The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (DC/America's Best Comics)

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blackdossier-header.jpg V For Vendetta and Watchmen creator Alan Moore once again redefines the graphic novel with this unusual look into the secret history of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

 

 

 

 

208 pgs. full color; $29.99 hardcover
(W: Alan Moore; A: Kevin O'Neill)

Writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill return at last with the long-awaited, oft-delayed third installment of their celebrated League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, a tangential volume that is less concerned with high adventure than with fleshing out the secret history of Britain's clandestine government heroes. When readers were last treated to an adventure of the League, the year was 1898 and the team, led by ageless Dracula consort Mina Murray (née Wilhelmina Harker) and King Solomon's Mines principal Allan Quatermain, had ostensibly disbanded following a routed Martian invasion of London. If these names and events seem familiar, it's no doubt because Moore has plucked them from decades of canonical genre fiction and thrown them into a literary blender to create a unique and potent mix. Unfortunately, international copyright legislation disagrees with what he's fashioned, which explains—at least in part—the two-year delay that kept the book out of the hands of fans (it should be noted that as of this writing, Black Dossier is for sale only in the U.S.).

 

The cover to the Black Dossier by Kevin O'Neill. Click for a larger image.With its unique presentation, Moore has once again redefined what constitutes a graphic novel with Black Dossier. The expected comic book passages exist largely to provide segue points into and out of the titular dossier, which, through a series of documents both official and unofficial, details the secret goings-on within the League over a period spanning several centuries. Catching up with Mina and Allan in the 1950s, readers learn that the pair have taken flight with the dossier, much to the chagrin of pursuers with ties to British government who are interested in recapturing it. Amusingly, this motley assortment includes a womanizing misogynist on Her Majesty's Secret Service, Emma Peel (depicted here sporting her wealthy industrialist father's surname), and a powerfully anti-Semitic detective who could only be the legendary Bulldog Drummond. Whenever Mina and Allan have a moment to spare, they crack the covers of the dossier and begin reading for clues that will help them unravel the mystery of their pursuers' keen interest.

 

The dossier, a triumph of design brought to life by legendary letterer/designer Todd Klein and illustrated by O'Neill, is offered up 25 to 35 pages at a stretch, and contains everything from faux magazine articles and annotated correspondence related to the League, to picture postcards sent by its membership, to an uproariously funny Orwell-inspired Tijuana bible insert printed on newspaper. These documents are highly entertaining taken at face value, but when examined as parts of a whole, they are even more rewarding. Moore has fashioned a richly imaginative speculative history of the world, one that is rooted in the works of Lovecraft and Orwell, in which Cthulian influences have made an indelible impact and Big Brother's dystopic vision of Britain rose from the ashes of the First World War only to collapse decades before the events of 1984. Against this backdrop, readers are treated to several heretofore unchronicled adventures of the League, the most interesting of which tells of a wartime meeting between the team and its French counterpart, Les Hommes Mysterieux. O'Neill's art is the perfect complement to these prose tall tales, and the artist relishes in offering up a collection of pertinent visuals which run the gamut from inked spot illustrations, to watercolor paintings, to cutaway diagrams.

 

The book's final sequence involves a creative nod to Cavendish, a denouement even more surreal than that of Moore's Promethea, and a pair of 3D glasses—yes, 3D glasses. To read it is a mindbending and immersive experience, unlike any other that can be enjoyed in the realm of comics. As a meta-Moore character comments in the book's final pages, "Here is our narrative made paradise, brief tales made glorious continuity. Here champions and lovers are made safe from bowdlerizer's quill, or fad, or fact. Here are brave banners of romance unfurled, to blaze forever in a blazing world!" As long as imaginations like Alan Moore's exist, I've no doubt that these stories will do just that. | Paul Little

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