieve Ayesha's treasure from Nemo. The trio follow her to Antarctica where they encounter a pit that leads to Yuggoth, a mysterious white giant and an ice sphinx. The chase ends at the Mountains of Madness, where clever trickery on the part of Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen puts Swift and Reade in the path of a Shoggoth that consumes Reade and drives Swift mad.

The Roses of Berlin[edit]

According to Moore, the next book, titled The Roses of Berlin, is to be set in 1941. Following this will be another stand-alone special and then Volume 4.[3]

Overview of the series[edit]

In a 1997 interview with Andy Diggle for the now defunct Comics World website, Alan Moore gave the title of the work as "The League of Extraordinary Gentlefolk". Moore changed the name to Gentlemen to better reflect the Victorian era.

The Victorian setting allowed Moore and O'Neill to insert "in-jokes" and cameos from many works of Victorian fiction, while also making contemporary references and jibes. The works bear numerous steampunk influences. In the first issue, for example, there is a half-finished bridge to link Britain and France, referencing problems constructing the Channel Tunnel. The juxtaposition of characters from different sources in the same story is similar to science fiction writer Philip José Farmer's works centering around the Wold Newton family or Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series.

Most characters in the series, from the dominatrix schoolmistress Rosa Coote to minor characters such as Inspector Dick Donovan, are either an established character from an existing work of fiction or an ancestor of the same, to the extent that individuals depicted in crowd scenes in Volume I have been said (both by Moore, and in annotations by Jess Nevins) to be visually designed as the ancestors of the cast of EastEnders. This has lent the series considerable popularity with fans of esoteric Victoriana, who have delighted in attempting to place every character who makes an appearance.

Moore said:

The planet of the imagination is as old as we are. It has been humanity's constant companion with all of its fictional locations, like Mount Olympus and the gods, and since we first came down from the trees, basically. It seems very important, otherwise, we wouldn't have it.[4]

Sherlock Holmes and Dracula are notably absent from the League's adventures due to their assumed deaths prior to the events of the series. The former is presented in a flashback sequence, and the latter is given connections to Wilhelmina Murray. Moore has noted that he felt these two seminal characters would overwhelm the rest of the cast. Holmes is still believed by the public to be deceased following the events of The Final Problem, although it is revealed in the second volume that Mina later meets with him.

Most of the initial characters of the series were selected for being public domain characters, but as the series went on, Moore became more creative in incorporating characters from fiction. Moore included characters who are not yet in the public domain but were considered iconic enough to be identified by defining character traits. A definitive example is the character Jimmy - a womanizing, inept MI5 agent and grandson of original character Campion Bond - who is clearly a thinly-veiled version of Ian Fleming's James Bond.

Publisher change[edit]

Moore's long-standing outspoken criticism of DC Comics (stemming in large part from his perceived mistreatment at their hands over the rights to Watchmen) made his position with DC-owned subsidiary Wildstorm Comics (of which LoEG publisher America's Best Comics is an imprint) tenuous from the start. Moore's initial agreement was with WildStorm owner Jim Lee, who sold his studio to DC after dealing with Moore, but before any of the ABC projects were published. Moore agreed to honour his contracts with Lee, but made it clear that he wished to continue to have no dealings with DC directly.

The fifth issue of the first volume contained an authentic vintage advertisement for a douche with the brand name Marvel Douche. The entire initial print run was destroyed and reprinted because the publisher felt that this could be perceived as an attack on Marvel Comics, DC's main competition.[5]

After several additional complaints over DC interference, Moore decided to wind up his ABC projects, intending to only continue with League (the only title he, with O'Neill, actually owned). He subsequently took offense at inaccurate comments made by the producer of the film version of his V for Vendetta, which stated that the author—who had distanced himself completely from film adaptations of his work, particularly after LXG—had commented favourably on a draft of the script. Moore requested that someone involved with the film's production company—and DC Comics parent company—Warner Bros. officially retract the comments and/or apologise.

When no such apology was forthcoming, Moore (and O'Neill) decided to withdraw future volumes of the League from DC in protest. Since the duo were still working on The Black Dossier at the time, it was agreed that it would become the last League project published by DC/WildStorm, with subsequent projects published jointly by Top Shelf Productions and Knockabout Comics in the US and UK respectively. Reprints of Volumes I-II and the Dossier are now being published by Vertigo as well as ABC.

The world of the League[edit]

Volume II has an extensive appendix, most of which is filled with an imaginary travelers' account of the alternate universe the League is set in, called The New Traveler's Almanac. This Almanac is noteworthy in that it provides a huge amount (46 pages) of background information — all of which is taken from pre-existing literary works or mythology, a large majority of which is difficult to fully appreciate without an esoteric knowledge of literature. It shows the plot of the comic to be just a small section of a world inhabited by what appears to be the entirety of fiction.

Many of the places described in the appendices seem to be drawn from Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi's The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (1980), though Moore adds numerous places not covered there.

History of the League[edit]

Moore's work includes references to previous leagues and suggests there will be others subsequently. In much the same way that the New Traveller's Almanac, an appendix to the trade paperback collection of The League Vol. 2, detailed much of the geography of the League's world, the third volume, The Black Dossier, set out an extensive history of the world of the League and each of its various incarnations, threading together hundreds of disparate works of fiction into a cohesive timeline.

Reception and influence[edit]

In an interview with Andy Diggle in 1997, Alan Moore first gave a synopsis of the series which then had the working title of The League of Extraordinary Gentlefolk. Simon Bisley was originally going to be the artist for the series.

Volume I won the 2000 Bram Stoker Award for Best Illustrated Narrative. Volume II was nominated for the 2003 award, but lost to The Sandman: Endless Nights. Volume II received the 2003 Eisner Award for Best Finite Series/Limited Series. Time Magazine listed Volume II as the 9th best comic of 2003.[6] It was included in the 2005 edition of The Year's Best Graphic Novels, Comics, & Manga. Time also listed Black Dossier as the second best comic of 2007.[7]

UK Hip Hop artist CASS also assumes the identity of Hawley Griffin, going as far as to cover his face for promotional and public appearances when performing. CASS/Hawley Griffin's lyrics often contain references to themes and plot issues within Alan Moore's and H.G.Wells' works, including but not restricted to The League of Extraordinary Gentleman series or The Invisible Man.

The steampunk band Unextraordinary Gentlemen took their name from the comic.

A chapter in the 2005 nonfiction work The Cult of Alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture is titled "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen".

In his 2005 book The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman refers to Nemo as "the Sikh" and "the Science-Pirate", as Nemo was referred to in the League comics.

Warren Ellis has cited The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as an inspiration for his comic Ignition City.[8] Neil Gaiman also cited The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as one of the influences for his award-winning short story "A Study in Emerald".[9]

On "75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction)" off the Rising Down album, Black Thought refers to The Roots as "gentlemen of an extraordinary league".[10]

A 2006 documentary titled A League of Ordinary Gentlemen, directed by Christopher Browne and Alex Browne, follows four ten-pin bowlers, as well as the attempts of three Microsoft programmers and marketing guru Steve Miller, formerly of Nike, to revitalize the sport of bowling.

Appendices[edit]

Collections[edit]

Cover of Volume II

Film[edit]

A film adaptation was released in 2003, also by the name The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The film stars Sean Connery, who plays Allan Quatermain, and features Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Rodney Skinner aka An Invisible Man (the rights could not be secured to The Invisible Man), Dr. Jekyll/Edward Hyde, Dorian Gray, and U.S. Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer (Gray and Sawyer were not in the comics, although a painting of a young man holding a cane with "Dorian Gray" printed under it appears on the cover of Volume I). It is an original story, which is common for comic book adaptations which seldom feature direct translations. The film was intended to begin a franchise but because of its poor reception (a 17% at Rotten Tomatoes), it is unlikely. Moore himself disliked the film, his dislike making itself present in later books where Sean Connery's Bond character appears and is given a particularly negative portrayal.

TV series[edit]

Fox is ordering a pilot for the television version of LoEG with Michael Green serving as writer and executive producer and, should the project go to series, showrunner and Erwin Stoff will also executive produce. Neither Moore nor O'Neill will be producers on the series.[11] It has also been reported that the pilot episode will still be broadcast, even if Fox opts not to green-light the series.[12]

Interviews[edit]

The DVD of the documentary feature film The Mindscape of Alan Moore contains an interview with the artist Kevin O'Neill, elaborately detailing the collaboration with Alan Moore. O'Neill talks about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century and his run-ins with censorship.

Annotations[edit]

Jess Nevins has produced a series of annotations for each volume which are available online (see links) and have also been expanded into book form:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]