Robot 6

Robot reviews: LoEG Century: 1910

Century: 1910

Century: 1910

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol III: Century: 1910
by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Top Shelf, 80 pages, $7.95.

Hey kids! Like Bertolt Brecht? I mean, do you really, really like Bertolt Brecht? As in “I know the entire book and lyrics to Happy End by heart and can recite them at a moment’s notice and better stand back because I’m going to do so right now?” ‘Cause that’s the only way you’re going to be able to enjoy Alan Moore’s latest comic!

OK, I’m not only exaggerating, I’m being incredibly sarcastic. Still, at the same time there’s no question that knowledge of Kurt Weill and Brecht’s magnum opus, Threepenny Opera, will aid the reader immensely in understanding and enjoying the latest chapter in Moore and O’Neill’s LoEG saga. Whereas previous volumes partly consisted of a who’s who guessing game where fictional characters were drawn from a variety of (mostly British) sources, 1910 draws almost entirely upon the German musical. The good news is that it doesn’t sink the book, though the uninitiated will definitely feel a palpable sense of being left out of some of the fun.

As we enter the 20th century, we find the League now consists of Mina Harker, a rejuvenated Alan Quatermain, now posing as his own son, the psychic Carnacki, the gentlemen thief Raffles and the immortal gender-bender known as Orlando. A eerie dream of Carnacki’s sends the team off to find a mysterious occult group who are trying to create something called a Moonchild. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot involving Nemo’s daughter Janni who, fed up with her dad, decides to see the sights in London town.

One of the more amusing aspects of the series is how supremely inept the various members can be in moments of dire necessity — when they’re not fighting amongst themselves that is. They were, after all, able to offer next to no aid in defeating the invading Martian army in Vol. II, apart from Hyde’s suicidal attack.

That constant subversion of adventure tropes comes to the fore here as the League not only fail to stop the occult group, they inadvertently end up helping them. Indeed their 19th-century brand of heroics seem incredibly at odds with the menacing world taking shape around them. No doubt this theme of Victorian ideals being astoundingly ill-suited for the 20th century horrors will be explored even further in future chapters.

All of this, however, is recounted, commented on and analyzed by a Greek, or, rather, British, chorus of revamped Threepenny Opera cast. Macheath, Suiki Tawdry and a pseudo-Jenny Diver all put in an appearance here, and frequently burst into reworked versions of Mack the Knife, Pirate Jenny and other Opera tunes. Now, music, not to mention poetry, is extremely difficult to pull off well in comics. It’s incredibly difficult to have the rhythm of your reading match the intended rhythm of the song, to say nothing of the problem of trying to convey the melody. Moore and O’Neill manage a little better than some — partly because the songs are well-known, partly because of the pair’s skill — but these sequences fall flat about half the time, since there’s no orchestra to back them up.

That being said, Century by and large avoids a lot of the traps that the previous LoEG book, The Black Dossier, walked so blindly into — namely that the literary appropriations and references take over the work to the point where story and character are lost and confusion reigns. Century suggests a return to the intertwined myth-making that made the first two volumes so much fun, but it definitely feels like the first chapter in an ongoing tale rather than a story that stands on its own two feet, Brecht or no Brecht.

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34 Comments

The Ugly American

May 7, 2009 at 4:00 pm

YOU CAN’T MAKE ME LITERATE, ALAN MOORE! STOP TRYING!

I knew this was going to be another piece of crap. Well, Alan Moore was good while he lasted.

Chris Mautner

May 7, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Crap’s a little harsh. It’s got some notable flaws, but it’s far from crap.

I agree with the reviewer. I enjoyed it, but it felt incomplete. I was expecting more of a standalone adventure. I am curious to see what he does with the League’s future, since we glimpsed a lot of it in Black Dossier already. (Which had a really simple plot at its core, so I’m not sure why it was so confusing to people. You can always ignore the extra material if it doesn’t grab you.)

The Problem is that Century #1 is only a beginning. #2 is a YEAR AWAY. O’Neill is a great artist but this is getting ridiculous – even Frank Quitely has a better production rate than this.

Sorry you feel that way, JJ. Personally, I don’t think drawing one graphic novel per year is anything to be ashamed of.

It may help to remember (I forget sometimes myself) that the three parts of CENTURY are in a real sense standalone graphic novels. The next installment takes place 60 years later, after all — most of the characters will probably be dead, and the world will be completely different.

Moore and O’Neill’s League books are always challenging to read, but for me that’s part of the appeal, and I feel they handle it skillfully enough that the allusions don’t get in the way of the story. There’s abolsutely nothing wrong with being spoon-fed a story and enjoying it—heck, that’s most of mainstream superhero comics right there—but one of the great joys of the medium today is that there’s more being produced at more levels, for more reading tastes, than at any time ever.

Besides, Jess Nevins will probably annotate it any day now!

Man, I wish I was a moron so I could join in the fun of complaining about this comic!

The Ugly American

May 8, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Too late.

There really is a segment of the population that loves both comic books and theatre– or more specifically, Alan Moore and Bertold Brecht. Brecht is possibly the most accessible (and certainly one of the most popular) major 20th century playwright on the world stage.

So isn’t this like complaining about a comic book that that has an added layer of meaning for readers who also happen to be really into the Beatles? Or Shakespeare?

Or does everything have to be about the established action/adventure canon?

Expecting Alan Moore to dumb his work down to your level on a series that is targeted to the hyperliterate is sheer idiocy, but hey, I hear The Hills is popular. Go check that out.

It’s a very good story. One of Moore’s best, and while Moore relies on Brecht’s THREEPENNY OPERA, the characters aren’t actually German. Brecht’s THREEPENNY OPERA was a reworking of a John Gay’s THE BEGGAR’S OPERA, which is a British ballad opera from 1728. Brecht merely took the characters from the 18th-century story and re-cast them in an early 20th-century setting (and added a Marxist interpretation to the story).

In addition to the fact that Threepenny Opera is possibly the best known 20th Century play to English speaking audiences, the Brecht/Weill songs have been recorded by countless pop, jazz, and rock singers, so there’s no more excuse for the target audience not to have at least as much passing familiarity with the characters and themes than with the 1984 references in Black Dossier.

Of course, Thom brings up a good point: Threepenny Opera is Brecht’s rewrite of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera– which leads to another question: do the 18th century and 20th century MacHeaths, Jenny Divers, Suky Tawdrys, et alia both exist in the League world’s history?

Dirk Balognapants

May 8, 2009 at 7:21 pm

I can not believe you mentioned Happy End! That is obscure compared to Threepenny. I was in a production of Happy End in undergrad. Just like Guys and Dolls with a dash of Verfremdungseffekt. Good reference though!

Great read! Being one who is not entirely familiar with Brecht, I still greatly enjoyed this book. If works written by Moore fly completely over your head, don’t blame him.

Ian: as a matter of fact, the 18th century Macheath is explicitly mentioned in 1910 as an ancestor of the 20th century Macheath. So the answer is clearly yes!

I haven’t seen it yet, so that had been something I had been wondering since I first heard that the characters would be appearing! Thanks for clarifying, RAB!

The Brechtian stuff is cool, and a nice connection with Watchmen, that being said, I don’t get why sexualized violence against women, and rape in particular is such a constant device in Moore’s work. It also seems odd that comic critics are willing to call out mainstream superhero comics on this kind of thing but give Moore a free pass when its every bit as prevalent in his work. Beyond that, I feel like this book suffers a bit from the “male gaze” phenomena, what with the number of images not only of female nudity, which didnt seem too odd, but weird contrived nipple slips that seemed to say “it didn’t make sense to put a naked woman here but heres some tit anyway.” I don’t mean to sound prudish, and I really liked Mr. Moore’s Lost Girls, which actually seemed to interface with questions about sexuality, consent, pornography and fiction quite deeply, but in this book it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose except prurient purposes. I don’t want to knock the work as a whole, as its quite enjoyable, and I’m not even sure if it would bother me were it not set against the backdrop of Moore’s other work, which always seems to punish his female characters most brutally, and sexually if he can.

Chris Mautner

May 9, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Ian — Really? Best known play? Better known than Hamlet? Or Death of a Salesman? Or freakin’ Cats? Methinks I smell some hyperbole.

If anyone knows Threepenny these days, it’s thanks to Louie Armstrong and Bobby Darin and that’s about it.

Finally, if Moore had decided to focus the entire story around, say, Henry V, (or hell, even My Fair Lady) to the point where your enjoyment of the work may be affected by your familiarity with the source material, I still would have put the same caveat in my review because, you know, not everyone has read those plays.

Moon-

I have also noticed this. However, there is a lot, though not necessarily equal share of male nudity in his comics, but, for some reason that escapes me, it never seems sexualized. Is it possible that male nudity, for some reason by nature, doesn’t resonate in this way. Or is it simply that I am a strait male who automatically decides how to contextualize said nudity.

As for the violence/rape so prevalent in his work, I think it is always a case of making things seem real. If a woman is attacked by a man, it would be absurd that this person who is vicious enough to harm a woman would somehow not then take advantage of her bounty. Maybe he considers that a sort of PG-13, hollywood mentality, where the woman is either brutalized/kidnapped, but not raped by her captors.

To be fair, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen VOL II did have a rather brutal rape scene involving a male.

Actually, I find it interesting that all of Alan Moore’s work is chock full of sex. Its as if defining a person’s sexual appetite/predilictions is as important to him in defining their character as any other aspect of their worldview. But I would say that it is for the most part done in an almost matter-of-fact fashion. From Hell has a sexual act depicted on almost every damn page, but none of it is titillating (at least not to me), though most of it is at least provocative.

I hope this doesn’t come across as argumentative, I’m just reaching in the dark here cause I have to say that I agree with you.

Ian — Really? Best known play? Better known than Hamlet? Or Death of a Salesman? Or freakin’ Cats? Methinks I smell some hyperbole.

Chris, I specifically said “20th century play”, so Hamlet simply isn’t part of the equation (though I expect it would be if there is ever an adventure set in medieval Denmark.) Death of a Salesman is also part of a strictly American canon– and again, I said “world stage” as in it is an play frequently produced in translation. You might have a point about Cats though.

The Brecht/Weill song catalog has been covered by far more artists than Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong: The Doors, David Bowie, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, The Dresden Dolls are just a few I can think of off the top of my head.

The play and the songs are part of the cultural landscape that exists beyond the world of comic-books (a landscape Moore and O’Neill reference constantly); but they fit naturally into the concerns that Moore writes about, so the typical League reader, if Brecht and Weill are previously unknown, would likely find this work enjoyable by its own merit and not just because it helps one understand this particular adventure of the League. My Fair Lady would probably not be as good a fit with the thematic concerns of League.

As to the concerns about male versus female nudity in Moore’s canon: it does appear he often uses male nudity to deal with issues of male anxiety about vulnerability, potency, and sexuality– very much as a deconstruction of machismo. Not that this excuses the real concerns raised by Moon regarding both the frequent appearance of gratuitous female nudity, or sexual assault as a plot point, but it does implicate a criticism of masculinity.

Chris Mautner said…
“One of the more amusing aspects of the series is how supremely inept the various members can be in moments of dire necessity — when they’re not fighting amongst themselves that is. They were, after all, able to offer next to no aid in defeating the invading Martian army in Vol. II, apart from Hyde’s suicidal attack.”

I was curious as to why neither of Conan Doyle’s heroes, Sherlock Holmes or George Challenger, appeared in LoEG Vol. 2, considering how they handled the same matter in “Sherlock Holmes’ War of the Worlds” by the Wellmans. (and the fact that Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, runs the League in Vol 2)

SHOW ME THE WAY TO THE NEXT WHISKY BAR
SHOW ME THE WAY TO THE NEXT LITTLE GIRL
HO ! DON’T ASK WHY !

I don’t get it. I’m not the most polished reader in the world, but I didn’t find it hard that hard to read at all. I found it very interesting Moore seemed to replace word bubbles and sound effects with narrative song. It in a way, made it easier to follow. Sure, it made me eager to get the next two releases, but isn’t that the point? Standa alone doesn’t neccesarily mean it doesn’t push you to follow the next installments.

I tend to just try to enjoy comics rather than point out it’s flaws. If i don’t like it, that’s fine, but im not going to spend my time coming up with arguments as to why i don’t like it.

anyways, i think this was great and considering my introduction to the league was Black Dossier, this was much more satisfying in my opinion and it made me actually get the motivation to go check out Vol.1 and #2. well done.

The problem with Century 1910 and Black Dossier is that there is a very weak plot vaguely weaving between dozens of obscure references. League I and II both had good plots and used characters the “person on the street” could identify. I respect Mr. Moore and I also enjoy slogging through Mr. Nevins’ annotations. However, that should be optional rather than mandatory. Leagues I and II could be read as great stories first and then read as pedantic curio cabinets later. The newer books are strictly the latter.

Does anyone actually care about characters like A.J. Raffles or Carnacki? With Mr. Hyde and the Invisible Man I knew what I was getting. In 1910 you have no one to root for. Additionally Moore tries to do two things: tell a League story and rewrite Threepenny Opera. Neither idea comes off well and it seems more like a second decade Simpsons episode than the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Someone suggested than the recurring weakness of the League as it approaches the present day is the “death of the popular imagination.” Moore doesn’t have as much to work with because the pool he’s sponging up isn’t filled with as many ideas as it was during the Victorian era. Much of this is due to current popular characters being under copyright. I don’t buy it. Alan Moore should not get a free pass when he writes drivel. This slavish idea that whenever Alan Moore writes poorly he’s doing it ironically or for effect is ridiculous.

For those who’re interested Mr. Moore has said neither Dracula nor Sherlock Holmes will appear directly in the League books. He feels they would steal the spotlight too much.

Just to clarify, CATS is a musical based on T.S. Eliot’s poems, not a play. Technically, you’re supposed to be able to read a play.
I haven’t had a chance to read 1910 yet, so I’ll take all this opportunity before my order comes in to brush up on Threepenny Opera, and Carnacki and Raffles. Really, none of this was a surprise. It was practically advertised in big letters that the League books would be getting more esoteric over time. Not every great work of literature is as celebrated and ingrained in pop culture as Dracula and Sherlock Homes. I’m willing to bet a good portion of readers didn’t know who Allan Quatermain or Chevalier Dupin were when they picked up the first book. I’m also willing to bet that Alan Moore has enough money now that he doesn’t need to cater to a wide audience of slavish fanboys and literary dunces anymore.
Remember, the dude announced his official retirement after League Vol II came out.

Well one odity is that the the Threepenny opera whilst written in the 20th century is set in 1837, as part of the plot centres on Queen Victoria’s coronation. So the characters should predate most of the cast of the League. Is this explained or has Moore made an error somewhere?

Chris Mautner

May 11, 2009 at 6:05 am

Ian — You’re right, you did say 20th century. Mea Culpa. Still, I find it hard to believe it’s as globally known as you claim. It’s never registered with me as being that well-known or beloved here in the US but if you say so I’ll believe you.

Oh, and I know the song’s been covered to death, but I think it’s safe to say the Armstrong and Darin versions are the ones everyone knows.

I don’t necessarily object to Moore and O’Neill swiping from Threepenny, I just think they do so to such an extent that the book becomes in danger of becoming a pastiche instead of something that stands on its own merits. I think it ultimately avoids doing so (I did say I liked the book, remember) but it’s a close call at times.

Also, I don’t think the songs always work, but then, as I said, I think music and rhythm are really hard to capture in comics.

Brecht, in many ways, is probably as influential, for better or worse, in theatre as Moore is in comic books. He developed a new dramaturgy called “Epic Theatre”; his plays are translated into numerous languages and performed on all over the world. He influenced both subsequent directors and playwrights– that said, some of those who follow, only imitate the most superficial elements of his work, or handle his innovations in a particularly clumsy manner (something that Moore has also said numerous times about some of the comic book writers who have followed him.) And in both cases, mainstream theatre has been unable to assimilate Brecht’s innovations, just as mainstream comic books have been unable to assimilate Moore’s innovations.

Brecht’s influence is most strongly felt in academic and small, independent theatres– not in the commercial or repertory theatres that most theatre goers probably attend.

Anyway– I’ve not read 1910 yet– so how well Moore and O’Neill integrate the material from Three Penny Opera, I’ve yet to see for myself– but I’m eager to find out.

Best League in years. I really enjoyed this book. Great, great stuff. I don’t know anything about anything, but this was just a really fun story.

Just read it.

Yes, knowing Three Penny Opera improved my enjoyment of the book. But that said, it’s hardly necessary– and you know you know going in to any League books that you’re going in for lots of literary and pop-cultural references. The songs are already in the book and provide foreshadowing of the ending.

Obviously, the events in 1910 are meant to foreshadow those of 1969 and 2009, since they are advertized as a trilogy, so if the League is less than effective in this adventure, clearly the story isn’t over.

Uh, okay. Brecht`s Threepenny Opera and all that…

I`m underwhelmed by Century: 1910. I`m glad Affable Al Mooreheimer is moving away from the “constraints” of “adventure fiction” with this series of follow ups (I haven`t read the Black Dossier, though) but in moving away from the Super hero template and moving towards a literary one (sic), Moore seems to be returning to the bad old days of the late 1980s and independently published stuff like Brought To Light and Big Numbers where his career stalled and he eventually returned to mainstream comics with his hit and miss series for Image, 1963 (a particulary vicious dig at Stan Lee).

I prefer the first two series of the LOEG but if Mr Moore doesn`t feel challenged to repeat the success and appeal of those two first outings then I`m happy for him. I just won`t be buying the next two books unless they follow those pesky “constraining” “adventure fiction” staples…

What next for Moore after all three LOEGs finally appear? Casper comics? Fantastic Four? Thank god Marvelman is coming back…..

Lucifer Prometheus

October 19, 2009 at 4:51 pm

This is in my opinion a glorious return to form for Moore, and by far the best of the League books. After reading the Black Dossier, I was a bit worried. It’s good to see that Moore can still do more than try to put us to sleep with the minutia of his pet mystical disciplines and unadorned meta-fiction.

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