Review: Alan Moore's Extraordinary Gentlemen enter the 20th century in Century: 1910

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

It has been several years since the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen proved a barely relevant footnote in the routing of the Martian invasion of the Earth. By the time of the latest installment, Century: 1910 (Top Shelf Comics, $7.95), several members have departed or died, and only eternally young mainstays Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray remain.

Together they head a team that now includes the gender-bending immortal Orlando, the mystic Carnacki and the gentleman thief Raffles.

Part of the problem is that this is just not as interesting a group as the one that included Captain Nemo, Mr. Hyde and The Invisible Man ... though Orlando has some terrific lines. His/her arch asides drive the no-nonsense Mina to distraction (even as it becomes clear that s/he's more than just a partner to her and Alan). Alas, we don't get to see nearly enough of him/her in action, either adventurous or carnal.

Another problem is that writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill are not as interested in putting them in an interesting adventure of their own as they are in linking them to other fictions. So most of what's interesting here takes place behind the League's back, while they're involved with other concerns that (in this chapter, at least) don't amount to much. So they're not involved as Captain Nemo's estranged daughter, Janni, runs off to England rather than carry on her father's piracy business. Or when, with her name anglicized to Jenny, she takes on a new surname that reflects her family's nautical activities, Diver. Or when she becomes a maid in a sleazy inn and lives out the tragic events of Brecht's Threepenny Opera, eventually driven back to Verne territory with devastating consequences.

The result, the first installment in a three-part story that will next provide us with a look at the League of the 1960s, is more accessible and less head-scratchingly odd than its last incarnation, the incredibly self-indulgent The Black Dossier. But readers who want to see the League have an actual adventure might still be disappointed.

The sneaky passing references to other contemporary fictions are as thick on the ground as in prior incarnations and prompt the same giggles of delight from those who catch them. One picked at random: a passing mention of a great ship called the Titan, which readers might not recognize as the one that hit an iceberg and sank in Morgan Robertson's obscure Victorian novel Futility, a book remembered now because it accidentally, and remarkably, predicted certain famous events that later took place in real life. Its appearance here is genuinely neat. And it's that kind of detail work that still makes this incarnation of the League worth checking out.