Sunday, June 20, 2010


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 2, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill, collects the six-issue run of the second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, originally published in 2002 and 2003. In 1898, immediately following the events of the first volume, the League must contend with invaders from Mars.

Moore puts his borrowed cast through H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, with added elements cobbled from a number of places, most notably other Wells stories and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edwin L. Arnold, and C. S. Lewis. It’s not an original story, but it has a coherence and urgency not present in Volume 1’s plot. In any event, it’s more interesting.

What Moore does with Hyde in this volume is what makes it worth reading. In Volume 1, Hyde was little more than a Hulk-style weapon of destruction. Here we see a compelling, sinister persona bursting with internal conflict. But the other characters are much the same, and relatively flat: Nemo is contrary, Quatermain still never has anything to do, and so forth (Mina’s libertine behavior comes as no surprise at all).

While it appears at first glance identical, O’Neill’s art here is improved from Volume 1. Perhaps he’s paying more attention to background detail. His work on Mars and the Martians is quite good, and the first issue in particular looks fantastic.

This volume also includes Moore’s six-part “The New Traveller’s Almanac,” which expands the League world and reads like a declassified government document. It’s not exactly compelling reading, but it’s more interesting than the Quatermain short story in Volume 1.

While this volume largely improves upon the original, I still have my doubts about the premise. The story is fine, if unoriginal, but there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t have been as good or better with original characters. At least in that case Moore wouldn’t feel obligated to cram all and sundry literary characters into the work regardless of whether they fit (Moore’s inclusion of Dr. Moreau and his menagerie is downright painful). And Moore’s storytelling here still isn’t at the level we’re used to seeing from him; the Invisible Man plot here particularly feels arbitrary and ill-thought-out.

On the whole, though, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 2 is an entertaining comic and a sequel that improves on the original.


Saturday, June 19, 2010


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 1, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill, collects the six-issue run of the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series first published in 1999 and 2000. In 1898, in an alternate, technologically-advanced England where all the characters of Victorian literature exist, a team made up of Wilhelmina Murray, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll, the Invisible Man, and Captain Nemo works to save England from domestic and foreign threats.

There’s precious little story here; we don’t even get the group’s over-arching objective until a third of the way through the book. Moore has to do quite a lot of world and character building, and he does a good job of it, but beyond that, things too often get bogged down as the protagonists are given to near-constant bickering.

While I expect better storytelling from Moore, he definitely has ambience going for him. He’s obviously having a great time writing in a quasi-Victorian style, and his tongue is firmly in his cheek throughout. It’s the attention to detail, all the little period references, that make Moore’s world as interesting (or more so) as his characters and their adventures.

O’Neill’s art, which features exaggerated, jagged figures, is generally satisfactory, although certain panels look rushed or just amateurish (his Hyde, in particular, never looks right). Background detail isn’t always what it could be, although O’Neill never skimps on the money pages. And he seems to enjoy himself best when illustrating the book’s many gory dismemberment scenes.

This volume also includes Moore’s Quatermain short story “Allan and the Sundered Veil,” a literary mash-up written in the style of the penny dreadful. It is not particularly interesting, and its flaws, coupled with the flaws of the comic itself, give me doubts about the viability of the premise. A world where any literary character can show up at any time (and usually does), where the most broad-strokes science fiction elements of the day are present – this is a world that’s hard to take seriously, in spite of Moore’s solid attempts to ground it.

So The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 1 turns out to be fairly underwhelming. The question of whether this is primarily due to Moore’s writing or to the premise should be answered by the second volume.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

HAUNT OF HORROR by Richard Corben

Haunt of Horror is a 2009 trade paperback collecting Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe #1-3 and Haunt of Horror: Lovecraft #1-3. Richard Corben, with some plot and script assistance from Richard Margopoulos, adapts and illustrates poems and short stories by Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. This volume also includes the source material.

Haunt of Horror opens with a truly awful prose rendition of “The Raven.” Many of Poe’s other poems are retold here, and nearly as badly. The liberties taken with the original texts are always for the poorer, a fact which is made all the more clear by the presence of each original work following the “adapted” stories. “Spirits of the Dead” is one of the few Poe pieces that isn’t awful.

The Lovecraft pieces are better, if for no other reason than that Corben, a respected horror artist, has an opportunity to give image to some of Lovecraft’s vague monstrosities. On the whole, Corben does a fair job, although it certainly doesn’t help that the entire volume is marred by horrendous narration and dialogue.

Corben’s black and white artwork is one of Haunt of Horror’s few pluses. He clearly has some stylistic range (although a few of his cartoonier pieces are questionable choices), and he does a fine job with light and shadow, allowing him to set tone and mood appropriately in spite of the literary travesty taking place all around.

Turning the works of Poe and Lovecraft into little more than tired EC Comics-style poetic justice gory schlock shorts does the original authors a great disservice. Fans of intelligent horror should look elsewhere.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The Doom that Came to Sarnath and Other Stories is a collection of short stories written by H. P. Lovecraft between 1917 and 1935. Most of this is his earlier work; much of it is from his Dunsanian period, and none of these stories is part of the Cthulhu mythos.

This kind of atmospheric horror is tricky to write: if it’s too vague, it’s not compelling; if it’s too detailed, it ceases to be “weird” and easily becomes silly. Lovecraft always keeps safely to the vague side of the line (occasionally to the point that a story will fail to be interesting); flashes and hints of the supernatural keep the horror of mystery intact.

Yet even as he only hints at the attributes of his many lurking horrors, Lovecraft vividly describes every other element in his tales. He frequently name-checks fictitious places and things to add verisimilitude to his stories. And he loves nothing so much as the adjective; indeed, one is hard-pressed to find many unadorned nouns in his writing. But where else can one find sentences like, “It was in mid-summer, when the alchemy of nature transmutes the sylvan landscape to one vivid and almost homogeneous mass of green; when the senses are well-nigh intoxicated with the surging seas of moist verdure and the subtly indefinable odors of the soil and the vegetation” (“The Tomb”)? This is Lovecraft. Every sentence is like that.

Thanks to this and other talents, Lovecraft excels at creating atmosphere, which is so key to good horror. There is something appealing about the ancient – lost, alien, mysterious, eldritch things, and Lovecraft’s enthusiasm for them is evident in his writing.

Many of the stories here are dream-fantasies that are heavily influenced by the writings of Lord Dunsany. The trouble here is that after a couple such stories, the reader may realize that they’re all much the same, and one can readily see where most of them are going well in advance. “The narrator has vague interactions in malevolent dimensions resulting in madness and/or doom” (Lovecraft loves madness and doom) could be a plot synopsis for at least half the stories in this volume. His later, proto-Cthulhu tales are more interesting, and “In the Walls of Eryx” (Lovecraft’s only piece of science fiction), co-authored with Kenneth Sterling, is the best story here.

The Doom that Came to Sarnath and Other Stories is, on the whole, a decent collection that is too often hampered by repetition of plot, theme and device.