The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volumes I & II
Comic Book Series with
Books written by Allan Moore
Illustrated by Kevin O'Neill
As the year 1898 draws to
a close, trouble is brewing in London's East End. A criminal mastermind has
stolen the only extant sample of the artificial mineral cavorite, intending
to use its remarkable abilities to power an immense flying machine from which
to rain death down on the city. British intelligence, under the guidance of
the mysterious "M," determines that the nation has only one chance.
Wilhelmina "Minna" Murray, the former wife of Jonathan Harker, is
dispatched to gather together some of England's most "extraordinary"
gentlemen to combat the threat.
Minna Murray finds herself in charge of the autocratic and misanthropic Captain
Nemo, recovering drug addict adventurer Allen Quartermain, the duplicitous and
invisible Hawley Griffen, and timid Dr. Henry Jeckyll and his wonderfully monstrous
alter ego, Edward Hyde. Murray herself is no less interesting than her bizarre
cohorts, and possessed of a steely courage. But is it enough to triumph over
the looming aerial menace?
I haven't seen the movie version of these delightful and absorbing comics, but
given the poor reviews it garnered I doubt I'm missing anything. The comic books
are pretty adult in tone, extremely and graphically violent in places, and delightfully
salacious in others. Moore's writing leaps across genres with magnificent aplomb,
and O'Neill keeps pace with him every step of the way, contriving some incredible
pages of art and action. I've been a fan of Allan Moore's excellent writing
since the bravura series WATCHMEN (also due on film one of these days).
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is, if anything, even better in
I'm not giving anything away, really, if I say that the six books that make
up Volume I detail the search for and discovery of the London lair of the insidious
Dr. Fu Manchu. He is never named as anything other than "The Doctor",
but it's obvious who the villain is. The real fun here, aside from the story
itself, is in ferreting out all the myriad references to various pulp heroes,
comic strips, and Victorian adventure stories that Moore and O'Neill have sprinkled
through the story. The result is a rich bouillabaisse (pun directed at Captain
Nemo) of a tale that repays multiple readings.
What's not obvious is the identity of "M," which came as a delightful
surprise to me, and which I will not give away here.
The second volume concerns a re-telling of H.G.Wells's martian invasion. It
opens on Mars itself. Neither Lt. Gulliver Jones nor John Carter and his Tharks,
even with assistance from the mysterious sorns, can overcome the horrible Wellsian
octopoids and their gigantic tripods. The combined human/martian forces attack
the octopoids' outpost just in time to see an invasion fleet take off for Earth.
Not content with using such well-known characters as Nemo, Quartermain, Wells's
invisble man, et al, Moore mines over a hundred years worth of popular and pulp
fiction for limitless characters and situations. So, for example, on Moore's
Mars, the nasty octopids of H.G. Wells are in a state of war with John Carter
and the Tharks from Edgar Rice Burroughs, and C.S. Lewis's sorns. Even Lt. Gulliver
Jones -- Gulliver of Mars -- has a major part in the first chapter. (Hint
-- if you want to see what the mmartians are saying, hold the pages up to a
mirror. I never realized Tharks could be so foul-mouthed!)
I love what Moore has done with Edward Hyde, Henry Jeckyll's brutish alter ego,
turning him into an eight-foot-tall GIGANTOTHROPUS look-alike. I also enjoyed
the prickly developing love affair between Mina Harker, former wife of one of
Dracula's thralls, and Allan Quartermain. But really, to say more would be to
ruin the utter delight that a broadly-read sf fan will experience with these
And the visuals do not disappoint, either. Kevin O'Neill's drawings complement
Moore's text perfectly, and he can go from lyrical depictions to shocking war
scenes to high good humor with astonishing facility. The section in which Quartermain
and Harker encounter Wells's Dr. Moreau and his animal hybrids is at once hysterically
funny and disturbing. I don't know if it was Moore or O'Neill who had the idea
to dress the bear-man as the British comic-strip character Rupert, but O'Neill's
rendering is priceless. Many other visual in-jokes pepper the pages of this
The written sections of these two books are almost as much fun as the comics
themselves. Sprinkled with jokes and games and puns like a Sunday supplement,
there are also two long written sections. In Volume I it's a tale of interdimensional
travel and horror, in which Allen Quartermain meets up with Lovecraft's Randolph
Carter (and his uncle, ERB's John Carter!) aboard the Wellsian Time Machine.
It's very purple-prose and blood-and-thunder, just what one would expect from
a penny dreadful such as Moore is parodying.
Volume II contains a Baedeker account detailing Mina and Allan's trip to fantastic
lands around the world. Here Moore really has fun, because he takes Harker and
Quartermain (in company of the gender-bending immortal Orlando) on a tour of
all the fantastic realms on the globe, from Lovevcraft's Mountains of Madness,
to Tyco M. (The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet) Bass's home
in California, to Lilliput, Wonderland, Oz, Toyland, Pepperland, and a number
of places from the pages of fantasy fiction even yr. obt. svt hasn't heard of!
Among the sly jokes are a gathering of famous pirates including S. Clay Wilson's
ZAP Comix character, Captain Pissgums.
Highly recommended - not to be missed. Some of the best reading I've come across
in many a moon, and tons of fun to boot.
PS - There's a delightful website devoted to annotating the League volumesalmost as much fun as the comics themselves. Highly, therefore, recommended. Happily, Moore has announced his intent to pen additional adventures of the League. All that's left to us now is the waiting
Notes on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Ed. Note 2021: website cannot be found. However, see Wikipedia for information. [JTC]
Wikipedia Info: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Books
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