Sunday, August 02, 2009

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier

I know that the third book in the series came out in late 2007, but I didn't want to shell out the dough for the hardcopy version. I'm sure it had more pages of Alan Moore ramblings but it also cost like 60 bucks. Not to mention my wife was already pissed that I spent 50 bucks on the Lost Girls three-book set. Tasteful porn I called it, but Tamar was ready to write Alan Moore off altogether. By luck or fate I found myself in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago and snatched up a paperback copy of The Black Dossier.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first two volumes revolving around Mina Murray (Harker) and her band of rowdy Gentlemen, circa 1890. The stories themselves are not wholly original. Almost all of the characters are ripped from pop culture or literature. But Alan Moore is very good at changing the narrative so that it isn't just a cookie cutter action story. He also creates new dimensions for these beloved characters of literature that are on one hand fascinating and on the other aggravating. This proves to be true especially within the pages of the Black Dossier. If you know me well you know that I am a big Bond fan. I loved the references in the first two books to the Ancestor of James Bond, a smart but smarmy double agent named Campion Bond. I was hoping that if the books continued that Moore would get to tackle 007 himself. He did but he did it in a way I did not expect.The year is 1958 and a Fountain of Youth altered Alan Quartermain and Mina Murray have returned to London after they were presumed MIA for years. They break into MI-6 to steal the Black Dossier which fills in the gaps between the Victorian era of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to the current time 1958. Mina traps a somewhat stupid and violent rapist MI-6 agent into the storage house for British Intelligence where she is able to recover the Black Dossier. To my great horror I heard him call himself Jimmy and he had a striking resemblance to Sean Connery. As I read further they made references to a Jamaican encounter with an Asian fellow with a funny name. It's all in good fun I know but I really hated this incarnation of 007. If you were going to make him a bad guy at least make him bad ass, but alas he is quite the buffoon. We also get to see an different take of Emma Night, known to the BBC fans as Emma Peel from the hit 60's British spy show the Avengers. She is joined by her partner the crabby anti-semite Hugo Drummond. I was not familiar with Drummond's literary past. Apparently he was created by an author named Herman Cyril McNeile, as kind of a tougher Sherlock Holmes character. If you don't read carefully you'll miss a mention and appearance by Harry Lime from the Third Man. It's a pretty clever take on the character.The thrust of the story follows Mina and Alan as they try to avoid MI-6 and study the Dossier. If you are familiar with Alan Moore he likes to put in little excerpts of stories to try to paint a larger picture. When you first see these strange little passages, notes and parts of diaries it's hard not to skim over them and get back to the main story. But it is futile to do that with this particular book. The Dossier explains a great deal about the Gentlemen and about the current state of politics in the UK. These segments are most interesting as they explain that the League was first formed by the wizard Prospero, from Shakespeare. It's actually kind of fun reading that segment as it is all in Iambic Pentameter. We also get to see adventures from other league members like Fanny Hill and the transgendered immortal Orlando. I wasn't always familiar with every literary character in the book but it was fun trying to spot them out. It was also very cool to get the 3-D glasses in order to fully understand and enjoy the Blazing World. Where it seems the fairy tale creatures of earth as well as former League Members live.I have to say overall I was disappointed with this book. It still is exceptional work but in comparison to Alan Moore's earlier League work it just lacks the charisma and excitement. I think Alan Moore gets a little too full of himself as he packs his stories with so much information that you are left scratching your head. Even worse in this book when he throws in some obscure character from literature with the assumption that we know who they are and what they are about. Again it sometimes leaves you scratching your head in confusion. Kevin O'Neil's artwork is, as always, top notch. I truly enjoyed his hard work on creating and executing a 3-D world within a comic book, no easy feat I'm sure. If you enjoy the League graphic novels and you wish to continue reading further installments it is important to read the Black Dossier otherwise you will be completely lost. I just started reading the next book 1910, and it is full of references to the Black Dossier without much explanation. But even when Alan Moore bastardizes your favorite characters he still crafts a compelling story that is totally worth the read.

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