A blend of comic and prose fiction, and (due to copyright restrictions, available only in the United States), this third installment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has become the most sought-after graphic novel of the season.
The World’s Greatest Fan Service or a Work of Genius?
Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier
Writer: Alan Moore
Artists: Kevin O’Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw.
Letterer/Designer: Todd Klein
Letterer (pages 1-15): Billy Oakley
3-D Effects by Ray Zone
Available from Amazon.com
In 1958, an unaging1 Mina Murray and a de-aged Alan Quartermain steal The Black Dossier, a top-secret compilation on the activities of Extraordinary Leagues past. As agents of their former employer pursue them, we read through the dossier itself.
You know all of those online crossover fanfics, the ones with brilliant deranged premises but incompetent, dull executions? Imagine someone did them well, and integrated them into a narrative of sorts. That’s what Moore and company have accomplished in The Black Dossier.
The best of the lot: an hilarious short story in which P.G. Wodehouse’s Wooster and Jeeves encounter a horror out of Lovecraft. If you know the references, you may grasp the insane suitability of the pairing. Wodehouse’s Wooster is a wealthy but clueless idler served by the brilliant and manipulative valet, Jeeves. Much of the humour derives from the fact that Wooster, who typically narrates the stories, does not grasp the reality of his situation, which Jeeves resolves, usually for the best. Moore takes this premise but, instead of an amusing social complication which must be untangled, a far more sinister, eldritch predicament shambles their way.
The Black Dossier alludes to a great many potentially fascinating adventures– but in fragments. This could have been a few graphic novels with more showing and less telling of its allusion-heavy tales.
Allusion is a difficult thing, and has been the basis of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from the beginning. However, one can follow the plot of the earlier volumes without untangling all of the references. One can follow the basic plot here, too, but aspects of the conclusion may elude many readers. We’re not provided with enough internal clues, and some will find the result irksome or, at least, discontinuous. It’s not as though the necessary allusions are well-known to everyone.2
True, Moore has taken his characters and many of his situations from other sources, and the work itself is a sequel to two existing, similar projects. I’m still giving this a four out of six. The Black Dossier features parody, pastiche, and cameos. We see a few pages of something by Shakespeare, written in a Renaissance where Spenser’s Gloriana ruled Britannia.3. One story encloses a faux Tijuana Bible produced in an alternate 1940s where an Orwellian Ingsoc government fought the Second World War against Adenoid Hynkel’s Germany. The final chapter has been illustrated in impressive 3-D (a pair of glasses has been enclosed). Moore raises literary theft to the level of genius.
Many styles appear in the Dossier, all cleverly crafted. The final 3-D effects are the best I’ve seen in a comic.
Be warned: this work goes further into Adults Only territory than the League’s previous adventures. 6/6
See my High and Low points. 5/6
Moore does this very well for most of the Dossier. The problem lies with the sheer number of characters, and the reliance on the readers to fill in the blanks.
Moore’s take on James Bond is hilarious, and grounded in the original novels. Fans may not approve, especially if they only know the films. 5/6.
The World’s Greatest Fan Service or a Work of Genius? Yes, I suppose. 6/6.
We have a fascinating story which comments on the redemptive power of fiction, especially imaginative fiction. However, the nature of the form– a spy narrative interrupted by pages of a dossier, many of which are fragments– creates problems with the overall flow of the work. 4/6.
In total, The Black Dossier receives 35/42.
1.I think. Is Mina’s age the effect of her condition, or has she de-aged using Quartermain’s methods? UPDATE: I’ve been reminded the second volume establishes that Mina achieved immortality through the Fire of Life.
2. It’s no surprise that massive online annotations already exist.
3. Clever: Gloriana represents Elizabeth I and was applied to her. Taken literally, the character from Spenser’s famous allegory deviates in faerie obvious ways from her inspiration.