Termite (Sequential) Art: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
Yeah, it's a film blog. Guess what: I like comics too.
Written by Alan Moore
Illustrated by Kevin O'Neill
I just finished Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's long-awaited third volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen entitled, simply Black Dossier, and I've yet to come down from the giddy high. The story, which isn't really all that important on the pages that address it at all, involves a man and a woman in 1950s England searching for the titular files, which contain the secret history of the League that Moore and O'Neill chronicled in volumes one and two , but really Moore and O'Neill are more interested in taking readers on a kaleidoscopic (and, eventually, stereoscopic) journey through literary history from their own unique perspective.
The previous Leagues were more straightforward adventure stories; Black Dossier's pulp (which is an extensive chase through a post-Orwellian society featuring significant references to Fleming and Greene) is interwoven with lengthy excerpts from the various materials in the Dossier itself, which allows for a more leisurely exploration of mysticism and pornography and the arts, ideas that Moore has also explored elsewhere. Basically, when the characters take a break from the action to sit down with the Dossier, we do as well. These redacted items include a lost, unfinished work by Shakespeare concerning Prospero (a character longtime League readers know played a role in the formation of an earlier incarnation of the team) and an excerpt from a "beatnik" novel by Sal Paradyse, protagonist of Keroac's On the Road. If the narrative seemed like anything more than a cheeky clothesline here, you could say the Dossier portions interrupt its flow. But I imagine Moore sees it much the opposite way.
This project finally arrives over a year after its initial release date and you can see where all the time went; this is a scrupulously designed book, from the cover (which matches the cover of the Black Dossier in the hand of one of the characters on the dust jacket of Black Dossier) to the different stocks and even sizes of paper of the various sections of "reprinted" materials, to the flat-out bitchin' 3-D segments that conclude the narrative with a hallucinogenic bang (the book comes packaged with its own incredibly stylish red-and-green spectacles) and include some of the niftiest effects of this kind I've ever seen. I think a lot of trade paperbacks and especially original graphic novels are overpriced; you definitely get your money's worth here.
There's so much more that could and should be discussed, but it probably needs to come from a savvier reader than myself (Moore's references in League comics are so vast and intricate that there are even published books of annotations). Still, one of Moore's central achievements with the series remains its remarkable accessibility even in the face of almost cover-to-cover cross-cultural references; even in this, the weirdest and densest book yet, it's far from a League of esoteric gentlemen. And for all of the author's past uses of prose within the structure of a comic book, he's never integrated the two as seamlessly or as successfully (not to mention as fascinatingly) as here.
There's also something uniquely fun (and very Alan Moore) about centering an entire story about a series of documents so dangerous they must never be read and then actually letting the reader dive into the text in its entirety not just excerpts or glimpses but the full, unabridged passages. Just about any other author would probably give us the equivalent of the shots of Jules and Vincent looking in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, because prevailing wisdom states the audience's imagination will always be more vivid than the author's. Thankfully, that is still not the case when it comes to Alan Moore.
Labels: Comic Books