It’s frustrating to be enamored by the works of a writer such as Alan Moore. Long the mad genius of the comics industry, Moore’s excruciating attention to detail and refusal to follow anything but his own moral compass makes for a shaky relationship with his peers, the industry, and his fans. His latest, Century: 1969, the second entry in the third series of his longest running comic, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, gets him in trouble for yet another reason: it is, like many of Moore’s past works, well over a year late to the presses. Some blame in regards to the lateness surely rests with artist Kevin O’Neill who is equally uncompromising in regards to his detail-oriented artwork, and, like Moore, will take as long as he needs to see it done right. But equally implicit is myself, “the reader”, who actively waits like a dog for table scraps.
It’s hard to separate these two personalities from their work, particularly Moore who, on more than one occasion, has stirred up the hornet’s nest for speaking his mind. Regardless of controversy, I can think of no visionary more aware of the inadequacies of the various industries who’ve spurned him nor anyone as equally willing to challenge societal norms regarding politics, sexuality, genre and even narrative structure with each subsequent work, this latest entry into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen included (his current project, a novel titled Jerusalem, is, at over half a million words and two-thirds of the way from completion, already longer than the Bible). And so I happily, impatiently, wait.
For those familiar with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen only through the terrible film adaptation starring Sean Connery, nothing beyond the fundamental conceit of fictional characters from 19th century literature banding together to stop some baddies has any relevance to Moore’s comics. And, in fact, even that isn’t quite so relevant anymore as the timeline of the first and second runs, just as the title implies, has jumped forward from Victorian-era London to the swinging London of 1969, the “bad trip” year of the hippie movement notable for the violence at Altamonte and the Manson murders—of course, none of which occurs in Moore’s strictly literary universe, but, as Moore is wont to remind us, literature and history are inextricably linked.
This second chapter of the Century series finds the three immortals of the last book, famed hunter Allan Quatermain, Dracula victim Mina Harker, and the hermaphroditic Orlando, summoned back to England on the case of sinister cult leader Oliver Haddo, who may or may not be deceased. But the narrative is only half the story as is always the case in any League book. The characters as well as the settings inhabiting this literary mirror world, whether integral to the plot or merely appearing in a single panel, make up the other half—a sort of “Where’s Waldo?” of the fiction of the times. Some famous, some obscure, and yet some others made obscure due to copyright such as Black Dossier's “Jimmy” Bond and 1969's “Jackie-Boy” who looks suspiciously like Jack Carter played by Michael Caine in classic gangster flick Get Carter. Trying to solve every riddle planted by Moore and O’Neill is simultaneously fascinating and futile but as should be obvious to any reader paying attention the unparalleled care taken to crafting these tales is what’s important.
I can’t say 1969's merits as a standalone book were worth the two year wait and numerous delays to finally attain it but watching the signature styles of Moore's words and O'Neill's art amalgamate to breathe life into these characters yet again is as amusing as it ever was. Century's third and final entry, 2009, is already in production from the sounds of it but Moore has been known to overestimate his projects’ completion before—pouring over every panel and taking the time for the prose addendum is enough to occupy me after 1969's dour cliff-hanger and until Century's conclusion in the modern day. Moore and O'Neill have made it worth the wait for all the others so far; no reason it will be any different next time.