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Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Kevin O'Neill

Publisher: America's Best Comics

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Volume 1

Synopsis: When the Victorian Empire is threatened, there aren't any superheroes to turn to...but there are a certain number of unusually gifted Gentlemen who might be made use of. There's the aging adventurer Allan Quatermain, for instance--if he can just get over his Opium addiction. Or that Sikh science-pirate Captain Nemo with his fantastic sub-marine vessel the Nautilus. Or the scientists Dr. Henry Jekyll and Hawley Griffin, who have a number of remarkable traits. They'll be brought together under the supervision of Miss Mina Murray (formerly married to a Mr. Johnathon Harker) to recover a missing substance of great import...if they can stop fighting themselves long enough.

How Is It?: To heck with Superman/Batman teamups. This book brings together several of the classic heroes and villains of victorian pulp, everyone from Sherlock Holmes to the Artful Dodger to James Bond's great-grandfather Campion. The core five heroes are hardly the most "together" group of individuals, often spending more time at each other's throats than on the tail of the bad guys. The characters are rendered by Kevin O'Neill in a sketchy and angular, but somehow highly satisfying style, and between O'Neill and Moore they're often given intriguing new aspects. It's a delight to see Nemo portrayed as a real Indian rather than Kirk Douglas, his famous submarine bedecked with Hindi idols, or to see the monstrous Mr. Hyde (who seems to have grown since his previous adventures...) Most remarkable of all is Mina, whose experiences as a passive snack for a certain foreign Count have transformed her into a woman ahead of her time (much to the bemusement of her male teammates). All in all, this is kind of like an Indiana Jones movie for highly literate people; action and thrills, along with plenty of easter eggs for the well-read. I hope this gets translated properly into a movie someday (Note from two years later: Oh, the irony!!), but the comic is already cinematic enough to make for one of the most fun reads of my life.

Vol. 2

Volume 2

Synopsis: While England struggles with megalomaniacs fighting over Cavorite, the planet Mars has its own set of problems. Heroic resistance from the likes of John Carter and Gullivar Jones have driven off some very nasty extraterrestrials. Unfortunately, the place they've decided to invade next is Earth...and the League is about to find themselves in the midst of a veritable "War of the Worlds"...

How Is It?: Starting strong with a depiction of Mars that welds several of the best Victorian stories of that planet into one atmospheric and epic issue, this series unfortunately loses steam after a couple of issues and doesn't really get it back. For one thing, the pacing has slacked off. For another, the Martian invasion isn't portrayed as anything like the apocalyptic threat it ought to be (and was, in H. G. Wells' book); heck, the heroes retreat a mere mile or so from the initial landing site and spend a cozy night at an inn. (Granted, the Martians were still in their "regroup and build" stage, and a lot of the novels' characters didn't take them all that seriously either until the tripods burst on the scene, but everything here is treated entirely too casually.) Even when things start to pick up with the arrival of one of the aforementioned tripods, the narrative is dampened by some (to my mind) inappropriately dark and "adult" material; two characters have rather graphic sex, and another character is raped to death! It's almost as if Moore knew what a mess the movie adaptation was going to be and determined to make something that would make Hollywood run screaming in the opposite direction. Compounding the problem is the fact that the putative leads, Mina and Allan, have little to do, Nemo has even less, and it's freakin' HYDE of all people that emerges as the protagonist (not the hero!) and you have a rather disappointing second installment.

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