ADVANCE REVIEW! League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969 will be published in the UK by Knockabout in the week beginning July 25, 2011. Top Shelf, the book's US publisher, will have copies of Century #2 at San Diego Comic-Con (July 21-24, 2011) ahead of its official August 9, 2011 release date.
A couple of years after the first instalment of Alan More and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century was published, the second chapter is about to arrive -- and happily, it's been well worth the wait.
Set in 1969, the second issue of Century sees the creators drag the LOEG concept into a more modern era, eschewing the Victoriana of the first couple of volumes in favour of something decidedly different. Whilst it's only been a few years in story terms since the events of the Black Dossier graphic novel (released before Century) -- in which we saw Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain piecing together the secret history of the League in the 1950s -- there's something that feels completely fresh about the late-sixties setting.
A big part of that freshness comes through the artwork of Kevin O'Neill. Even before opening the book, the cover makes it clear that this chapter of the League's history is going to be visually distinct from what's come before. Authentic sixties fashions, psychedelic imagery (that shouldn't be too unfamiliar to those who have been following O'Neill's trippy contributions to Moore's Dodgem Logic magazine), and some bold coloring choices by Ben Dimagmaliw add a new vibrancy to a nonetheless familiar style that's in keeping with the previous volumes whilst also establishing its own identity.
Another important factor that contributes to the freshness of the story is the new perspective that's forced upon Mina, Allan and the gender-swapping Orlando as a result of their immortality (and if you don't know how that came about, you obviously haven't been paying close enough attention to the text pages of the previous volumes!). A certain amount of the book is devoted to examining the fracturing relationships of the League, with some fairly solemn sections that deal with the trio's feelings about the passage of time, and how they as immortals cope with it.
However, the timeless status of the book's three leads does mean that certain other characters fall by the wayside a little -- partly as a result of these supporting players ageing at a normal rate. I was particularly surprised to see that Jenny Nemo plays such a small role here -- although admittedly, her entrance in the Nautilus makes for one of the book's standout images.
I suppose I'm just a little surprised that, given the attention that was paid to Jenny's character in the first issue of Century, she does so little of note here. Who knows, perhaps she'll be back in issue #3.
It's not as though the book is lacking in characters, however, as the updated setting gives Moore a wealth of new fictional personalities to introduce to the series. Without spoiling things, there are plenty of familiar faces that crop up over the course of this book, whether it's in significant supporting roles or in LOEG's now-traditional one-panel, blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo appearances.
But League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has always been far more than merely a collection of trainspotter-baiting cameos from other fictional characters. Happily, the central plot that was established in Century: 1910 -- in which we learned of Aleister-Crowley-analogue Oliver Haddo's plans to usher in a sinister new era through the birth of a "moonchild" -- plays out in an intriguing and satisfying way here, and makes certain elements of 1910 make a lot more sense in retrospect.
For example, there's a relatively minor but nonetheless hugely important revelation here that explains how Haddo has managed to sustain his sinister influence despite his apparent death(s). There are also some links back to foreshadowing in 1910 that seemed oblique at the time, but which now carries far greater meaning given what we learn in 1969.
There's also further foreshadowing here that (presumably) will play into the eventual climax of Century. Andrew Norton (of Iain Sinclair's Slow Chocolate Autopsy) once again plays a key role in leading the League towards the dystopian future that awaits them, even if they still can't really make out what he's talking about.
Finally, the end of the book brings a thrilling (if copyright-avoidingly enigmatic and ambiguous) appearance from a major character from one of the biggest modern franchises you can imagine. It's a highly unexpected development, but it's one that has me very excited about the possibilities that will be offered by the final chapter of the Century trilogy, which is due to be set in 2009 (and which, if the conclusion of this volume is anything to go by, is going to be an emotionally-draining read).
Still, let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's worth savouring this middle chapter in its own right, because it really has the potential to be the most fun of all the LOEG books. Casting off the stiltedness of the Victorian era (not to mention the editorial restrictions of the series' previous publisher) allows Moore to indulge freely in whatever takes his fancy, and the '60s setting offers him a lot of opportunities to have fun with an era in which rock 'n' roll, drugs and psychedelia were rampant, not to mention the nascent superhero trend that was beginning to take over comics.
Sex also plays an important role. Whether it's Allan's relationship with the ever-changing Orlando (which follows on from their antics in the Story of O segment of the previous chapter) or Mina's own experimentation with new relationships, Moore's use of sexuality not only reflects the changing mores and increasing liberalism of the era, it also develops the characters in some interesting and sometimes unexpected directions.
There's also experimentation on a visual level, too. I don't know whether it was Moore or O'Neill who instigated the change in art style for the trippy denouement in which one of the League's members confronts the villain of the book, but it really works -- both as a reflection of the '60s-era aesthetic and of the tone of that section of the story.
The fluid, irregular layouts employed by the artist feel innovative and exciting when compared with the straight-laced, hard-edged panels of the rest of the book (and indeed previous volumes in the series) and it helps to add to the impression that this is a genuinely different vision of the League than we've seen in any of Moore and O'Neill's previous collaborations.
Along with the comic-based section -- which comprises the majority of the book -- Century: 1969 also reprises the device of including a text-based section in the back pages. As with 1910, this part of the book unites various fictional references to the moon, whilst also fleshing out some of the League's supporting players in unexpected and imaginative ways.
I might have joked earlier about not paying enough attention to the text pages of earlier instalments, but I really would advise readers to go back and check out 1910's text section before reading 1969's, because there's stuff here that'll make very little sense if certain ideas aren't still fresh in your mind (and given that 1910 was published so long ago, you might well have forgotten a few details in the meantime). However, if you go in prepared, you might end up enjoying the text section even more than the comic.
All things considered, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969 is a fine addition to the LOEG canon, and one that pushes the concept in some bold new directions without ever feeling anything less than closely tied to the previous League stories.
The overarching story might not completely hold together yet, given that we're not yet privy to certain important information from the final chapter, and the irregular publishing schedule might make it more difficult to keep track of than more frequently-published books. However, the quality of the writing, the imaginative ideas that underpin the story, and the careful, intricate artwork come together to eclipse those petty concerns. I just can't wait until I can hold the third and final chapter in my hands and enjoy Century in all its glory.
A journalist and sometime comics reviewer, Dave Wallace was raised on a traditional European diet of Beano comics, Asterix collections and Tintin books before growing up and discovering that sequential art could -- occasionally -- be even better than that. He has an unashamed soft spot for time-travel stories, Spider-Man, and anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and has been known to spend far too much on luxurious hardcover editions of his favorite books when it's something he really likes. Maybe one day he'll get around to writing down his own stories that have been knocking around his head for a while now.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!