The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen –Century 1969 was released this week by Top Shelf Productions (US) and Knockabout Comics (UK). I eagerly purchased this 80-page paperback edition for $9.95. Century 1969 is book 2 out of a planned 3, in Volume 3 of this ongoing series. The wait has been a long one (over 2 years) since the last installment of this series came out (Century 1910). If you don’t know, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a comic book series written by the great Alan Moore, with art duties handled by Kevin O’Neill. Moore and O’Neill are frequent collaborators, and have even worked together in Moore’s recently ended zine project Dodgem Logic, that I wrote about here not long ago. A film was (very) loosely adapted from Volume 1 of the series, but the books themselves have changed much since the first volume’s release in 1999. Be warned, this is a very adult book with nudity, black magic, and drug references and should be pursued accordingly.
This installment opens up in Sussex, England in the trippy-hippy year of 1969. A musician, Basil Thomas of the popular band The Purple Orchestra, is murdered by mysterious cloaked figures while his hallucinating companion looks on. Mina Murray and her two League companions, Allan and Orlando, disembark The Nautilus and arrive in England on the heels of this event, to investigate a possible cult link. The League isn’t the only group interested in this murder; it seems Basil had powerful friends that wish to see his death avenged. Mina and the League suspect that a band of cultists are carrying on the work of a deceased and powerful magician named Haddo Oliver, in an attempt to bring an Antichrist and ruin to the world. This scenario must be prevented at all costs.
The three members investigating this case set up headquarters in a Beat club previously purchased by Nina in London. As ex M.1.5 members they need to keep a low profile. The city is in the midst of the “flower-power” movement and has changed greatly over the extended lives of our protagonists. Mina seems to at odds with her lengthy existence and keeping up with the ever-changing world. This struggle is a subplot that will unfold throughout 1969.
The very first night in the new H.Q. Mina is visited by an apparition of the believed-to-be-deceased magician, Haddo. He issues an ominous threat about what could potentially transpire. Was this all just a nightmare, or something more sinister?
Early the next morning, all the investigating parties are out looking for information in the dark magic underworld of London. Following leads, the team ends up eventually meeting with a time-jumping character named, Mr. Norton. Norton speaks cryptically, but theorizes about what could be going on: serial possession.
The investigation gets a break when a chance meet-up at a club puts Mina into contact with a woman in the know, who seems to confirm this serial possession theory. Haddo’s powerful magic spirit seems to be jumping into new bodies through a “transference ritual.” Such a ritual is set to take place soon, and Mina might know where to look. This information is revealed thanks to a “special skill set” [ahem] that Mina seems to have mastered.
This all leads to a hallucinogen-fueled, astral-plane showdown at a Basil Thomas memorial concert in Hyde Park. This finale is portrayed in warped panels that finally break from the mostly rigid and contained 7 and 9 panel format used throughout this book. Anyone familiar with Kevin O’Neill’s art knows that he is a wild-man that has butted heads with censorship in the past. I can imagine his anticipation at getting to illustrate the crazy, acid-laced conclusion to this book. The ending is wild and I will not spoil it for you here, just as I have left out many details and plot-twists in the summary above (I know that seems hard to believe given the lengthy nature of this piece, but it is true nonetheless).
So how does The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen—Century 1969 rate review-wise? I did enjoy it. I have read this series and I am familiar with what has come before this installment. I think a new reader could pick this up and enjoy the trip (pun intended) but feel that they might be missing something—and they would be correct in that conclusion if they are unfamiliar with the series. Much of the slang and wording in this book is very British, which I have no problem with as I read many books from the other side of the pond; other readers might not feel the same way. The writing is fun and well-written. Alan Moore has a broad knowledge of the occult and, as anyone who reads his stories knows, these dark themes permeate much of his work. Kevin O’Neill’s art has a quite loose character style. His shadow work is achieved using cross-hatching. O’Neill’s background scenes are a pleasure to take in and often hold many fun little details on adverts and newspapers/magazines. I personally would have liked to see the art breathe and test the boundaries of the panels a bit more, but I don’t really think that is his style.
At the very end of this book we have certain characters reflecting on events, 8 years later, as time has moved forward into the days of the punk explosion. I would love to see this era portrayed in the next book, but the smart money would be on the next installment taking place in the year 2009 (due to industry rumors and foreshadowing). The final 6 pages of 1969 are reserved for a “reprinting” of chapter 2 of the story Minions of the Moon by “John Thomas.” This story is said to have been originally serialized in “Lewd Worlds Science Fiction” (1969) [editors note: this story is actually written by Alan Moore under the pen-name of John Thomas. A SF writer by the same name actually appears in some listings online. The nice people from Top Shelf set me straight on this fact after I had published this piece. Looks like I was "punked" by Mr. Moore. Well-played, sir, well-played indeed. I regret the error]. This seems like a nice inclusion after paying only $10 for such a long comic book. I noticed new copies of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen –Century 1910 in the shop when I picked this book up. If you haven’t read this series before, you would be wise to pick that book up as well if you are looking to jump in. Now we likely only have to wait 2 more years for the conclusion to this volume. Rumors say that the series will switch to self-contained one-shots after this volume wraps. I am sure I will be reading all those as well!