Getting ready for the finale of Alan Moore’s genre defining “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” series has been a long ordeal. Whether it was enjoying the often tasteless but utterly thrilling second volume, the dense and reference filled Black Dossier or going back through the engaging mess that is “Century: 1910,” watching Moore develop his fully realized world is consistently intriguing.
That all sort of changes when you hit “Century: 1969,” last year’s volume that serves as the second part of the trilogy which ends tomorrow. “1969” is a tangled mess of Monty Python references, reworked lyrics to “Sympathy for the Devil,” druggy occultism, kinky sex and Moore’s continued obsession with utterly whacked out ideas like The Blazing World. None of it is presented with the same earnestness and charm that the original books showed off so effortlessly. Maybe its the harder to recognize references, maybe its the campy use of slang, maybe its the over the top drug usage but this all just feels like Moore at his most self indulgent.
Moore’s self parody in “1969” seems to not be an isolated incident. After the vicious pummeling that Frank Miller’s “Holy Terror” received after its initial release, I held out hope that one of my favorite writers and artists (seriously, the work he did on the first “Sin City” story is incredible) would be able to pull something out that actually had some artistic merit.
The problem is that “Holy Terror” is such an incredible pile of shit that it almost makes Miller’s earlier work look worse. The bold use of color, parallel lines and deliberately harsh heavy sketches now feels like what a lonely teen would scribble in his notebook, not the work of the man who wrote two of the defining Batman books had come up with.
That’s not even going into the story, little more than a Republican’s wet dream of domestic terrorists, blood, weak political leaders and the determination of single, psychopathic individuals. What makes this hurt so bad is that these may be the exact same themes that Miller used masterfully in “The Dark Knight Returns” but here, its just hackneyed and a little offensive. There are frames of Bush and Obama in characterizations that wouldn’t pass at a state fair art booth and a half baked love story that never pulls off what he was able to pull off with characters like Marv and Goldie.
So what’s the cause of this? For Miller, it seems to be a mix of becoming increasingly paranoid, insular and set in his ways. After the original debacle of trying to license Batman for “Holy Terror,” he unfortunately changed almost nothing in the final product as a bitter and fruitless attempt to give DC the finger. The bigger problem, however, is his refusal to escape from the tired and iconic art that made him a comic book hero 30 years ago. Its lazy and it looks like a man who doesn’t care at all about the content he’s releasing. For me, who has always held Miller up as one of the best writers and artists of the era, its a hard shock back to reality.
Moore’s always been a bitter guy when it comes to his work and repeatedly being burned by the industry certainly hasn’t softened him on wanting his work to appeal to anyone. He’s increasingly gone denser, making his work more twisting and self referential but without giving the audience any sort of payoff. While “The Black Dossier” may have been an ambitious project, the finished piece is a borderline incomprehensible read, with only small bits of the story connecting to anything that even resembles the series readers knew and loved.
Perhaps this is all some sort of a dare, Alan Moore desperately trying to find the people that are still faithful to him and his work. Admittedly, I’m willing to follow him down his rabbit holes but I still don’t have any idea how things like the Blazing World works and a full half of the references still go over my well read head.
After my third, fourth and fifth read through of “Century: 1969,” many of Moore’s more self indulgent moments felt more like deliberate choices in setting up a conclusion than weaknesses. It has always been clear that “League” was playing an exceedingly long game and that we’ve just been along for the ride but in an age when we’re used to receiving our books immediately, its hard not to want instant satisfaction. Hopefully, tomorrow’s release of “Century: 2009” will make the very long wait worthwhile.