The return of The Black Dossier…

Published On May 1, 2012 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen – The Black Dossier

By Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

Knockabout Comics

Before Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill took The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to Top Shelf & Knockabout for LoEG: Century, DC Comics were responsible for putting out the third volume – LoEG: The Black Dossier.

To put it mildly, it didn’t go well. Not at all. Worst of all, for us here in the UK, DC decided that “due to international copyright concerns and related issues” they weren’t going to release it in the UK.

Which meant that everyone who wanted a copy in 2007 had to get a little creative, punters and comic shops alike. But we all managed, so essentially DC’s ban on selling it in the UK meant very little, bar annoying Moore and O’Neill, something DC seem extremely good at.

Which brings us to this Knockabout edition – the first time it’s been properly available here. It’s simply the DC product re-stickered with a Knockabout barcode on the backcover. But so what, fair  play to Knockabout for working the deal, and I’m sure Moore and O’Neill are happy that their work is being made available in the UK by one of the good guys of comic publishing.

Anyway, back to the book….

We’re in mid-50s England, with the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen disbanded, disavowed and existing as just the ever youthful Mina Harker and Alan Quartermain.

They’re back in Britain searching for “The Black Dossier” – the book that reportedly holds the secret and hidden history of The League through the ages. But the powers that be are after it as well, with some very familiar faces on the case, like this fella, a certain Jimmy Bond:

The Black Dossier was originally meant to be a mere trifle of a sourcebook in between Volumes 2 and 3 of The League, but it rather expanded into something far bigger, far more important.

Moore and O’Neill’s comic story here is a simple enough espionage tale, but what gives the book it’s depth and interest is contents of the dossier itself, the non-comic stuff that gives Moore and O’Neill a chance to go wild with format, content, style and history.

We get so much in between the comic tale; a Tijuana Bible insert, the continued adventures of Fanny Hill, the comic strip adventures of Orlando, a long lost and unpublished Shakespeare manuscript, various pieces detailing League history, beat poetry writings, a very Lovecraftian adventure of Jeeves and Wooster, and a volume concluding 3-D section (glasses included).

When The Black Dossier originally came out, I was nonplussed and rather disappointed. It all seemed too concerned with Moore and O’Neill throwing more and more references to the characters they were alluding to, and less with telling something interesting and cohesive.

Skip forward to August 2011, with the publication of LoEG Century 1969, I took a long look back at the entire League saga, in an attempt to contextualise my relative disappointment, and doing so finally allowed me to look at the series in perspective, a  storyline spinning out across four volumes, across time and space.

The whole series worked so much better for me suddenly, and most pertinently here, the Black Dossier was the volume that came out most improved.

Here’s what I had to say about it then:

“Then we get to The Black Dossier and suddenly it all gets very complex very quickly – suddenly we’re playing spot the reference all too often. Except, I have to admit, this re-reading of The Black Dossier immediately after the first two volumes, and with the events of 1910 and 1969 fresh in my mind really opened it up for me – and suddenly, having freed myself from continually questioning my knowledge of who, what, where and why – it turns into a really good book – far, far more enjoyable read than I remembered from the first time round.”

“In fact, freed from worrying too much about what I’m missing and concentrating instead on just enjoying what is right there in front of me, The Black Dossier turns out to be a cracking mystical espionage thriller as a rejuvenated Mina and Quartermain join Orlando to pick their way through a crumbling post Orwellian Britain of 1958, hunting “The Black Dossier”, doggedly pursued by analogues of James Bond, Emma Peel and Bulldog Drummond, all working for the new “M”, Harry Lime.”

“And once the espionage thriller of the comic bits fell into place, all the non-comic bits got a damn sight more interesting without constantly fretting I was “reading them right”.”

“Now, maybe it’s just the novelty of “getting it” at last, but I’ve got to say, on this read through, I actually enjoyed The Black Dossier a little more than the first two volumes, the density of the material didn’t plague me so much, the enjoyment of Moore and O’Neill’s work was there all along, it just needed me to finally read it for myself rather than be overly concerned about everything extra.”

And reading it once more with this new Knockabout edition, I can’t really add any more to it than I’ve already written. It’s a far, far better book than I’d always thought, with Moore and O’Neill crafting something rather beautiful in so many different styles, mixing the straight forward espionage thriller with numerous delights in the pages of The Black Dossier itself.

It’s a good read in and of itself, but so much of my enjoyment of the series comes from the cumulative effect of reading the complete set. The good news is that thanks to Knockabout it’s a damn sight easier to get hold of the whole series. Even better is that Knockabout will be publishing League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009 this summer. I’m already looking forward to a long weekend reading the whole thing once more.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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