Wow, and out of the blue there was another post.
A couple of weeks ago I was waiting for my take-away Pad Thai so I went across the street to see what comics were available at the local library branch. I ended up picking up the latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen trade Century 1910. It seems I can only really read comics by Alan Moore these days. I don’t know, I think it’s in my contract or something. Actually that’s not so true, I just read another Hellboy trade but how many times can I just write, “Hellboy trades are just so awesome!”?
Anyway, I knew this wasn’t the whole Black Dossier, 3D glasses, confuse the bloody bejeesus out of everyone hybrid graphic novel so I gave it a whirl. I really liked the original story, but the second volume left me a bit cool. This one, left me a bit more disconnected from the material. I liked it well enough and thought the caper and characters were all quite well done and interesting. I just didn’t find them as engaging as the characters in the first volume.
There were some great ideas presented – the man trapped in London throughout history, bringing in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (which really is a great book by the way - Woolf is one of the rare classic authors whose prose I find extremely readable), and well the general intrigue of the times engaged by the occult. But what happened more, for me, was that this was Alan Moore referring to a bunch of things I had no connection to or little understanding of. While it doesn’t completely detract from the enjoyment of the work, it does a bit more than in the original volume or even Watchmen. In those works the deeper understanding reveals hidden layers to the narrative whereas here understanding the narrative almost requires a passing knowledge (or more) of what is being referred to.
Thankfully there are Jess Nevins’ online annotations because it really helps me understand just what the heck is going on. I know nothing about the Threepenny Opera, or Jenny Diver (other than she’s referenced in the song Mac the Knife, which also plays a role here) and well, all the English pulp heroes. I realize that I’m complaining about being a lazy reader here, but honestly, I would rather enjoy the work for what it is rather than as a source for further reading in order to come back and understand it. Although that’s mostly what this work is about for me, and that’s not really a bad thing.
What I think this book is really about is rereading. Read through the text once and while you can get the surface plot elements and whatever references you’re familiar with, the rest of the meaning comes through by actively learning about the elements. Read Jess Nevins’ annotations, find out what the visual metaphors are, use them to read more and discover new works you didn’t know about (populate your own fiction collection the way Alan Moore combines them in his world where all of fiction exists together).
So yeah, it’s good, but at times it feels to be a meaningless read, particularly if you just want a quick yarn about some potential Armageddon starring some literary characters. You do get some of that, but with enough Greek Chorus and sung narration that you kind of realize that your nose is being rubbed into what you might not know or be familiar with.