The Victorians have left us with a number of legacies, some good, some bad. One of the most amazing is an incredible wealth of literature. The ripping yarns of writers like H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle remain amongst the most enduring works of adventure fiction the world has ever seen.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen takes characters from some of these classic stories and brings them together in a way that their original authors could never of dreamed of. Alan Moore, clearly an enthusiast of the literature he’s reworking, teams these characters together into a bizarre band of conflicting egos and fiery personalities.
Of course, once Moore gets started, there’s no escape from his imagination and the story is littered with cameos. Characters and references from works ranging from Charles Dickens to Edgar Allan Poe are smattered throughout the pages, adding extra colour to those who spot them without detracting from the flow for those who may not. Kevin O’Neill’s vision of Victorian London is equally fascinating. It takes the dark pea soup and gaslight we associate with the likes of Sherlock Holmes, but adds a wonderful panorama of architecture and invention gone mad.
One interesting aspect of the book is that its nineteenth century backdrop isn’t restricted to the art and the plot – the characters motives and attitudes are also of the time. This means that there are some dodgy concepts towards race and sex that are bandied around in a matter-of-fact way. Though this may surprise or even shock the more politically correct modern reader, it’s indicative of the attitudes of the time and adds to the book’s authentic if fantastic feel.
Perhaps most important of all, it pays homage to the swashbuckling adventurous spirit of the original stories. You can’t help but feel that Haggard, Stevenson, Stoker, Verne and Wells might have been quite pleased with Moore’s treatment of their characters, and might approve of their continued life together in Moore and O’Neill’s vivid imaginings.