League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Warning – might be triggering and also contains spoilers)
Before I start the review proper, a note about an issue I’ve got with this…
My problem with this comic isn’t so much with the comic itself, as with it being yet another exemplar of a rather worrying trend in Alan Moore’s work – in a large, large proportion of Moore’s work – the overwhelming majority of it, in fact – there is a rape scene or other scene of seualised violence. There are exceptions – his Superman stories, as one obvious example, and I’m pretty sure Tom Strong has nothing like that in it. But From Hell, Watchmen, all four League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen volumes, V For Vendetta, The Killing Joke, Lost Girls… all have rape or attempted rape scenes. If you pick up an Alan Moore comic, you can expect there to be a scene involving someone trying – or succeeding – to rape someone else.
Now, in most cases Moore judges this pretty well – it’s never portrayed as anything other than a hideous, violating act perpetrated by odious individuals (the exception being in the first League volume, where it’s treated as a bit of a joke), it’s almost never used in the way rape is usually used in comics – to give male characters motivation (with the exception of The Killing Joke, which Moore disowns now) and it’s often coupled with an explicitly feminist message, as in From Hell.
And I wouldn’t want to suggest that Moore should avoid the subject altogether – rape does, unfortunately, happen, and to exclude any part of human experience from art is a bad idea. Certainly, something like From Hell – a story about Jack The RIpper – couldn’t possibly have been created under such restrictions. In each individual case it works – after all, Moore is a truly great writer, and very aware of the issues involved – but still, after a while it becomes problematic.
In fact I suspect it’s precisely *because* Moore is aware of the issues that the problem exists. The way rape is used in Moore’s stories strikes me very much as Moore doing something I often do myself – trying to overcompensate for his own privilege. He’s very aware of the misogyny of popular culture, and tries a bit too hard to show he disapproves, shouting “Look! Isn’t this terrible?! Rape is very bad! Treating women as sex objects is bad! Don’t do these bad things! It’s wrong!” to the point where it looks like he protests too much – his own good intentions making the work more problematic than it would be if he just avoided the subject.
It also makes the work more problematic for a reviewer – firstly because it has to be recommended with caveats (an unfortunately high proportion of my friends have been victims of some kind of sexual violence and would rather not be reminded of it, hence the warning in the title here, and I unfortunately suspect my friends aren’t especially anomalous in this) rather than unconditionally, and secondly because it means there are things I can’t do that I want to do. League is meant to be a fun romp, albeit one with dark moments, and I wanted to write this review as pastiche Brecht lyrics (much of the story in this volume is narrated with rewritten versions of Threepenny Opera lyrics), but I got two stanzas through rewriting The Ballad Of Dependency as a complaint about Moore’s over-use of rape in his comics before I realised how utterly offensive that could be…
But other than that, how did you enjoy the play Mrs Lincoln?
It’s actually rather fascinating – Moore and O’Neill seem to be incorporating Moore’s own previous work into the fiction they’re referencing in League – we almost have an ‘Alan Moore greatest hits’ here. The main reference is From Hell – here Jack The Ripper is ‘Jack MacHeath’ (MacHeath – Mack The Knife/Mackie Messer – from The Threepenny Opera), we have Crowley-substitutes and Iain Sinclair’s Mr Norton talking about psychogeography, and O’Neill does a spot-on Walter Sickert pastiche on the back cover. In fact this comes very close to being a sequel to From Hell in terms of subject, theme and mood.
But we also have a text feature in the back featuring a superhero created by Mick Anglo (this one used by permission), and the whole comic is a pirate story based around the Black Freighter (here renamed the Black Raider). The characters bursting into song also echo V For Vendetta (although there Moore was also echoing Brecht of course). It seems as if Moore is ostentatiously trying to say his own work is as much material for him to mine as anyone else’s.
(Incidentally, once again I appear to be talking about the writer to the exclusion of the artist, because I know more about writing than art. However, O’Neill’s surpassing himself here – just look at the cover design, or the back cover painting. And some of the panels of Suki singing directly to the reader are just scary. Also, given that the League members have now taken to wearing question marks all over their clothes, I am going to hereby declare, whether it’s Moore/O’Neill’s intention or not, that The Doctor joined the League between seasons 17 & 18, which would explain the stupid question marks he wears thereafter).
In itself, the story doesn’t give much to talk about other than spot-the-reference, which Jess Nevins already has covered, telling two parallel stories – of Janni the diver becoming Pirate Jennie while Jack Macheath is back in town and killing again, and of Mina, Raffles, Quatermain, Carnacki and Orlando investigating plans by Oliver Haddo to create a Moonchild. While it’s a satisfying issue in itself, this is mostly setup for the next few Century issues.
I may write more on this when I’ve thought about it a little more…