In a way, the climax of the third volume of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen makes perfect sense. The League, you’ll remember, started out as a device that allowed Moore to revive several figures from literature – Allan Quatermain from King’s Solomon’s Mines, Mina Harker from Dracula, Captain Nemo, Jekyll & Hyde, the Invisible Man etc – the idea being that they actually existed in the world and were sometimes used, secretly, by the Government to deal with alien attacks (themselves lifted from the pages of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds) and the like. Round about the time of The Black Dossier, which is a sort of intentionally peripheral non-narrative agglomeration of fragments and snippets in which the League appear to discover a realm called the Blazing World (governed by Prospero) that affords them immortality of sorts. Orlando, a Zelig-like figure that Virginia Woolf had a great deal of fun with, also formed part of the League at this point and has gone on, in the three instalments of the third volume, to become more and more integral. Century began in 1910 and concerned a sect run by Oliver Haddo (a sort of Crowley manqué) who plan to usher in a new apocalypse by setting the antichrist upon the world even as a new (or perhaps old) Jack the Ripper starts slaying prostitutes down by the docks and Captain Nemo’s niece enacts a terrible vengeance. As regular readers of the League will know, their escapades are riven by failure and compromise and 1910 is no exception. The failure and compromise are even more in evidence in 1969 in which the trio of Quatermain, Mina and Orlando converge on a version of the Stones in the Park and wind up obliterated, Mina carted off to an insane asylum and Quatermain and Orlando staring balefully into their cups. The crucial element, it turns out, of 1969 involved a struggle on the astral plain between Mina and Haddo that resolved itself in the figure of Tom Riddle who, for the uninitiated, is Voldemort from the Harry Potter books.
2009, which we already know is a year in which terrible things will happen, a year in which the League will discover they are too late according to Andrew Norton, a time-travelling ‘prisoner of London’ Moore has lifted from Iain Sinclair’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy, opens with Orlando solo, fighting in Southern Q’Mar and explaining to a Colonel Cuckoo, another immortal how he recently got carried away, ‘killing everyone’, ‘my squadron, the insurgents, bystanders. I – I even killed a dog.’ Cuckoo expects to be drafted to Kashmiri (where we later discover the latest descendent of Nemo is causing trouble) but Orlando is sent home to London a hero, of sorts, and is quickly pressganged (by a 3D glasses-sporting Prospero) into rounding up Mina and Quatermain to try and put a stop once and for all to the dreaded Anti-Christ who is soon to be loosed on the world. Orlando calls in a favour with MI5 and rescues Mina but Quatermain, back on the old heroin, is beyond saving, or so it would seem. Mina and Orlando are sent, by Norton, via King’s Cross to a now long-abandoned magic school on board a dilapidated train. The school, it seems, birthed a monstrosity upon the world and that monstrosity is finally reaching its apotheosis as a many eyed giant. Orlando and Mina and finally Quatermain do battle, finally drawing either Prospero or perhaps God himself out of the clouds to do away with him for good.
Now, keen-eyed readers may have noticed (a) certain references to a rather famous boy wizard in the above and (b) rather more of the plot than we at Bookmunch usually like to give out. Addressing the latter first, at this point in proceedings, a great deal of the pleasure to be had from the League comes from the almost comedic asides, the people you glimpse in the crowds (ranging from Dennis Waterman and George Cole in Minder, through Only Fools and Horses’ Delboy to the latest James Bond Daniel Craig, Entourage’s Vince Chase’s latest film, Driveshaft – from Lost – ’s latest album, Tucker from The Thick of It etc). The fact that – to return to (a) – the villain of the piece is Harry Potter feels like both a gigantic joke, a case of shooting apples in a barrel and also a quite delicious slice of mischief. Throughout 2009, Moore takes issue with the apparent paucity of Rowling’s world (the Hogwarts stand-in is ‘awful… and it was meant to be so marvellous’), and his conclusion seems to be that the way in which Harry Potter is held up on a pedestal clearly shows how culture has fallen apart over a hundred years.
Those people who thought 2009 would climax with a colossal act of terrorism or reflect upon the global collapse of the world’s economies or indeed some other as yet unforeseen act of prophesy on the part of Moore have perhaps been looking in the wrong place. Moore’s art draws upon the world around him, certainly, is informed by the news and the occasionally terrible world in which we all live but he is at least as interested in story, in the stories we read, in the stories we forget, in the stories we seek to revive, in the stories that languish in obscurity, and this has at least as much to do with the direction the League has followed as what immediately is happening in the world around us. Moore’s point – and it seems a valid one – is that you can judge a country and a time according to the people it chooses to elevate and the nation from which Moore reports has been found wanting.
In conclusion, then, 2009 is a dense, literate work, a resolution of the books to date (with a slight sniff of a possibly all-female League to come?). I was left wondering if it is provocative enough to draw the fiercely litigious JK Rowling out of the woodwork for a Lady Chatterley style trial in which Moore and Rowling go head to head to prove Harry Potter’s literary – or otherwise – worth. That is something this reader would like to see…
Any Cop?: As a volume in its own right it would, I’m sure, be largely incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t followed the League up to this point but as the resolution of a tripartite book and the third volume of an enticing series it’s a solid intellectual pleasure that also satisfies on a visceral level that demands spectacle. Lots of fun in other words.