"Page 36/TRUMP 8 Panel 2. The Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.E) was a major victory for the Smurfs over the forces of Gargamel, and prevented him from conquering Oz and Wonderland."
- Jess Nevins, Annotations to The Black Dossier
There you have it. Solid evidence that Jess Nevins has gone mad from making sense out of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. For the past decade, Jess has become the universal translator for every minute reference hidden in the panels and text of each installment of the series, and that reference/footnote in particular makes no sense whatsoever, yet it's on his webpage!
Anyway, I have to say I fell back in love with the League after a trial separation. When I picked up that premiere issue of the series back in the Fall of 1998, I really thought Sherlock Holmes was going to be in it. They have Mycroft in it, Professor Moriarty, Colonel Moran and a reenactment of the showdown in "The Final Problem"...there's even a couple of references to Mina Murray visiting Sherlock during his retirement, when he became a beekeeper (there are also hints that she might have found him very interesting or very dull, depending on what the postcards offered in The Black Dossier would have you believe - I suspect it's the former). Aside from these... bon-bonbonbons, I've seen little else.
There is proof that I'm not the only fan who was starving for some Sherlock-schlock - for a time, Moore had to answer over and over that Captain Nemo was NOT Sherlock Holmes in disguise. I didn't even think of that one! Anyway, something about volume 2 of the series - the second arc, which adapted H.G. Well's War of The Worlds within the context of the LOEG (or LXG, if you saw the movie with Sean Connery - Alan didn't, so be of good cheer if you didn't either) - it featured a made-up almanac that mapped-out the shape of the LOEG/LXG universe, even featuring nods to things that Alan and Kevin might never get around to, like Doctor Dolittle's post office, a young Auric Goldfinger searching for the lost city of El Dorado, The Hardy Boys, Zorro, Conan and Pogo - stuff like that. It also featured key continuity points, like introducing Orlando, Raffles and the Frankenstein monster as the royal consort to the queen of Toyland...stuff , like Mina and Allan Quatermain visiting the ruins of Dracula's castle and stuff like Allan's rejuvenation in Uganda. It bugged me that that was stuffed in that stuffy almanac. Obviously, they're being careful not to trip over copyright, but it made me feel as though the main arc of each mini-series was lacking...or just wasn't my cup of tea...or maybe I was just still stinging from not seeing Sherlock play a bigger role in it...or all of the above.
Of course, that's the genesis of that "Sherlock Edition" I posted a few weeks back. I had put together a reading list of pastiches - some good, some not so good, all worth a glance - offering a parallel timeline that explains his absence. I recall Roger Ebert, in his review of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, remarking that Holmes was too quirky to mix well with James Bond-style shenanigans, but that never stopped anyone before... proper spy/sci-fi stories with Holmes would be things like "The Lion's Mane", "The Devil's Foot" and "His Last Bow" - all written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of course. It's tempting to imagine the LXG/LOEG Sherlock sitting in a corner, playing his violin/puffing on his pipe/shooting up coke/leering at Irene Adler photos/whatever, playing armchair sleuth while Allan, Nemo and Mina do all the legwork, because he would feel his dignity compromised by engaging directly in that sort of thing, following them discreetly in disguise as nondescript beggars, crippled limping booksellers, clergymen, old dowagers, etc... just in case they need someone to bail them out - they usually did. Or imagine an ancient octogenarian Sherlock, kept alive through some deus ex machina (royal bee jelly?) to join a new incarnation of the league in the upcoming 2011 installment - yes, the opening of the next big arc is set to take place in 2011.
So I delayed from getting the Black Dossier, a compilation/sourcebook of sorts, often mistaken as volume 3, because it does feature a new adventure as a wraparound (not unlike those Looney Tunes movies from the 1980s that mixed old and new footage), but got it anyway when the price was right. It was a discounted hardcover copy, still in it's shrinkwrap, with the variant "Mina in bed" cover. I didn't know if I would like it - it's considered the one that draws the line - the one where fans either got off the train or stayed on for the rest of the ride. I liked it. I still have problems with Moore's prose work - it's so exact in it's execution that it's not engaging to people who are not fans of the various writing styles he's approximating. But I don't hate any of it. I realize I won't be buying a copy of Fanny Hill or P.G. Wodehouse's books any time soon, but I doubt John Cleland ever imagined Fanny being chased by a giant erect penis while running inside a giant vagina (you really have to read this thing to believe it - you can understand why DC Comics was increasingly unnerved by it and eventually turned chicken), nor do I think James Bond was the nasty guy Moore believes he was, or whom Ian Fleming meant for him to be, or that Jack Kerouac meant for Dr. Sax to be the grandson of Fu Manchu and Dean Moriarty the Professor's descendant (but then again, who can tell when reading Beat "literature"?). I'm not too crazy about the Golliwog (I don't really understand a word he says), but I like Orlando and have taken a liking to Mina and Allan - Next to Batgirl and Spider-Woman, Mina Murray is in my top 5 of cool female comic book characters. That fact that we have seen her nude often is merely coincidental.
I'm surprised he didn't add Paddington Bear into the soup. He's been around since the late 50's. The dolls/toyline, by the way, were launched by the parents of Jeremy Clarkson! I'm surprised there wasn't a Top Gear reference in the current Century:2009 (more on that below).
I was patient when it came to following Century, the recent 3-part arc that launched Moore's new publishing relationship with Top Shelf (it happens that LOEG is the only property from the ABC lineup that Moore and O'Neill owned and can take anywhere - due to the contract signed in negotiations for the LXG feature film - it's much more clear than the contract they signed for the Watchmen comic book, obviously; this is what the outcome should have been for that property). Timing is everything. It took about four years for this arc to end - my interest came back when it was announced that the final chapter would be set in 2009. So I got the first two installments a few months ago and brought part 3 last week.
I was not disappointed. The 2009 chapter is, in my opinion, the best installment of the series. You may not have read it yet and heard all the hype (that Moore and O'Neil skewer J.K Rowling) but the big shock is...they really don't. The Harry Potter books are high-profile, but part of an even larger target - the lack of originality and banality in pop culture. Watered-down remakes, revamps, adaptations, ripoffs, retreads...this one seems a bit more personal than what came before - certainly not a book you would have ever seen with the DC logo, or their front, the ABC star that was used for all of Moore's comics. I'm not going to give away a thing, here - if you're not buying any comics this year, reconsider and check this one out and only this one. Yes, you'll still need Jess Nivens' annotations to help spot all the in-jokes and nods, but they're not as myopic or obscure as before. The thesis here is that our fiction parallels fact - the ups and downs, everything.
One last thing - upon reading this comic (and the issues before it, including The Black Dossier), one can't help but notice that Moore and O'Neill are offering something new to mainstream comics - No, not the fact that their stories have influenced the last decade of superhero team comic books, but something that is very obvious and yet, not so obvious...weiners. Graphic depictions and usage of the devil's trumpet. Usually, superhero comics focus on "Good Girl Art"/cheesecake/Boobs, but here in the LOEG, you'll probably see more raw sausage (in their natural casings) then in Magic Mike (according to Sara Underwood, this film about male strippers only offers a glimpse of one "dawg" - in a pump...I have no interest whatsoever in confirming this). Aside from the Gargantua and Pantagruel sex scene/chase I described above, most of the weenies are of average size - thankfully none were shown in the 3D sections offered in the Dossier - we would've sued for damages to our eyes.
I see Joey Chestnut won the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest again this year...