16 Dec 2007

Graphic Perception: THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: THE BLACK DOSSIER

Review by Matt T

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Kevin O’Neill
America’s Best Comics/Wildstorm $29.99

At times, a comic seems to reflect the mind of the writer a little too much, turning from an entertaining piece of fiction into allegory without the benefit of crafted metaphor or intelligent story arcs. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier is probably as close to the mind of Alan Moore as we mere mortals are likely to get, and I for one am glad that there’s only space for one in there.

Where the previous League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books had some grounding in the world of accepted fiction, grafting characters from well known and respected works into a central story, and the results were superbly entertaining. Black Dossier is a different prospect altogether, again borrowing from well-known literature but leaning into a story that strays to far into the realm of the surreal.

Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means boring or dull. There are sections I was quite astounded at, such as the Carry On-esque lost play of Shakespeare, the engaging story of Orlando and England’s history with the world of Faeries. How, you may be asking yourself, does all this come together to form one coherent story. Well it doesn’t. Not really. And that’s the point. I think. Let me explain…

The Black Dossier of the main title is a fictitious collection of works by England’s most prominent writers, such as the Bard himself and the Rev. Bertram Wooster that are, a la Watchmen, interspersed within the main tale. Although the sections aren’t required reading, they do make far more sense of the whole thing. There’s plenty of text to get through though, including for pages of punctuation-free prose and segments recounting the years between the last book and the current one. As impressive as it is for Moore to ape so many different writing styles and weave them all into the story, it makes the whole of LOEG: Black Dossier heavy going at times.

The reappearance of two well-loved characters, a creative spin on England’s monarchy and the general madness of the main story makes it all reasonably entertaining but, for me, it was all too overblown and self-indulgent to be as fun as those before.

It’s worth mentioning that the book isn’t available in this country, not because of the occasionally bawdy content (next to what Garth Ennis gets away with these days it seems barely titillating) but the characters therein. The copyright issues that have kept the book from our shores stem from either one, or many, of the references made (as the likes of a womanising English spy called Jimmy show up) which are thinly disguised by hints and clever wordplay. The same issue has kept the Lost Girls from being released till next year, as the amount of time after the creator’s death that their work becomes public domain differs between here and the US. The real losers are our local comic shops, robbed of a book that most of us would gladly fork over an extra pound or two for in favour of the internet. 7/10

3 comments:

Rob Nott said...

On the subject of the reason for lack of distribution of the graphic novel in the UK:

You may or may not be familiar with Kim Newman’s superb ‘Anno Dracula’ trilogy which probably inspired Moore’s original concept for ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ in that the characters in the Anno Dracula book are all drawn from popular culture. The first book (Anno Dracula), is set in the Victorian period; the second (The Bloody Red Baron) is set in and around World War 1 and the third book (Dracula Cha Cha Cha) is set in the 1950s.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anno_Dracula_series

The point being, the third volume includes the following characters in its ‘League of Gentlemen’ ensemble. Take a look at the list and be reminded that this book didn’t incur a single copyright problem when it was published.

Mr and Mrs Addams - From The Addams Family by Charles Addams.

Blofeld - From the "James Bond" novels by Ian Fleming.

Commander Hamish Bond - Probably James Bond from the works of Ian Fleming. The character drives an Aston Martin, drinks martinis, "Hamish" is the Scottish version of the name "James", he carries a Walther PPK and works for British Intelligence.

Michael Corleone - From The Godfather movies and books.

Dondi - From the comic-strip of the same name.

Lord Greystoke - From the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Clark Kent - From the Superman comics published by DC Comics. But not as we know him; he is identified as a football player from Kansas, and (although his appearance includes several Superman-related injokes) there is no indication that he is Superman (or indeed that Superman exists in the world of the novel). In a particularly subtle joke, several details from the character's backstory were borrowed from the life story of the actor Steve Reeves, who (unlike George Reeves and Christopher Reeve) never portrayed Superman on screen.

Jeddidiah Leland - From the movie Citizen Kane.

Father Merrin - From the film The Exorcist.

Tom Ripley - From the "Ripley" novels by Patricia Highsmith.

Regards,

Rob

Matt C said...

I guess we're all aware that "copyright reasons" is just a smokescreen to cover up internal politics within DC. Fair enough, they may get narked when Alan Moore publicly criticizes them, but isn't this just a no-win situation - DC loses money from sales and we lose the opportunity to buy the book (or buy the book with ease). Sometimes don't you wish people would just get over themselves?

Matt T said...

Thanks for the info Rob, I wasn't aware of the beginnings of LOEG. I agree with Matt that all this pointless arguing and legal crap just forces people to find other means of buying the book, then pass it round thier friends, thus robbing DC of thier Dollar. It's crazy, but I can't se them backing down for the sake of us readers.