Friday, February 08, 2008

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier

Being a fan of Alan Moores excellent work "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and having heard of a third graphic novel ("Black Dossier") being released, my interest was piqued. The fact I had to purchase it from the states ($19.79 from Amazon; God Bless the poor dollar) only put me off ever-so slightly.

For those not familiar with The League (and please, let us discount the dreadful movie which pretty much only shares a title and vague theme) it's essentially the tale of a group of individuals under the employ of the British Government in Victorian times to carry out work in Englands interest. That this motley band consists of Alan Quatermain, Doctor Jekyll (and naturally Mister Hyde), The Invisible Man, Captain Nemo and Mina Harker should imply that this is far from a traditional tale. Volume 1 consisted of the team being recruited and their first case, whereas the 2nd volume involved the events of "War of the Worlds" and the Martian Invasion of Earth that this entailed.

The previous two volumes (and Black Dossier alike) are phonomenally well-researched. (Heroes and Monsters, an excellent companion piece by Jess Nevins in the form of an annoted guide shows the true depth of this). It seems that Alan Moore has plundered the vaults of Victorian fiction for characters and situations. I imagine even the most skilled student of Victorian Fiction would be hard-pressed to know the details of every single reference contained within, of which there are hundreds.

Black Dossier is an odd piece, not quite as action-oriented as Volumes 1 and 2, and altogether way more verbose. The comic strip segments are interspersed with reams of written text, pamphlets, pull-outs and period pieces (which form "The Black Dossier" - as the characters learn the secrets contained within in, so do we). The book itself relates to a still youthful Alan Quatermain and Mina Harkers activities in the 1950s - the reason for their eternal youth is revealed within the story - The league is officially disbanded, and the two of them seek to reveal the secrets of the titular dossier whilst being pursued by those who would see it reclaimed. Much of the fiction of the time has been plundered again; Jimmy Bond, Bulldog Drummond, Fireball XL5, Dan Dare and the like.

Kevin O'Neills artwork has never been better; I've been a fan since his work on Nemesis the Warlock back in 2000ad, but his work in "The Black Dossier" is fantastic. Every panel is so incredibly detailed that it will take me several reads to pick up all the subtleties and nuances he's carefully left for the reader.

The book concludes in a segment entirely in 3D (3D glasses are provided within the sleeve of the hardback cover) which feels somewhat out of place with the style of the rest of "The Black Dossier" but looks phonomenal.

All in all I give this book 5.17 FoldsFives out of 5.74. God Bless Queen Victoria.

..and why, you might ask, is this not available in the UK? Being set in 1950 as opposed to Victorian times means that the copyright of many of the characters within is still active and legally dubious (the appearance of a handsome yet womanising would-be-rapist secret agent known as Jimmy Bond, for one). Hence, it's allowed to be published in the States but not over here.

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