Jul 20, 2012

Reviews: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century Volume 3: 2009

So LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY VOLUME 3: 2009 came out a few weeks ago, and I've had time to properly digest it. Time for a review!

This story concludes the three-part "Century" storyline, which spanned a hundred years but we only saw three years of (1910, 1969, and now 2009). At the start of the book, Mina Murray is in a mental institution, Alan Quatermain is missing, and the gender-switching Orlando is just getting discharged from the army. That's when he turns into a woman and is confronted by Prospero (from Shakespeare's The Tempest) to get the band back together and stop the coming of the Anti-Christ. All that gets accomplished in a tantalizing and captivating story.

I'll be the first to say that I thought LOEG CENTURY: 1910 was a bit of a mess. I thought it tried too hard to be clever, to the detriment of the story (which I couldn't really say about any of the previous LOEG books aside from BLACK DOSSIER, and even then that was kind of the point.) However, I thought LOEG CENTURY: 1969 was a marked improvement, done in such a way that even if you didn't get the references, you'd still get the whole story. And if you did get the references, then more power to you. (Side note: Andy Capp is in 1969. It's great.)

I thought LOEG CENTURY: 2009 was even better. I've already read it three times, the third time with Jess Nevins' annotations handy. And instead of doing a regular review, I thought I'd look back at my old LOEG retrospective piece and look at the factors I listed there for why LOEG worked in the first place, and see how this one stacks up. So, in reverse order:

4. Moore and O'Neill are just damn good at what they do. This part's still true. O'Neill is a master storyteller, able to convey a lot of motion and emotion through his pictures. His art style was, back in 1999, an acquired taste for me, but now I can't imagine anyone else drawing these books. It's idiosyncratic and it works. I'm still surprised that he can make some characters look distinctly like an actor (Daniel Craig and Roger Moore are both in this book) with his style. It's amazing.

Similarly, the writing is as strong as ever. Perhaps even stronger. I haven't had this kind of adrenaline-rushing pumped-up reaction to LOEG since the first one, and that's a great thing. Moore and O'Neil are also still the masters of the unexpectedly dramatic, as you'll notice when Emma Peel/Knight is given an offer by Orlando. In any other comic, it would be dismissed with a quick gesture, but here, Emma's reaction is given the proper depth and gravitas that such a moment would demand in reality. The result is not realism (this book's too far gone for that), but believability. There's a distinction.

Moreso, it works on many levels. If you want to read it as a rollicking adventure story, you can. If you want to read it as Moore's critique of modern fiction in contrast with classic fiction, you can. And if you want to figure out who everyone is and how they all play into the themes of the story, you can. This brings us to our next point.

3. It makes you work. This is still true. Look, I'll be the first one to say that if the first thing you can say about a book is "It makes you work," it's probably an annoying book, and that's partly why I think 1910 was the worst LOEG book so far. But by and large, that's not the way LOEG works. Like I said, it works on multiple levels. I still have unanswered questions about the story. I want to know, first and foremost, what the point of the Nemo family being spotlighted in every issue is, what the significance of the references to Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera has, what underlying intentions Prospero obviously has, and more. But I don't want them spoonfed to me; I want to actually reread them and do the research until I get it.

And I think that's the best testimony I can give for LOEG in terms of its multilayered nature: more than anything else, it makes me want to do the work. More than anything else. Yes, that includes FROM HELL.

2. Production. The production quality is still top-notch. I've got the first three volumes in hardback, and the CENTURY stuff is all in the original issues, but I'm guessing Top Shelf is going to collect CENTURY in a hardcover edition. It's all there: the ads (this time done in 2009 mold, so it's all Web-based), the glossy paper (with that wonderful glossy paper smell), the high-quality coloring, and the unparalleled lettering (how does Todd Klein keep going?). Impeccable. Let's move on to the next point.

1. Moore and O'Neill are obviously having fun. Yes, absolutely. I feel like these guys are having more fun than the guys writing for DC right now. But if I could describe LOEG CENTURY 2009 (or any of the LOEG books, actually) in any way, it's this: basically, it feels like Alan and Kevin took a bunch of action figures, played around with them, and made it into a comic. It's fun. It's vibrant. It's energetic.

And SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER if you ever told me just a month ago that I could say (highlight the text to see it) "Mary Poppins saving the day is one of the coolest things ever in the history of comics" and mean it, I would've told you to get outta here. But it is. It's one of the greatest moments in the history of comics, and it blew my mind. How many times has that happened to me in the last five years in comics? Probably exactly two more times (ASTERIOS POLYP and HABIBI).

So go pick it up. Go read it. You'll enjoy yourself. You'll want to read it again. And maybe, just maybe, you'll want to learn some stuff afterwards.

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