THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Black Dossier (****)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier
by Alan Moore (Author) and Kevin O'Neill (Illustrator)
Wildstorm, 2007, 208 pages

I've been slowly making my way through this enjoyable - but challenging - read. It's Alan Moore, so while it's guaranteed to be great, but it also means it's far from being just a picture book that can be dusted off in one sitting. Like Chris Ware's Acme comics, Moore's graphic novels are rewarding but require some effort on the reader's part. For like his masterpiece Watchman, The Black Dossier has lots of "books-within-the-book" - meaning that every time a character reads a paper, magazine or scrapbook, it affords Moore the opportunity to reproduce the referenced item in toto and thus riff on various literary genres. Thus, while Black Dossier the graphic novel is ostensibly concerned with spies-and-intrigue in a post-war England where the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have been disbanded and disavowed and the country is under the control of an Orwellian-totalitarian regime, that just lays the groundwork for Moore to jump off into spoofs of Aleister Crowley, Jack Kerouac, Shakespeare (love the characters Master Shytte and Master Pysse!), Jules Verne, Virginia Woolf, P.G. Wodehouse, Fanny Hill, classical mythology, faeries, and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?. There's even a 3-D section near the end (though they were missing from my library copy - natch)!

In between his imaginative digressions into these various literary and pop cultural spoofs, Moore tells the story of youthful Mina Murray and a "rejuvenated" Allan Quatermain looking for clues about the hidden history of the League throughout the ages. The Black Dossier, a book they found buried deep in the vaults of their old headquarters, provides the answer to their questions, but first they have to avoid getting killed by mysterious pursuers trying to recapture the lost manuscript.

But that's just the sideshow in this ambitious work. As one fan wrote on Facebook (yes, I was bored and logged in!): "Virgina Woolf's Orlando is raped by a teenage Merlin. Prospero from Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' is revealed to be the world's first ever superhero. Alan Quatermain meets Jack Kerouac. And Billy Bunter. The story where Jeeves and Wooster meet the Elder Gods of the Cthulhu Mythos has to be seen to be believed! You need this like you need oxygen."

Fan Boy's right, of course. To paraphrase The Sweet, Moore is like oxygen: you get too much, it makes you high; not enough and you're gonna die. Moore gets you high. So take a deep breath and pace yourself!

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