Article – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League Of Moore

(Originally published in Inform Magazine, October 2003)

The idea of dark comic book revisionism was essentially invented by Alan Moore. Now his spirit of playfulness will get a greater audience with the film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
This month sees the release of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the latest in a long series of adaptations of comic books. Except we no longer call them comic books; they’re now known as graphic novels and no-one’s done more to effect this rebranding than Alan Moore. This will be the second film adaptation of British writer Moore’s work, the first being the Hughes Brothers’ film From Hell, released two years ago. What’s more surprising is that it has taken so long for his work to take the ultimate accolade of filmic adaptation, considering his reputation.
Alan Moore was born in Northampton and grew up as an archetypal hippie in the 70s, from which his hugely luxuriant beard is just one souvenir. He started out drawing comics for music magazine Sounds before immediately declaring himself inadequate at art and switching to merely writing. His first efforts in this medium saw light in Doctor Who Weekly (writing scripts for, amongst others, Absolom Daak – Dalek Killer) before moving to 2000AD and creating such anarchic comics at DR & Quinch and Halo Jones. However, his talent was first brought to people’s attentions by two great strips for Warrior magazine – Marvelman, a revisionist take on superheroes, and V for Vendetta, a thoroughly British examination of fascism in a grim alternative Britain.
The attention he got from these ground-breaking comics resulted in him getting his first big commission from a major US publisher, taking over DC Comics’ extant Swamp Thing and transforming it from a vaguely eco-themed superhero comic into something that addressed Moore’s perennial obsessions – grim realism, politics and breaking preconceptions. Recognising they had a great talent, in 1986 DC published Moore’s greatest work yet, Watchmen.
The first comic to receive the Sci-Fi’s top prize The Hugo Award, Watchmen quite simply revolutionised comic books and did more to introduce the idea of graphic novels than anything else. From the moment it was published, this revisionist take on a bunch of nuclear-era caped heroes was earmarked for a film version, but its sheer breadth defied even people like Terry Gilliam, who still gets asked to this day when his version will come out. As it was, it was left to Tim Burton’s gothic take on Batman – inspired by Frank Miller’s equally revolutionary The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel – to take the plaudits.
Dissatisfied with DC’s typically punitive rights issues (Alan Moore has never owned the rights to Watchmen, despite creating and writing it) he used his new found fame to self-publish his own works, including the short-lived likes of Big Numbers, Lost Girls and A Small Killing. However, he also started work on From Hell for Taboo Comics, which quickly garnered a cult folowing. As different from Watchmen as it’s possible to get, From Hell was a dark, bloody and forensic examination of the Jack the Ripper murders.
By now, Moore’s fanatical attention to detail – which ensured that Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons could not stray a millimetre from Moore’s exacting instructions – ensured that Moore’s notes at the back of each issue of From Hell, explaining his research, were almost as long as the novel itself. It’s this detail that makes From Hell so unique, and the absence of which makes the film adaptation so dull. The source material’s main character is the Ripper himself; the Queen’s surgeon Sir William Gull. In the film it’s the detective played by Johnny Depp with Gull appearing hardly at all, making it just like every other Ripper story.
After the darkness of From Hell, Moore deliberately tried to lighten up, creating a plethora of works in quick succession. There was Tom Strong, a satire of early 20th century pulp science fiction, starring a cheesier than thou superhero. There was Prometheus, a female superhero allied to every strong female stereotype in fiction. There was also Top Ten, an alternative universe dystopian vision featuring a police force of superheroes.
There was also The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a deliberately conceited fantasy featuring the 19th century’s greatest fictional heroes teaming up. Almost immediately finding fans for its playfulness, the League revels in its era and takes great delight in pitching the likes of Alan Quartermain, Dr. Jekyll and Captain Nemo (recaptured by Moore in Jules Verne’s original vision of a sinister Sikh) against bad guys such as Fu Manchu. Like From Hell, the great delight here is in Moore’s attention to detail, such as putting Mycroft Holmes as the head of the British Secret Service. However, it’s also doubtful that the film will reflect this any better than From Hell did. Whilst the casting of Sean Connery as Quartermain seems perfect, the forced imposition of American Tom Sawyer as a young proto-CIA man would probably make Moore shake his head in frustration. As Moore would no doubt tell you, Sawyer would have been in his 50s at the time the story is set.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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