by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Side note/confession session: I love graphic novels. I always feel a little embarrassed when I check out graphic novels at the library. I mean, thank God for self-checkout, right? But really, I think graphic novels and comic books are awesome. Sure, there aren’t as many words to the page, but they provide something special that other books just can’t achieve. Graphic novels provide the reader with context without being boring, emotion without being overly sentimental, and entertainment without losing depth. Plus they’re fun.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, set in 1898, is a steampunk comic about a group of misfits that come together to aid the British government in top-secret missions. This is the coolest thing: these “misfits” are all characters from famous works of fiction. The main character is Wilhelmina “Mina” Murray (that’s Miss Murray to you thankyouverymuch), an uptight divorcée who refuses to remove the red scarf that she wears around her neck. I won’t give away who she is if you don’t know already, but you could probably figure it out. She is introduced by British Intelligence agent Campion Bond (any guesses as to who his grandson is?) to Captain Nemo, an Indian ex-pat who captains a large submarine known as the Nautilis. They are sent on a mission to assemble this team of misfits — first to Cairo to recruit Allan Quatermain despite his opium addiction, then to Paris to find a scrawny Dr. Jekyll, and finally back to London to extract Hawley Griffin from an all-girl’s boarding school where he wreaks havoc as the Invisible Man.
Once assembled, this League of Extraordinary Gentlepersons goes on to track down a villain on behalf of Mr. Bond’s unnamed employer. They find themselves caught in a rivalry between two famed villains: Fu Manchu and Professor Moriarty. Putting their lives at risk, they have to make their strange group work together to save London. And that’s all just volume I.
Volume II takes a completely different turn. Now that the League is established and the British Intelligence organization restored, they have to win what seems like an impossible war: the War of the Worlds. Loosely based on the novel by H. G. Wells, this Volume begins on Mars and takes the reader through an alien invasion of the London suburbs. Pretty dope if you’re into some serious science fiction. There’s also some heavy material in this volume, from violent rape scenes to animal hybridization to martyrdom, so make sure you’re ready for that.
I have yet to read The Black Dossier, which from my understanding is more of a framing reference-book for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen than a third volume. It is set in 1958 after the fall of Big Brother in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I’m not sure how the chronology works out, but I’ll find out because I am definitely going to check out The Black Dossier when I get the chance. I’ll keep you updated.
If you are heavy into science fiction or steampunk and appreciate comics, you must read this series. It is especially fun to read if you are familiar with famous british fictional characters and story lines. For the sake of my feminist street-cred, I have to mention that it is absolutely awesome to read a graphic novel with a strong, smart, powerful (though somewhat sexualized) female protagonist. She even talks about how they treat her poorly and make judgements about her intelligence because she’s a woman! Groundbreaking. Read it.