The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Blaine Kyllo

When I was an undergrad, I took a psychology class in which the professor described various types of creativity. One of them was the creative act of taking things already in existence and reorganizing, reordering, recreating them to make something new. By extension, Alan Moore is a creative genius. Moore, a writer who specializes in comics, is responsible for Watchmen (DC Comics), the superhero comic that reinvented the genre; From Hell (Eddie Campbell Comics), a graphic-novel investigation into the mystery of the identity of Jack the Ripper; Promethea (America’s Best Comics), a comic series imagining of why a particular iconic character has appeared in various pop and high culture forms over the ages; and the comic series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (ABC). From Hell included no fewer than forty-two pages of tiny-type footnotes, in which Moore documented his research and his logic, and pointed out all the visual and textual references that only scholars would catch without assistance. League, on the other hand, exists on its own. The research and references are there—you just have to look for them. At its simplest, League is an old-time adventure comic, set in England as the Victorian epoch gives way to the twentieth century, and focussing on characters who are setting about to save hearth and home. They are familiar: Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Jekyll, Hyde, Mina Murray (née Harker; remember Dracula?)—and they are all picked from the pages of Victorian-era literature and twisted in a way that reflects the past one hundred years of history. Quatermain is impotent, Nemo is heroic, Griffin (the Invisible Man) is lecherous and Murray, the woman in the group of Victorian “gentlemen,” is the leader. League works on many levels of satire and parody, but Moore’s decision to make a woman the authority figure is evidence of how clever he and the series are. That’s why the recently released film version is such a failure. The filmmakers have abandoned the premise of the comic, and have made Quatermain, played by Sean Connery, into the hero. ’Nuff said. Forget the film: spend your money on the comic.

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