Having travelled to the extremes of the possible, some would say, over the course of Lost Girls, Promethea and his last two or three League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books, Alan Moore has returned, somewhat, to the pacing and verve of, say, the early Tom Strong books in his latest, Nemo: Heart of Ice – even as he retains the playful literary mythmaking he has been working into his books in one way or another since the likes of Watchmen and From Hell.
The heroine of the book is, of course, Nemo’s daughter Janni who regular readers will know has been obliquely involved with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen during the recent Century trilogy (1910, 1969 and 2009). Opening in New York in 1925, we learn that she has double crossed a rather stern gent and a rather powerful lady, a Queen no less, who has a tendency to lose her temper and tear the entrails from servants whenever they displease her (Charles Foster Kane and H Rider Haggard’s She if anyone is keeping score) . Three men, Tom Swift (here spelled “Swyfte”), Jack Wright and Frank Reade Jr, are hired to hunt her down (each of whom have been pulled from the pulpy pages of history) – but Janni has already set off on a journey of her own, following in her late father’s footsteps. The ensuing narrative – which as you can see from the delightful annotations produced by Jess Nevins takes in penny dreadfuls like Broad Arrow Jack from 1866, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Metropolis, Nicolas Edme Restif de la Bretonne’s La Découverte australe Par un Homme-volant, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and Jacques Futrelle’s The Problem of Cell 13 as well as countless others – climaxes with Moore once more embracing HP Lovecraft in a brief, furious flirtation with The Mountains of Madness.
Even in the midst of such literary complexity, however, you can’t help but bemoan, ever so slightly, the brevity of the narrative – which is essentially one group of people chasing another group of people – and also the brevity of the experimentation (the mountains exert a strange influence that sees panels repeating and recurring, out of order, for a handful of pages). It feels at times as if Moore knows he doesn’t have to belabour a point for his readers who know what to expect by this point – but the speed with which he cuts through the crap, as it were, also ends up robbing the narrative of something approaching breathing room. Saying all of that, there is immense pleasure to be had in working through the book alongside the annotations, particularly if you’re as anal as I am.
Any Cop?: Not as great a pleasure as you would hope, then – but still a pleasure all the same.