Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume II (America's Best Comics, 2003)
Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's second homage to Victorian literary heros (and heroines), League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, picks up where the first volume left off, with a slew of fiery meteorites hurtling through the atmosphere towards merry olde England. The action this time actually begins on Mars, though, where Gullivar Jones (a creation of British author Edwin Arnold's) and John Carter (from Edgar Rice Burroughs) are embroiled in a heated battle involving Martian allies and foes hailing from the fertile minds of Burroughs, H. G. Wells and C. S. Lewis. The human-led side has a moment of triumph when they think the alien invaders (Wells' "Martians") have fled Mars only to realize the aliens have sussed out the humans' origins and have launched themselves towards the third planet.
Cut back to England, where the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Mina Murray, Alan Quatermain, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo and Dr. Jekyll/Henry Hyde directed by Moore's own creation, Campion Bond, have been called to investigate and help eliminate the invaders, with barely a breather since their last adventure. What follows should be a fast-paced adventure not unlike the first graphic novel, replete with sharp dialogue and delicious Victoriana tidbits, wherein our heroes triumphantly save the day. What unfolds, in reality, is regrettably banal. Yes, the innumerable fascinating references are there aplenty, enough to keep fans hopping for months investigating. Yes, the dialogue is still generally razor sharp and witty. Yes, the League saves the day, though in a very bittersweet fashion. But the journey between the book's covers is still an unsatisfying one.
Foremost among the plot's disappointments is the development of a hurried, seemingly pointless, romance between Quatermain and Murray. Perhaps Moore meant the relationship to embody the team's desperation with the two seeking respite from certain failure (and the disappointments of the past) in each other's arms. Regardless of the intent, their coupling and professions of affection do not further the plot and, in fact, drag it down immeasurably (more pages devoted to Dr. Moreau and his pitiful, bizarre hybrid creations would have been preferable, and lent more credence to the finale). The romance is made all the more unsatisfying by Murray's departure at the end of the story. Just begs the question: "Why did Moore bother?"
By contrast with the attention to Quatermain and Murray, Captain Nemo is given short shrift in this volume. He spends far too much time blustering and huffing at Hyde to be enjoyable. Hawley (the Invisible Man) is utterly unredemptive with respect to his actions, leaving no shades of grey, or reason to give a damn what happens to him. Not out of character entirely for him, but disappointing nonetheless. The ending has a certain resonance with current and recent world events, but just doesn't sit right. The world is saved, but at what cost to humanity and to the League? Moore wraps up the second series with the League torn asunder some members lost for good, others departing of their own will, signifying an end to this incarnation of the League (though the extra text included at the end suggests Murray continued to investigate strange events long past the group's dissolution).
Of particular annoyance is that Moore never cuts back to Gullivar and Carter at any point. After devoting the whole first bit to them, they're forgotten (I'll gloss over, for the moment, that the first few pages of the book are written entirely in "Martian," and so are completely incomprehensible, which is an annoyance of a different kind). Perhaps their role was complete, but it somehow didn't feel that way.
What does shine in this volume is the characterization of Hyde, who suppresses the Jekyll personality for the duration of the story. He alone of the group seems to possess a measure of raw, genuine emotion (be it love or anger) and heroism throughout the story. He's a delight to read and to discover anew, even when exacting painful revenge for a wrong perpetrated against Murray. Moreau and his creatures are also intriguing, but barely present, squeezed in near the end as they are.
More entertaining than the actual League story are the 30+ pages of text that accompany it. The text purports to be from both the notes of earlier League members and from the later investigations of Murray. The writing is typically Moore-quirky and its references delightfully entertaining half the fun is guessing who or what he's refering to e.g., A. L.'s adventures underground and through a mirror (Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, or Exham Priory's pest control problems (Poe's The Rats in the Walls). Following that text are a number of illustrative plates and mock advertisements, including one for the first volume.
As a sequel, Volume II is sorely disappointing in both plot and characterization, and leaves little hope of a follow-up to set things straight. While light-years better than the unfortunate movie based on Volume I, it falls far behind the high standards of that volume. Unless you take great delight in hunting down the multitude of literary references hidden on every page, skip this volume and don't sully the memory of the first.
I would be remiss in not pointing out Jess Nevins'
to the second volume, without which I could not have completed this review.