Review: A lot of things can happen in a CENTURY – a return to the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen
By Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Todd Klein and Ben Dimagmaliw
This version of the collected Century collects LOEG: Century 1910, 1969 and 2009, all reviewed here and here if you fancy a gander. It’s the tale of a century, of great change for the world. It’s also a bloody disastrous time for the League.
To be honest I wasn’t going to bother reviewing the collection seeing as I’d already covered it in serialisation, but after sitting and reading the whole thing in one go the other evening I realised that putting all three parts together here actually alters the reading experience. For a start I was able to let go all that literary ‘Where’s Wally‘ stuff, able to relegate the extras to the background and concentrate on just the core of the tale. But much more importantly than that, reading Century as one story in three parts, I was really surprised at how unrelentingly dark it is, sense of inescapable doom seemingly ever present, unrelenting nightmares stalking the characters through the years. From Janni Nemo’s failure to escape her heritage and step beyond her father’s history, to Quartermain failing to escape his addictions, all the way through to Mina Murray’s terrifyingly easy descent into acid-induced mental disintegration, there’s no-one here with anything like a happy ending and the descent in the latter half of 1969 combined with the inevitable but essentially hollow victory in the finale of 2009 is really grindingly dismal stuff.
Bloody readable grindingly dismal stuff though. A pleasure, but dark. Oh so dark. Especially for Mina. Poor Mina.
Through one hundred years we follow the reduced League, effectively just Mina Murray, Alan Quartermain and preening, pompous, immortal, annoying (and ever so funny) Orlando as they attempt to track down the body-swapping wizard/occultist Oliver Haddo (the League’s very own Crowley) and his antichrist ‘moonchild‘.
1910 kicks off the action with Janni Nemo’s attempts to escape her legacy as Captain Nemo’s daughter, her time on London docks corresponding with the return of a certain Whitechapel fiend, yes MacHeath is indeed back in town, allowing Moore to launch into his own Brechtian musical accompanying the action.
Rejoining the fun in the tail end of the 60s we get to play a while in swinging, psychedelic London, where the hippy dream is beginning to wear thin, despite copious amounts of Tadukic Acid Diethylamide. It’s a London full of stars, the superspies and comedy stars all carrying on in the background, but in the foreground it’s all about the music with Haddo’s latest target the pompous and preening, oh so vain and familiarly large of lip Terner of the Purple Orchestra whose Hyde Park gig allows more to indulge musically once more … that final song’s the spit of Sympathy For The Devil.
1969 is the key part of Century, it’s where everything really does go wrong, especially for poor Mina, struggling to cope with immortality, trying too hard, a Victorian girl without direction in a London of bright colours and big noises.
And let’s face it, popping pills to go see the Purple Orchestra is perhaps the biggest mistake she could make. In fact, the only thing that could make an acid-driven psychedelic breakdown worse would be if the powerful astral spirit of Oliver Haddo happened to be around at the same time.
Oh. Oh dear.
Mina and Haddo battling each other across the astral plane whilst Mina’s in the throes of a full-blown devastating Taddy/acid trip. It’s the ultimate bad trip, but bloody hell is it gorgeous to look at. O’Neill joined by colourist Dimagmaliw and letterer Klein all absolutely luxuriating in the freedom to go bat-shit crazy with these pages. It works oh so well.
If Orlando gets all the best lines, Century is actually Mina’s tale, her character’s three incarnations given justified prominence up there on the cover, her development the most important, her slow disintegration the most painful to see, the climactic psychedelic explosion in ’69 leading her to 40 years of languishing in the looney bin, 2009 the long, slow hangover to the psychedelic delights with Mina shellshocked and cowed for most of it, a casualty.
The concluding chapter fair rattles along, a reflection of the acceleration of modern life and the grim austerity facing us all. Likewise, the anti-climactic ending is merely a reinforcement of the complete ineffectual nature of the League in Century. Effectively they do no more than bring out the moonchild something any minor resident of the Blazing World could have done. And yes, all this talk of wizards and moonchilds and Northern magic schools did go exactly where everyone thought it would, the lure of you know who too great for Moore and O’Neill not to cause mischief with.
But that anti-climactic and ineffectual end is all rather the point. The thing you notice most when reading all three parts in one is that Century is no celebration of time passing, it’s actually a reflection on what we’ve lost, a reinforcement of the idea that everything really was so much better in the old days. Heck, you could practically class LOEG as a nostalgic moan, who would have thought it?
For us, reading Murray’s Century is yet another reminder that it’s far too easy to write the League off as Moore and O’Neill’s throwaway caper project. Sure, you could read it as such, and full credit to all involved that Century works bloody well as a straight out historical romp. But delve into it deeper and not only do you get all those distracting/fascinating extras, you get a tale of a characters facing up to immortality, facing up to inevitable failure. An exploration of one hundred extraordinary years in the company of some flawed yet still extraordinary characters. A terrible Century for the League yet a great read for us.
Despite the unrelenting grind of Century for the characters, despite the darkness, the cumulative effect of reading Century as one reinforces just how good, how involving, how entertaining Moore and O’Neill’s tale of literary exploration really is. And it also reinforces that the League, despite appearances to the contrary, has always been about one woman through time. This is Mina Murray’s Century without a doubt, although I imagine she’d rather it wasn’t.