Review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1

Entirely separately from my recent reintroduction into the traditional comic world, I’ve been into graphic novels, as you’ve probably read on this blog.  An article I read on Cracked brought The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LoEG) back into my consciousness and then I read the [non-comic] books The Map of Time and Dracula.  So I was primed for another story that takes its literary cues from the Victorian Age.  The only other Moore books I’d read are Watchmen and The Killing Joke.  I enjoyed them both and so I looked forward to this one. 

The book was good and I enjoyed it while reading.  Once again I’ve arrived at some media that I think is more up Dan’s alley than mine.  I didn’t know this until the end, but it appears that the original LoEG was meant to span two volumes.  So the book turns out to essentially be ¾ recruiting the members of the LoEG and ¼ dealing with the enemy.  Dan loves fiction as long as the ride is worth it.  The destination isn’t important to him.  For me, I put equal weight on both.  I hate a weak ending and I feel like LoEG had one.  Yet, when I thought about the comic again and read the text-only prequel at the end of the collected volume, I came to enjoy it more.  This may be one of the first works of fiction that puts me a little closer to Dan’s way of thinking.  All that is a convoluted way of saying – this book is more about getting to know the characters and less about them actually doing something.

And, with such great characters, it’s no wonder Moore had me loving the book until I realized there wasn’t much book left for them to get tasks.  In other words, I was hoping they’d go on a few missions with this neat new team.  My only criticism with the way that Moore handles the characters is that you have to know them all already to get a really good appreciation of what’s going on.  Given that the characters all come from famous Victorian novels that you’ve probably had to read in school, is this a safe assumption for Moore to make?  I think not.  You’d be best served by doing a quick wikipedia readup on these characters.  I read all these novels (except Quartermain) when I was a kid and I didn’t remember anyone’s name, much less all the little inside jokes that Moore has going on with their characterizations.  I had to take a trip to wikipedia and even made myself a little cheat sheet to remember the characters’ names for the first few chapters.  In fact, there’s a huge reveal somewhere right before the climax and I missed it because I wasn’t intimately familiar with the source material.  The only thing that made me look it up was the fact that the name looked EXTREMELY familiar.

In fact, reading The LoEG made me want to go back and read those old books again.  Thankfully, they’re all out of copyright so you can get them on Project Gutenberg for free.  Captain Nemo, in particular, made me want to go back and see if I’d missed something the first time around due to my age or whether Moore had taken artistic license with the character.  One thing that DID go over my head when I was a kid was why Dr. Jekyll has a physical transformation into Mr Hyde.  As a kid it was just a horror story mechanism.  But, as an adult, I realize the author was just conforming to Victorian notions.  Back then, and well into the first half of the 1900s, scientists had decided that they could tell if you were going to be a criminal simply by looking at you and making measurements of your head and facial features.  So, of course, when Jekyll lets all his inhibitions go away and becomes a murderous madman he transforms into a new form.

When I read modern books that take place in Victorian times like LoEG and The Map of Time, it makes me wonder if the author has a good time throwing off the shackles of modern political correctness.  They get to use terms and phrases that would be considered the secular equivalent of blasphemous such as the way the men in LoEG talk about Mina.  Moore does an excellent job and the other sections of the book including the page listing all the creatives who worked on the book make it seem a product of those times.

Overall, the book is a lot of fun to read if you don’t mind all that setup without the group being used on more than one mission.  I came away wishing they’d become a regular monthly series instead of just two six issue volumes.

2 responses to “Review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1”

  1. I imagine that the second volume will have more action. These books aren’t really meant to be taken on their own, I think, but then they probably shouldn’t sell them separately.