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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II by Alan Moore (2004) 224 p.

Volume II of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has the advantage that all such sequels have, namely that it begins with the team already assembled and can jump direcly into a story. This volume opens on Mars, where various imagined inhabitants are fighting for control of the red planet, and the first chapter ends with the “molluscs” being routed, and invading Earth – beginning with a space capsule landing at Woking, Surrey.

And so Volume II is largely a retelling of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, with the disparate League being tasked with defending England from a Martian invasion. Moore continues to inject his universe with fictional characters drawn from the collective imagination of mankind, often with a diabolical twist – one particular appearance, in issue five, was simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.

Moore has more space to explore the characters in this issue, and Hyde in particular is more well-developed, yet on the whole I still felt like both characters and plot were far too fleeting. Perhaps it’s one of the constraints of the comic book’s short format, or perhaps it’s Moore’s own fault. I had a similar problem with Watchmen, which despite being magnificent, had only a few truly grand characters; Rorschach, Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan dominated that novel, while Nite Owl and the Silk Spectre felt stunted. Similarly, the two main characters in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray – feel less developed than Hyde and to a lesser extent Griffin (whose betrayal seems forced in simply for the sake of it).

The appendix of Volume I contained a pulp fiction short story featuring Allan Quatermain, which I felt was tedious and not worth mentioning in my review, but the appendix for Volume II features a more intriguing “Traveller’s Alamanac” to the fictional world of the League. Since it is populated by fictional characters, it is likewise a world cobbled together from the vast work of human mythology and fiction. This turned out to be rather less interesting than I thought it would be. While Moore draws from sources ranging from The Odyssey to House of Leaves, the simple equation of history means that the vast majority of fictional realms are drawn from works at least several centuries old, and sometimes dating back to antiquity. And so the reader is typically drawn across a series of islands and archipelagos dreamt up as a simple fantasy or allegory by writers and poets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and unless the reader happens to be an English Literature major, they’re unlikely to recognise most of the references. A sampling:

“We find an island called Lanternland by some, where great Demosthenes burned midnight oil, and putting in to shore upon my command upon its soil saw men to glow-worms turn: each Lord and Lady dressed with glass and gem that caught the shine of wanton candleflame. Jewelled crest and diamond hem, blazing they pass, no two the same, their radiance divine.

“Not far away an oracle is found: a bottle in a crypt upon an isle where did sweet Bacchus make a vineyard grow. The bottle speaketh with a crackling sound, and I did like its augurs not at all. We sailed south, past the Lotus-eater’s land of yellow sand and endless afternoon. A fellow there his care will soon forget in fragrant blooms, where hides worse slavery yet. Ogygia too we passed and left behind, where fair Calypso walked in violet meads, and so we came to find instead a place, a curious atoll by an island near…”

And so on. Moore’s breadth of literary knowledge is astonishing – he appears to not only be aware of the entire human canon, but to have actually read it all – but crafting as fictional traveller’s guide in which the reader is strung from brief description to brief description is not a valuable use of this knowledge. I actually had trouble finishing the appendices in both volumes, and it made me suspect that without the visual aid of the graphic novel, Moore would not be a particularly good writer.

But then, one can’t review a graphic novel and not fairly take into balance its visual aspect, and Volume II is marvellous, with some lovingly detailed scenes of chaos and terror as Martian tripods stalk the land. Incidentally, Steven Spielberg would appear to have closely copied Kevin O’Neill’s visual interpretation of the Martian tripods for his 2005 film. (Also, was it just me, or is the scene where Hyde tears open the casing of a fallen tripod and tells the Martian inside “Welcome to England!” a direct homage to Will Smith’s “Welcome to Earth!” in Independence Day?)

Despite its flaws, Volume II is still a good read, and more entertaining than Volume I – though I suspect this is simply because The War of the Worlds is a timeless classic, and a better story than the fairly generic outing Moore came up with for Volume I. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a solid set of graphic novels, but still doesn’t even begin to compare to Moore’s magnum opus, Watchmen.

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