After nearly 150 years of adventure, saving England and battling the greatest threats the world has ever known, Alan Moore had the unenviable task of giving the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a fitting tribute. The problem, of course, was that these characters either hated each other, had disappeared or had gone insane. In Moore’s twisted version of 2009, the breakdown of culture had left a nation that was both eerily similar and incredibly different than the world the League originally intended to save.
After Mina failed to defeat the Antichrist at the end of 1969, forcing it to possess the body of Tom Riddle (yes, of “Harry Potter” fame), she was taken to a psychiatric hospital, abandoning the immortal Orlando and the constantly on the edge Allan Quatermain to their own devices. Orlando returns to his life of meaningless sex and eternal war and Alan goes back on the needle and of course, that’s when the Apocalypse really begins to kick in.
The comic does wonders with Orlando’s character. Usually regulated to the background of stories, he’s brought to the forefront here where he’s finally forced to deal with the madness of being an immortal. He goes insane while fighting President Bartlett’s war, breaks down when he begins to change back into a woman and has his period in the shower and ends up giving the secret of immortality to Emma Peel. He’s desperate and vulnerable and even picking up Excalibur doesn’t bring back his old swagger.
The rest of the surviving members of the league aren’t doing much better. Allan’s time back addicted to heroin has reduced him to a hollow shell of the adventurer he once was. As a beggar on the street, he flees Orlando and refuses to help rescue his lover from the insane asylum. Mina’s not doing great there either, with the British government getting dangerously close to figuring out that she’s been alive for near 150 years.
Its too Moore’s credit that he manages to balance all of this personal and environmental darkness with moments of gloriously goofy, surreal humor. Malcom, the shit-talking advisor from the gloriously obscene satire “In the Loop,” shows up to explain the nation’s plans for war against Nemo’s grandson, Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor appears in a panel, an allusion to Tracey Jordan’s “Who Dat Ninja” and series of both obscure and overt references to the Harry Potter series.
Yes, the Harry Potter references were the most controversial inclusion to fans before the issue was released but it ends up working. Moore isn’t using the boy wizard as some sort of critical punching bag but rather as an indicator of the way in which the franchise managed to move beyond fiction. As the mutated Potter screams, “my name is in the bible,” it is both a threat and a satirical stab at the way the character became a sensation.
My main issue coming into “Century 2009” was whether Moore could make the previous entries in the third volume into something that was worth reading and investing in the first place. To wit, it makes much of “Century 1910” a little pointless, doing little more than introducing the spawn of Captain Nemo, the war against England that would eventually lead to the rule of Big Brother and the introduction of Haddo and the Antichrist. Even much of “Century: 1969” feels a little rough and unnecessary until the end, particularly the long tangent focusing on Mina wondering if it was worth being an immortal, but the whole series does manage to add up into a cohesive whole. The previous volumes also certainly had their own pacing problems that really didn’t come together until the last few issues.
What’s even more incredible about the conclusion of “Century” as well as the potential conclusion of the whole series is the way in which Moore allows his characters a moment of heroism before the end. Orlando, Mina and even Allan all get a moment where they prove that they were amongst the greatest members of the League, as well as being legendary heroes in their own right. After nearly 150 years of making sacrifices, never quite being able to do the right thing and barely surviving what they’ve been put up against, its wonderful to see them get a moment of being the kind of people they always wished they could be.
In the process of giving a fitting finale to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore created some of the most iconic sequences in modern comics and with the assistance of Kevin O’Neill, made some great, just incredible art. “Century” became one of the defining books of the decade with the conclusion of Volume 3 and should be put alongside the greatest of Moore’s other accomplishments. This is comic book writing, art and meta-commentary at its very finest.