League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

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(L to R) Naseeruddin Shah as Captain Nemo, Stuart Townsend as Dorian Gray, Tony Curran as the Invisible Man, and Sean Connery as Allan Quartermain in the 2003 movie adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (20th Century-Fox / The Kobal Collection.)

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

(pop culture)

Believing that nineteenth century fantasy and science fiction stories had been a strong influence on the development of the superhero genre, British author Alan Moore decided to devise what he called a “Justice League of Victorian England.” The result was that Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill created the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, who debuted in the first issue of the series by that name, published by WildStorm as part of its America’s Best Comics imprint in 1999.

In the original series (Volume One, 19992000), set in 1898, Mina Murray, the heroine of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897), is assigned by British intelligence agent Campion Bond to organize the League. The other members are Captain Nemo, from Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870); Allan Quatermain, the explorer-hero from H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and other books; Dr. Henry Jekyll, alias Edward Hyde, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886); and Hawley Griffin, the title character of H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man (1897). Hyde and Griffin have actual superpowers, and O’Neill draws Hyde as resembling the Hulk, a character who was inspired by Stevenson’s story. In Volume One, the League intervenes in a war between two of literature’s first supervillains: Professor James Moriarty, the archenemy of Sherlock Holmes, and an unnamed Asian “Doctor,” who presumably is Dr. Fu Manchu.

As Moore and O’Neill developed the series, they decided that it would depict an alternate Earth on which virtually every fictional character in literature and other media exists. Hence, every character with a speaking role in the League stories is either a character from another fictional work, or related to such a character. (For example, Campion Bond is the grandfather of James Bond.) In Volume 2 (2002–2003), the League battles the Martian invaders from H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds (1898).

Moore established that the Victorian League was the third incarnation of the team. The original League was founded in the seventeenth century by the sorcerer Prospero, from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611). Among other members were the sprite Ariel and monstrous Caliban (both from The Tempest); Christian, the hero of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678); Don Quixote, from Cervantes’ two-volume novel, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605–1615); and the immortal Orlando, from Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, Orlando: A Biography. Lemuel Gulliver, the hero of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), founded the second League in the eighteenth century, which included Orlando; Dr. Christopher Syn, alias the Scarecrow, from Russell Thorndike’s series of novels (1915–1944); Sir Percy Blakeney, alias the Scarlet Pimpernel, from Baroness Orzcy’s 1905 play/novel (and his wife); Natty Bumppo, the frontiersman hero of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826); and Fanny Hill, from John Cleland’s 1748 erotic novel of the same name.

Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain both acquired immortality and eternal youth, and hence remained active in the twentieth century. The principal story of The Black Dossier (2007) deals with Murray and Quatermain’s exploits in 1958, in which they contend against disguised versions of James Bond and Mrs. Emma Peel from television’s The Avengers. This would be the last League comic published by DC, as Moore severed all ties to the company.

Volume Three of League, now published by Top Shelf Productions (USA) and Knockabout Comics (UK), is titled Century and consists of three graphic novels, with a continuing plot about the attempt by occultists to create a “Moonchild.” Part 1, published in 2009, is set in 1910, and primarily concerns Janni, the daughter and successor of Captain Nemo, who proves to be “Pirate Jenny” from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera (1928). The 1910 League consists of Murray; Quatermain; Orlando; A. J. Raffles, the gentleman thief created in 1898 by E. W. Hornung; and Thomas Carnacki, an occult detective created in 1910 by William Hope Hodgson. Part 2, set in 1969, was published in 2011, and Part 3, set in the early twentieth century, is scheduled to be published in 2012.

A film adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, starring Sean Connery as Quatermain, was released in 2003. But it was negatively reviewed by critics and publicly repudiated by Moore.

Although Alan Moore has otherwise retired from writing comics, the League is the exception to his rule, and he intends to continue collaborating with Kevin O’Neill on future League stories. —PS

The Superhero Book: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Comic-Book Icons and Hollywood Heroes © 2012 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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