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.
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