Christopher Roth's Reviews > The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 by Alan Moore
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Jul 31, 2011

Yeah, three and a half stars. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it did not necessarily live up to the hype. On the one hand, it's really red meat for someone like me that likes 19th century fiction. I mean, I actually read H. Rider Haggard for pleasure, without skipping parts even. But I think this franchise is more impressive in its breadth than in its depth. That is to say, it is intoxicating and fun and impressive to see such disparate worlds of fiction stitched together in this way; I absolutely love the idea of the project. But in execution it seems to appeal more to those who geekily track character biographies in Wikipedia than those who actually sit down and read a Victorian novel or a penny dreadful from beginning to end and understand the social history of the period. In particular, I was disappointed that the plot and dialogue conformed to superhero comic-book genre conventions rather than offering the reader a full immersion in the Victorian worldview and the Victorian style of story exposition. I mean, here we have a team of adventurers strutting around fighting bad guys, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, modeled here entirely on the Incredible Hulk, throwing villains' henchmen around. The old biff-pow-bang. There are whole stretches of it that are just like reading a Justice League or Fantastic Four comic, nothing more. "The Watchmen" was much more coherent as a project precisely because it was itself a campy commentary on the dorkiness of the superhero genre.

And Moore's dialogue seems to slip in and out of 19th century British English more shakily than even Dick Van Dyke's cringe-making Cockney accent in "Mary Poppins." Not only does it usually sound exactly like what it is—British dialogue written by an American—but there are ridiculous lines such as, e.g., "Oh, it's just everything. It's his whole attitude." Are we supposed to believe that is uttered by an Englishwoman in 1898? It's like he's not even trying. Compare A. S. Byatt's perfect imitation of Victorian prose in "Possession" or Pynchon's mastery of 18th-century essay and memoir styles in "Mason & Dixon." Unfair comparisons? Well, not if we're going to stick with our insistence that the best graphic novels can be as good as the best non-graphic novels.

As for O'Neill's art, it is very finely detailed, with lots of rewarding little Easter eggs, but at times I found myself unfairly likening it to a zombies version of "Where's Waldo?" But it did grow on me, and I'm not sure how it could have been done better, come to think of it.

Notably, all of the above complaints vanish when considering the restrainedly illustrated prose short story "Allan and the Sundered Veil" appended to this volume, mixing H. Rider Haggard, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, with a dash of H. P. Lovecraft. It's masterfully done, and very much in-period. Maybe this format—you know, um, the non-graphic novel I guess we could call it—is Alan Moore's true calling.

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