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…

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10 Responses to League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Warning – might be triggering and also contains spoilers)

  1. Zom says:

    And some of the panels of Suki singing directly to the reader are just scary.

    Yes they are!

    Don’t want to say too much here as we’re planning on producing a superdooper batch of Century 1910 annocommentations. They won’t see the light of day for a little while because we’re going to be busy with Batrob (as we’re calling it – tres excite!!!) and Seaguy (double tres excite!!!!!!) next week, and we don’t want to put the LOEG stuff up until we’re absolutely happy. There is a break of a year between issue after all, so the pressure isn’t exactly on.

    Still thinking through my response to yet more sexual violence, but on the whole I loved this.

  2. Zom says:

    By the way, nice review!

    Batman and Robin won’t be annocommentated – instead each of us is planning on reviewing it over the course of five days (Amy, me, Bots Beast, Bobsy and TMBD).

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  4. Zip says:

    Yeah, the use of sexual violence left me pretty much the same way. So innefectively horrible, so off with the book’s theme (indian/immigrant/brown person/ the subjugated/ the ‘feminized’ Other treated by the time’s imperial power and privilege — c’mon, there are other ways that doesn’t come off as the usual comic book pap, pulling the rape bunny out of the hat in order to get to the reader with a fucking sledgehammer that ultimately feels tasteless and weak — in Vol 2 it was at least effective in how the Gentleman motif was played at with the “civilized” blood on the gentlemen’s eating table and the Thames being a river of blood of the invisible in the empire’s hands, blood of the explored being in empires’ vains, and of course a vignette of a middle-eastern Bin-Laden-like character being held down by the empire’s afghanistan man when he’s trying to get at the civilized savage, a face of that particular empire’s repressed monster-that-usually-is-a-id-monster-when-naked wearing a tuxedo).

    And I felt Moore lacked any sense that it wasn’t musical at all, and the panel transitions had no rhythm with the songs in the scene. He should have adressed this in some manner (I don’t know, some humourous lost-in-translation moment playing on the fact that it’s essentially a “ballet about architecture” or a photograph of a smell). Seaguy 2 did the reference bit and the musical part in a much more fluid, concise and much more synchronized to the fact that it’s a mute-still comic. I wish Moore and O’Neill had done the comic in a walmart card style with a little mp3 playing when opening a certain page or whatever (the bits of Mack the Knife could as well be a few seconds bit of instrumental replayed in a loop!).

    (Curious that both opera-referencing competing-magickian comics have the motif of a diver jumping off a cliff, no?)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I cannot *believe* I missed that about the diving…
      (I think also that Moore & O’Neill learned their lesson about adding music to League with the Black Dossier)
      I disagree that the panel transitions don’t go well rhythmically with the songs though – just flicking through again, the Mack The Knife sections seem fairly consistently to match small panels up to single or at most double phrases, with large panels for full verses. The Pirate Jenny stuff seems to flow less well, but that’s because that song has a much more irregular structure, so it’s harder to hear in your head unless you’re very familiar with the song, but I think it works well nonetheless – just look at the page from “But men at the docks…” through to “…draws close to the shore” – that’s a *powerful* page.

      Admittedly a lot of that power comes from O’Neill, but Moore knew how to work with him – that page sends shivers down my spine…

  5. Zip says:

    And the cute thing about the diving is that one is in the end and the other in its beggining, somewhat cyclical in a imaginative feverish manner. A strange sequel of sorts, a new incarnation into a story about control and domination (but, you know, not a 1:1 iteration. Otherwise, poor Seaguy) and an attack on an empire (if the Seaguy #3 cover reprising the end to Marvel Boy is telling the truth).

    Reading now in-hand (had only read a scan – takes time to reach down here) the rhythm felt a bit better, I must give it to you.

    Overall I liked the new volume. I prefered The Black Dossier (the many sources referenced feel powerfully like a proper landscape of many landscapes and textures. The wartime posters, for instance, invoke that sense of authoritarian paranoid dread, sexual repression, suspicion of others etc, and it goes throughout the rest into quite a coherent fucker. It suggest worlds, places, histories, cultural imaginations and times that you wish to know more about or again, read more about, think, dwell and imagine more about — it was a wonderful own’s version of Charlie Brooker-esque tour through genuinely varied solid points, fictional or otherwise, and different mediums and channels through an all-encompassing fictional story of the imagination and its workings in a manner similar to Flex-Mentallo/ASS10), but it was still waaay above the average comic. I’m hoping 2 and 3 will be really astounding.

    • I’ll have to think more about Seaguy/League connections… there’s a lot there…

      Yeah, I preferred Black Dossier too – though that may be because its reference points were closer to my own – 50s and 60s boys’ adventure stuff, Orwell, Lovecraft, Wodehouse, etc. I did enjoy this a great deal, but I tend to be more critical of Moore because I hold him to the highest possible standards.

      (Sorry if there are typos, BTW, my glasses are broken and I’m esentially typing blind).

  6. Jamie says:

    The rape is a pattern, yes: even Tom Strong gets raped while unconscious by Nazi dominatrix Ingrid Weiss.

  7. Mike Taylor says:

    Coming veeerrry laste to this, but just wanted note this is the volume where I just gave up on LoEG. It was already feeling worryingly like a commentary on nothing — a maze of references that didn’t really refer to anything except in the most superficial way, so that you can pat yourself on the back for recognising a character from a minor Victorian novel. That, and the rape obsession had all but accounted for me already. Then after reading LoEG 1910 I realised that, after all that sturm and drang, there had been almost no plot. It could, truly, have been summarised in two, perhaps four pages. All the rest is a formal exercise. And rape.

    I wonder how it stands up in your estimation six years later? I’m guessing it’s not left much begind in your mind.

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