wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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look back in anger

So I bought The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier Sunday, and read through most of it last night. How was it?
Well, coincidentally, it reminded me of a book written in a similar style to, well, all of the LoEG tales. This would be, as Mr. B and I were discussing in a different context this past weekend, John Myers Myers' Silverlock*; Philip Jose Farmer is far from the first author to have a go at literary mashups of heroes fictional and historical. The following contains spoilers, so if you haven't read Black Dossier yet, avert your eyes...

It's 1958, and Airstrip One is England again, with Ingsoc having been turned out and replaced by, seemingly, a Tory government whose leaders somehow escaped being liquidated by the followers of BB during the dismal ten years after 1984 1948. Into this odd combination of postwar England and post-Cold War Eastern Europe come the strangely youthful Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain ("Jr."), who almost immediately run afoul of a "Jimmy" Bond who is both more brutal and inept than the legendary Agent 007 of Ian Fleming's novels and Cubby Broccoli's movies. (Indeed, there's speculation that this is in fact the villain from the Niven/Sellers parody and not Commander Bond himself.) Murray and Quartermain defeat Bond and obtain the dossier, and this begins a chase that doesn't end until they escape Bond (who has been supplemented by Bulldog Drummond and his niece Emma Night) after reaching a derelict castle in Scotland. This bare plot, as Douglas Wolk observes, is just the batter to hold this particular fruitcake together, because there's a ton of yummy candied fruit and nuts in between the short segments detailing Allan and Mina's flight from the new team sent to bring them to heel. For the rest of the contents, you can just as easily read the Wikipedia article, because frankly I want to move on to something that Wolk just barely touches on, probably because he strikes me as a complete comics geek who isn't all that interested in the culture underlying the pop, so to speak.

In addition to packing the frames with so many references to British cartoons of the 1940s and 50s that you can't sort them out without a scorecard (which the invaluable Jess Nevins and his online helpers have once again provided), the cast of The Black Dossier draws in characters from spy novels, pulp fiction, TV and movies in a sometimes bewildering crossover that does leave one in awe of Moore's mastery of English popular culture. At the same time, though, there's a smoldering (or should I say smouldering?) anger underlying all this, as though something has gone terribly, unjustly wrong. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but there were a lot of places in Black Dossier that reminded me of the unhappy, depressed country described by Simon Winder in The Man Who Saved Britain as well as the increasing unease in England WRT where New Ingsoc Labour is taking the country. (I have some thoughts on politics in the no-longer-U.K., but that's another post.) It was hard to shake the feeling that Alan and Mina's escape to the Blazing World was a symbolic rejection of England and what it had become, both after the war and in the wake of Blair's** Clintonian triangulation away from Thatcherism and toward the bureaucratic state that's beginning to remind a lot of folks of what that other Blair fellow*** described in his novel 19481984.

All things considered, I don't really know what to think about The Black Dossier just yet. I wish we'd seen more of what Alan and Mina had been up to when they went rogue from MI5 and freelanced in America during the 1950s****, and more detail on just how MI5 managed to wedge O'Brien out of power. (Guess we'll have to wait for Century to see that. Or not.) The Wodehouse pastiche was wonderfully well done, but most of the other sections of the dossier were wasted on me, at least on first reading. "Orlando" was good, "Fanny Hill" amusing, and "Workbelt Crimepoke" pretty hilarious, but the rest of it- not really my cup of tea, especially the 3D section which I'm just not equipped to appreciate since 3D glasses have never worked for me. Will you like it? Hard to say. If you picked it up expecting more of what you saw in the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I think you're going to be disappointed. If you're comfortable with the radical multimedia approach that LoEG toyed with in the first two volumes and want to see more of that as opposed to a straightforward graphic novel, then you'll probably really like this.

*Now available in hardback from NESFA, with a lot of added explicatory material.
**No, the former PM.
***Better known under his pen name.
****Yes, there was a Kerouac pastiche, but I found it just as unreadable as the original.
Tags: books, culture & politics, history

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