The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume I by Alan Moore (1999) 176 p.

A case of deja vu. Just as the last book I read, Count Zero, was quite good but didn’t live up to its groundbreaking predecessor Neuromancer, Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an excellent comic which (understandably) fails to match his groundbreaking Watchmen.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is probably shoulder-to-shoulder with V for Vendetta as Alan Moore’s most famous creation after Watchmen. The concept is essentially a “Justice League for Victorian England,” operating on the premise that famous works of 19th century fiction were real, and their heroes are recruited into the titular League to protect the British Empire. Beginning with Mina Harker from Dracula and Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, the League soon enlists Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man, and Allan Quatermain from King Solomon’s Mines. Many of the supporting characters, and even minor background figures, are also from famous works of fiction, and spotting them is half the fun. Sherlock Holmes and the Artful Dodger are impossible to miss, but I feel like dozens went right over my head.

The artwork is quite different from Dave Gibbons’ in Watchmen; sort of scratchy and cartoony, with as much emphasis and exaggeration as possible without actually breaking the boundaries of realistic illustration. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman takes place in an alternate universe in more ways than one, with the British Empire being far more industrially advanced than it really was at the time. One early full-page image shows a gargantuan half-completed bridge stretching across the English Channel, and the cityscape of London swarms with cranes, airships, bridges, tunnels and towers.

The premise is excellent, but the plot is a standard adventure story, with villains and infiltrations and fights and narrow escapes and nothing particularly original. Moore clearly enjoys poking fun at the tropes of the Victorian era – particularly with villainous foreign stereotypes – but this doesn’t even begin to compare to Watchmen‘s masterful deconstruction of the superhero genre.

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is nonetheless a good, solid graphic novel, which I enjoyed reading, and I didn’t hesitate to order the second volume. Just don’t expect it to be on par with Moore’s much greater Watchmen.