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The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century 1969 is the second installment of the Volume III Century trilogy in Alan Moore's classic comic book series. The premise of the comic is that of an alternate reality where famous fictional characters are real and all co-exist together. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a clandestine organisation rather like a superhero team formed to protect Britain's interests and its members over the years and centuries have included Prospero, Gulliver, The Invisible Man, Captain Nemo and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Now it is 1969 and they are down to three. Mina Murray (from Bram Stoker's Dracula), Allan Quatermain (from H Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines) and Virginia Woolf's gender bending Orlando. Orlando is immortal while Alan and Mina have taken a dip in an African fountain of youth (from Haggard's SHE) and are now perpetually young. The story picks up with them being dropped off at the white cliffs of Blighty by the mighty steampunk submarine Nautilus (now under the command of Nemo's daughter) where they head for the neon frazzled hippy trippy swinging London of the late sixties. Their mission is to stop darkly mystic cult leader Oliver Haddo (who appeared in Somerset Maugham's novel The Magician and is based on Aleister Crowley) from creating a Moonchild or anti-Christ (nice references to Rosemary's Baby and The Omen here). Haddo is dead now but is still an ominous scheming presence in astral form. As our heroes immerse themselves in the psychedelic glitter and free love drug strewn trippage of the era, the intrigue envelops the debauched world of pop music and draws in some notorious gangsters. With more famous cameos than you can shake a Harry H Corbett at the game is afoot again...
Although Alan Moore is becoming more indulgent, esoteric, obtuse even as the Century series slowly unfurls, I think anyone who loves the comic will enjoy Century 1969 and be eager to get hold of the concluding volume when it finally arrives. Not a lot actually happens here (the violence, obvious villains and action of early volumes has given way to a much more restrained and noticeably erotic aura) but it doesn't really matter as one becomes absorbed in the insane and often nightmarish alternate sixties London. This feels more adult and risque than previous volumes and begins in a country mansion with an act of, er, Greek love in a Gothic candle lined sunken pool between Basil Fotherington-Thomas (fictional character in a series of books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle) and another young man connected to the pop world. Basil is murdered by shadowy characters who emerge dressed as monks but it turns out he was one of the 'boys' of homosexual gangster Vince Dakin (Richard Burton's character in the film V) and a piqued Dakin asks none other than Jack Carter to look into the murder. Carter is of course Michael Caine's character from the cult film Get Carter and enjoyably drawn to look like Caine. He has to get a move on though because he has business 'up north'. These myriad references and riffs are great fun. Moore hs been criticised for his obsession with these literary and popular culture references in this volume in particular but I really enjoy them myself and you find yourself lingering on the lovely panels by artist Kevin O'Neill to make sure you don't miss any.
I spotted cameos by Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Barbara Windsor, Terry Thomas, Quentin Crisp, Adam Faith, Marty Feldman, Patrick Troughton's Dr Who, Steptoe and Son, Jason King and Andy Capp and I'm sure there were dozens I missed or didn't recognise. There is a great panel at a bus station where you can see Blakey, Stan Butler and Jack Harper from On the Buses and the lorry next to the double decker has 'Universal Export' written on it. Universal Exports (presumably they dropped the S in the comic for copyright reasons) was of course the cover company used by MI6 agents in James Bond. I suppose one could say that there isn't much of a story but it serves as a solid bridge to what will hopefully be a stirring resolution in part III. The interaction between Mina, Alan and Orlando is fun (they all sleep with one another and have reached an ease of banter that is very camp and familiar) as is the hippy festooned London they now inhabit. Love their secret headquarters in a tube station - their rooms looking like something out of a Gerry Anderson television series. Incidentally, Parker from Thunderbirds also makes a cameo. Forgot that one. Mina is the heart and brains of the team and always the focal point. She has a mini-skirt that is positively obscene and is trying to throw herself into the spirit and moral looseness of the age lest she should ever be revealed for her true self - a 90 year old Victorian relic. Alan is mop-topped and very louche and seems a million miles away from his former self but Moore is clever in how he plays this. Allan Quatermain was an opium addict in Victorian times and there are drugs everywhere in swinging sixties London. Can he resist temptation?
Moore doesn't seem to be too romantic in his attitude to this era. You get the sense that he thought it was fun to a point but maybe lacked a certain charm. Orlando is an interesting character here. Sometimes man, sometimes woman, sometimes something in between. Orlando has met everyone from Sinbad to Julius Cesar and namedrops in deadpan fashion. When you are immortal and have done everything and met everyone life can be a bore sometimes. Nice series of panels in a nightclub where Orlando usurps Adam Adamant (character in short lived television series - a Victorian gentleman adventurer who is frozen and thawed out in the swinging sixties) with his tales of carnal relations with Merlin and casual bombshell that he has Excalibur back at his digs somewhere. The arcs are interesting and build to a clever and dark coda set in the 1970s as hippy free love has given way to punk and nihilism. The strangest interlude in the book concerns Mina's bad acid trip and encounter with Haddo on the astral plane. Very surreal art by O'Neill as Mina confronts Haddo and a multitude of demons and ghosts from her past. Moore runs the risk of losing some readers with these abstract flights of imagination and weirdness but I feel it meshes with the general atmosphere of the comic. Volume III is not up to the first volume but it is admirably ambitious and can only be truly judged as a whole when the final part arrives. By shifting the league through different eras Moore manages to open the series up and achieve a Ballad of Halo Jones type feel with distinct chapters.
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century 1969 is a worthy addition to the Alan Moore bookshelf and a must have for fans of this series. I only wish it was longer and that you didn't have to wait so long for the next installment to arrive. At the time of writing you can buy this for not much more than a fiver.
The second volume detailing the exploits of Miss Wilhelmina Murray and her extraordinary colleagues. Volume two takes place almost 60 years after the events of Century 1910, in the psychedelic haze of Swinging London in 1969 - a place where Tadukic Acid Diethylamide 26 is the drug of choice and where different underworlds are starting to overlap dangerously to an accompaniment of sit-ins and sitars.