Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vols. 1 and 2

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vols. 1 and 2
By Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Wildstorm, a while ago

[Ed note: Lord, we are sorry for the delay on this. More stuff coming up soon, including Seth and, hopefully, Lucy Knisley]

Hillary Brown: Ooookay. Sometimes I think I'm going about Alan Moore in a backwards way, being that I feel he really should be approached systematically and yet I've done nothing but skip around here and there in his oeuvre, probably leaving me with a scrambled view of it all. Point being, I just now, within the past week or so, got around to volumes 1 and 2 of his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The good thing about this is that it means I've entirely forgotten the movie version, except for a vague taste of garbage in the back of my mouth. The bad thing is that I'm an idiot for not reading it sooner, despite hefting volume 1 in my hand year after year in the store and, eventually, deciding against it. This is not to say it doesn't have flaws, for it has many of the same that Moore's works tend to. He has a problem shutting up, and the backs of both books are overstuffed with extra content, including a lengthy Quatermain story that I'm sure plays in somehow but made me lose my patience. Sometimes I think he'd really rather write the regular kind of novels than the kind that also has pictures, but he's so good at the latter. The other flaw is a strength in some or even most lights: his determination to push the envelope. Most of the time, it results in thrills. Occasionally, it makes you roll your eyes and go, "Oh, Unca Alan. There you go again with your buggery and BDSM tendencies." But only occasionally. I'm sad, in the end, that there's not much more of it for me to read right now. Has any other writer produced so many promising starts to great series that didn't end up panning out? Time for me to put a cork in it and let you go.

Garrett Martin: There's always The Black Dossier, if you need more LXG action. And isn't the next full volume out on Top Shelf soon? It's not like this is gonna wind up unfinished, like Big Numbers or something.

So yes, Alan Moore wheels out his little tropes maybe a bit too often. You can say the same about Morrison, Gaiman, Ellis, Ennis, pretty much any of that class of big-name "better-than-comics" comic writers. Maybe I'm just more in sync with their standard themes, but Morrison and Moore are the only two who consistently write interesting stories even when they're falling back on their normal whatever. But I don't think League is just Moore's normal whatever; it's a little deeper and more thoughtful than the gimmick. It's not straight-up pastiche like 1963 or Tom Strong. And even if you are only looking to spot the reference, Moore will keep you busy.

HB: Right, and I'm sure I'm going to keep seeking out more of this stuff and more of Moore's writing in general. He's too interesting for me not to. I don't see why you're so confident it won't wind up unfinished though. If anything's become clear to me over the past year (not due to this blog but due to other events), it's that anything ever getting finished is kind of a miracle. There are so many opportunities for a work to be left incomplete, whether through fault of the author or not. I'm sure Moore's dangling series owe plenty to his somewhat irasicble personality, but he also seems to have a huge brain and tons of interests, which means he has a lot of projects, even if a bunch of them aren't as expansive as they could be.

So you want to talk about why I like Moore better than Morrison? Because I don't really know. No sodomy jokes!

GM: Maybe it'll go unfinished. It seems weird to say that about this book, though, since the next volume comes out in like two weeks. And even if the series didn't continue Volume II offers enough resolution for me. Ends on kind of a bummer, sure, but the most popular book ever ends in the destruction of all creation, and nobody complains about that.

I am confused by your stance on sodomy. Neither dude is averse to buggery, or at least depictions of and/or jokes about. Granted you don't see that too much in Morrison's superhero epics, but The Invisibles and (remember?) Kill Your Boyfriend should scratch whatever such itch you may have. But man, if that's what you're looking for, then Garth Ennis will probably keep you set for life, right? Anyway, I doubt we could possibly say anything new or insightful about the old Moore vs. Morrison debate.

HB: Downer, dude. I have faith in our ability to say new and insightful things, and I'm not familiar with the debate anyway. How about you summarize it for me?

GM: Okay. Barbelith has a solid thread about this here. Discussions about the two tend to run in circles and eventually almost always boil down to straight-up fanboyism. Basically they are two quite similar fellas with similar interests and skills who, perhaps because of those similarities, apparently don't much care for each other. Morrison's definitely praised and criticized Moore publically, both in interviews and potentially in his own work, whereas Moore (as far as I know) has never really acknowledged Morrison. Anti-Morrisonites might say he's a lesser artist trying to get attention by tackling the master, anti-Moore-isons maybe think he's a crazy old pretentious coot who's entirely too full of himself. Moore's the better writer in a technical or literary sense, but Morrison's comic book ideas are bigger, better, and more comic book-y. Is there a great Moore superhero comic that isn't either total pastiche or cynical deconstruction? Morrison routinely updates traditional comic book ridiculousness for an educated contemporary audience without either ridiculing or eulogizing the past. He's also more optimistic and hopeful, and that's why Morrison barely gets the nod in my book. If Morrison wrote Extraordinary Gentlemen it would probably be unrecognizable and not quite as good; the same is true if Moore wrote Doom Patrol, Invisibles, or X-Men.

Anyway! League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It's about as good as a Victorian-era Justice League comic could ever be. Hopefully Moore and O'Neill finish it before Disney somehow figures out how to copyright all these characters.

HB: How about "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow"? I wouldn't call that either pastiche or deconstruction. Anyway, your larger point is probably right, and maybe it's the way that Morrison's ideas tend to require a little more obsessive knowledge of comics than I have that gets under my skin a bit. I should chill out.

And yes, the book is really kind of great. It's a little long-winded, but the plots are sharp and the characters interesting, and it's just generally a good way for the snake god worshiper to work out his obsessions.

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