Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Classic Comics - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #1

It's the mark of a great writer: being able to take what seems like a simple concept, and making it into a classic.

That's just what Alan Moore did with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. First published in 1999, the series began with a simple premise: that all the fictional stories really happened.

Which may sound simple, but (needless to say) during the history of mankind there have been lots of stories written, and the task of sorting them out, making them work together and keeping all the characters true to their origins was a herculean task - but Moore makes it look easy.

He gives the tale an adventure base (it is a comic book, after all) - the British Empire is threatened by a mysterious foe, so in 1898 the government sets out to assemble its own team of extraordinary individuals, in hopes they can match the menaces arising.

The first recruit seems an odd one - an (apparently) ordinary woman named Mina Murray. Yes, that's the Mina who was prominently featured in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Is she now a vampire or is she a normal woman who was traumatized by her encounter with the legendary Count? It's never really spelled out (unlike the film version of this team), and the reader must draw his or her own conclusions.

Mina seeks out the legendary explorer / hunter Alan Quartermain, and finds him lost in a world of drugs. (Needless to say, this comic isn't appropriate for young readers.) She also team up with the infamous Captain Nemo, who pilots the Nautilus.

Most of the series is given over to the assembly of the team, but it's fascinating to watch the recreation the England of 1898, how the characters interact and what kind of (fictional) world they live in.

Moore is happily teamed here with artist Kevin O'Neill, and what a perfect choice he is. Each page is filled with stunning, intense, glorious art, and also loaded with amazing details - it's almost a trivia contest, trying to figure out who some of the people depicted are.

It's an ingenious series, combining history, fiction, humor, culture and action in a bigger-than-life canvas. Its loaded with big ideas, shocking events and loads of surprises.

With the warning that it's just for adults - there are some truly unsettling incidents in the story, and plenty of salty language - this series is challenging, intelligent and a delight to read.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A+


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