I find myself unable to think of any phrase which so neatly sums up the spirit of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman series as that of “intellectual pornography”. I use this phrase not because these stories contain a good deal of sex and nudity but because these books seem to have been written to drive the reader towards a sort of self-inflicted mental climax. None of the LoEG books are meant to be read lightly – they are meant to be grappled with and wrestled into submission as the reader puts his wits against the author and the artist. It is fun exercise if one has the stomach for such rough sport.
Set nearly sixty years after the events of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol III): Century #1 – 1910, our book opens with the titular League returning to London after the death of popular rock star Basil Thomas. Thomas died under mysterious circumstances and The League fears that the followers of their old enemy – the dark magician Oliver Haddo – might be involved. As they search for leads among the overlapping counter-culture and magic-using communities of London, The League find evidence that Haddo’s followers, having abandoned their attempts to facilitate the birth of an Anti-Christ after that affair with the Rosemary woman, are out to create a “moonchild” that will inherit all of Haddo’s old power…and more besides! At the same time, a confederation of East End gangsters sends one of their “problem solvers”, name of Jackie-Boy, out to investigate the murder and deal with those responsible.
Author Alan Moore is in fine form, though it is becoming increasingly difficult with each passing LoEG story to keep up with him. There’s a ripping action/adventure/mystery yarn at the core of this book but one does not read Alan Moore without reading the subtext as well. Moore said that as he moved along the time-line with this series, he would be encompassing all media – not just literature. So in addition to our League made up of the immortals Mina Murray (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Allan Quatermain (H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines) and Orlando (Virginia Woolfe’s Orlando: A Biography), we have cameos by Benny Hill’s Professor Peach character from The Italian Job, The Second Doctor from Doctor Who and “Jackie-Boy”, though never referred to by name, is obviously Michael Caine’s character from Get Carter.
Longtime Moore collaborator Kevin O’Neill handles all these cameos with his usual pluck, bending his usual style to create the most colorful LOEG book yet. While one can still see the style that originally lent itself so well to the earlier penny-dreadful inspired books in this series, O’Neill’s characters seem more wide-eyed and expressive in this outing. Every page is filled to the brim with details upon details, to the point where I nearly missed the John Cleese cameo on one page. He is, of course, doing a silly walk toward the reader.
Like all the previous League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volumes, this is a challenging novel. It will challenge your wits, as you struggle to understand all of the in-jokes and references. It will challenge your perceptions, as your eyes are assailed by Kevin O’Neill’s attempts to artistically recreate an acid trip. And given the amount of nudity (both male and female, full frontal), sex (both heterosexual and homosexual), drug use (both real and fictional drugs), violence (both physical and sexual) and vivid depictions of black magic, this may be a challenge for you to defend adding to your local library. Definitely a Mature Audiences title but also a damn good read.