Sunday, April 5, 2009

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

This book is not so much a story as an overview. Immediately following World War II Britain threw out Churchill and elected a Labour government. That wasn’t the inspiration for Orwell’s 1984, but Moore decides to use that event to fit Big Brother into his storyline. But Big Brother’s regime is short lived and immediately following it ouster two people, Mina Murray and Alan Quatermain, Jr., break into MI 5 and steal an important dossier, one outlining the history of a League dating back, in one form or another, to the time of Elizabeth I. Sent after them are Bulldog Drummond, James Bond, and Emma Peel (or, rather, slightly revised versions of these characters). After two encounters our heroes are saved by a Golliwogg and two Dutch dolls, who ferry them off to the Blazing World, a 17th century utopia refashioned as Moore’s ‘ideaspace’. During their flight Murray reads through the file and we learn the history of the League.

Did I spoil it for you? No. This book really is about the secret history of the League and not about Mina and Alan - and all the many details of their story that I left out of my synopsis. At its heart I think this is more of a writing exercise for Moore than anything else. He tries his hand at the styles of many authors since Elizabethan times, from Shakespeare and Swift, to Wodehouse and Kerouac. His success is mixed. I am not an expert, or even a reader, of everyone he attempted, but parts of the stories seem a bit samey and I suspect that’s Moore’s own style peeking through. I like Moore, so that shouldn’t be seen as much of a criticism. The success of his choices is also a bit mixed. That is, what the authors he has decided to emulate actually bring to the book is open to debate. Cleland’s Fanny Hill may be an important literary work, but the decision to include her in an earlier version of the League brings nothing more than a series of lite erotic adventures that left me wondering if Moore was still labouring under the influence of Lost Girls (something I wondered at more than one point while reading this). His decision to introduce Bertie Wooster to Cthulhu, on the other hand, was hilarious and inspired. Wodehouse and Lovecraft were contemporaries, but their worlds were very different.

O’Neill sticks to his own style throughout and I think that’s for the best. His art is very much part of the reality underlying the stories and it serves to bind together what is essentially an anthology.

It’s funny. This book is only available in the US - as a result of DC’s decision to respond Moore’s umbrage with immaturity and pettiness - so, living in Canada, I just had to get it. Not that I wouldn’t want it anyway, but it was a challenge that I had to win. And I did win. Within a few weeks, and after a few unsuccessful attempts, I bought it from an American bookstore and they shipped it to me. I read a bit and put it in my ‘to read’ pile, and there it stayed for the longest time! I am embarrassed to admit it, but it’s only because volume three of the actual series is on the way that I figured it was time to dust this book off. I’ve read it through now. I’ve translated the Dutch into English, looked up who people were, I’ve even read the Kerouac-inspired passages aloud. I am ready. Will the Dossier prove essential to the new series’ enjoyment? I doubt it. It is interesting and enjoyable, and even impressive, but I suspect those who haven’t been able to get a copy will enjoy the new Top shelf books anyway.

Now, maybe its time I took another shot at Voice Of The Fire.

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