“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier”

Earlier this year when League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1910 came out, I realized I’d missed The Black Dossier. After reading it, I can’t discount that I may have skipped it on purpose. Alan Moore’s fore story, illustrated in lavish detail by Kevin O’Neill, is nearly swamped by the profusion of back story. All have merit, and some of this is wildly enjoyable, but still, it was a bumpy read.

Mina Murray (fka Mina Harker, of Dracula) and Allan Quatermain (he of King Solomon’s Mines, not Port Charles), former secret agents of the crown, are back in Britain after a protracted stay in the Americas, in which they avoided the Big Brother regime back home. As before, Moore plays fast (but not loose) with British historical fiction and pop culture, and references in this one include James Bond, The Avengers, Woolf’s Orlando, Orwell’s 1984, Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series, and more. Murray and Quatermain seek the black dossier of the title, which fills them (and the reader) in on what they and their colleagues like Fanny Hill and Orlando, have been up to for literally ages.

In what I found an unfortunate choice, the dossier is included in its entirety, albeit in chunks that alternate with Murray and her beau getting chased, beat up and shot at all over England and its environs. The dossier material is often in single spaced small type and while illustrated, it’s not really in comic-book format as is the main story. I found the frequent switches in narrative disruptive, distracting, and worse, unnecessary. I didn’t need six pages of the adventures of Fanny Hill, eighteen on Orlando, three by Bertie Wooster, or five by a Kerouac-ian beat poet. I wished many times that Moore and his editors had chosen instead to excerpt the dossier. Small doses of the fictional history would have worked as well, or even better. Then the book could have had a “director’s cut” that included all of Moore’s back matter for those, unlike me, who want it. Shorter excerpts would have gotten the same info across, still been as clever, given the reader more credit, plus not exhausted, annoyed and sometimes bored this one.

Page count total is about even. 98 pages of fore-story, and 93 pages of back. Given the density of the back matter, it felt far longer than what it was purported to support. Plus, much of it had been alluded to or flat out recorded already in the extensive back matter in LoEG v. 2.

As with the other LoEG books, Jess Nevins has done extensive footnoting of Moore’s nigh-endless references. Unfortunately, the notes for Black Dossier are no longerat his site, but at Comic Book Resources, and in a book called Impossible Territories. Trouble is, for me, these are interesting, but like adding insult to injury. Part of the fun of Moore’s work is getting the references I can and knowing I’m missing some but not worrying over it. Really, though, what I’d prefer would be a “Previously on” segment that covers the basics, rather than pages of single spaced small type that makes me hunt for things like why Mina is not aging and Allan is young again (they bathed in the same pool of immortality in Africa that Orlando had done). Some details are listed at Wikipedia. Others are at this review at Comics Bulletin.

If I feel up to it, I might compile my own. I need to rest up a bit before I do so, though. Here are a few notes: Jimmy is James Bond, recently returned from Jamaica where he confronted Dr. No. Emma Night will become Emma Peel. Her godfather, Hugo Drummond, was a character in a series of English noir novels. Familiarity with 1984 and The Tempest would be helpful.

ETA: one of the reviewers remarked that Moore’s use of alternate formats to tell the story/stories is very like what he did in Watchmen. It is, yet I found it much less effective here. That was a masterwork, and one with far reaching implications both in story and in the political context of the time in which it was published. The LoEG series, to me, is supposed to be a lark–adventure stories like the ones it’s drawn from. The at-times ponderous alternate material doesn’t suit the type of story, IMO.

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