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"The beleaguered London of 1898 has barely had time to assess the injuries of recent conflagrations in its lower class districts when a new threat arrives, falling from the upper atmosphere in gargantuan metal cyclinders that leading scientists claim have travelled from the planet Mars! Once again a call goes out through the channels of British Military Intelligence to an improbable group of champions: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Alan Quatermein, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin, Dr Henry Jekyll, Mr Edward Hyde and Miss Mina Murray are those champions, and they must rise to the occasion of their country's dire need, risking life and limb and disregarding all sense of personal propriety. But will even their best efforts be enough against a threat so horrific that it nearly defies description?"
Alan Moore's eccentric Victorian superhero team is back in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, a book that more than lives up to the high standards of the original volume if you love this steampunk alternate reality type of stuff. The thing that makes this one unmissable for me is that Alan Moore is essentially doing The War Of The Worlds, with a few twists, and pits the League agaisnt those terrible Martians with their tripod fighting machines and heat-rays. It makes this volume great fun for anyone who grew up reading H.G Wells' classic novel.
The book begins, slightly confusingly, on Mars with weird aliens and atmospheric Martian landscapes. There is some nice detail and some striking images. You have to remember that in the world of the League all the famous characters from fiction are real and the charm of these stories derives from that clever idea. You won't get all the references but it's great fun to spot as many as you can can and learn more about the others.
On Mars a group of aliens ("Molluscs") have been creating a lot of trouble for the native Martians but are eventually driven away by the efforts of (Edgar Rice Burroughs') John Carter (of Mars) and Gullivar Jones (from Edwin Lester Linden Arnold's 'Gulliver of Mars') plus the Sorns (from 'Out of the Silent Planet' by C. S. Lewis).
The real trouble is only just beginning though because these nasty aliens decide to head straight for Earth, which they have every intention of taking over...
One of the joys of this book is the care and attention that has gone into it. There are many little moments or panels that are a notch above your standard graphic novel/comic fare. The first introduction to the League in this volume is a good case in point. We see the night sky full of stars and then a foot appears. We realise it's a puddle with reflected stars in the moonlight and people are running through it to get somewhere. The League's special carriage has arrived and they step out to a gawping crowd who have no idea what to make of them. The League have been summoned because the first cylinder has landed.
Moore is quite faithful to the book with the unscrewing of the cylinder and the man falling in the pit etc. The art by Kevin O'Neil is very stylish throughout too and he draws the Martian's heat-ray gizmos and tripods exceptionally well. His rendition of the actual Martians is also very faithful to the novel. The first appearance of a tripod is done during a storm at night and it's very atmospheric and effective.
Once the Army has been routed by the Martians, effectively done via a creepy splash page, Moore starts to go off in his own direction as the League begin their missions.
The book is full of twists and turns with countless references and little jokes to spot. Campion Bond and Mycroft Holmes are back and there is an expanded role for Hyde in the book. Hyde has all but taken over Jekyll and is now sort of like a far more foul-mouthed and dangerous version of The Thing from The Fantastic Four. He's both noble and insane and has many of the funny lines and a major part in the story, especially the end. He also has a slightly touching 'Beauty and the Beast' type relationship with Mina Murray. 'The Invisible Man' also has an interesting, if somewhat predictable, role in the story which I won't reveal for fear of spoliers. Captain Nemo is his usual gruff self here again and it's great fun to see the Nautilus blowing a Martain tripod to smithereens at one point to rescue a small boy in the Thames. Moore and the artist naturally have some fun with the Martians 'red weed' which is used to combat Nemo's defence of London.
Mina and Alan grow closer in this volume and are sent on a top secret mission to find another very famous H.G Wells character, a plot develoment that includes some very strange guest stars and some nice drawings of the countryside.
The interactions between the League are always interesting in these stories and there are some nice quiet character moments in amongst the mayhem and conflict in this volume. Mina confessing to Alan that she is profoundly troubled by the notion of strange beings from the skies. A dialogue between Hyde and Mina in the 'Bleak House' Inn were she discovers that Hyde is not quite the inarticulate brute he appears but rather a sad and tormented person. It all builds to an exciting finish as the League and the authorities face a despearate battle to stop the Martian tripods from breaching the last fortified position in London.
One thing I should point out is that, unsuprisingly considering the author, this volume is slightly ruder and cheekier than the first one. You get the impression that Moore likes to go a bit further with each new project.
All in all, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, is great fun. It threatens to meander briefly when Alan and Mina are taken away from the action for their mission, but when the purpose of the misson is revealed it serves to make the ending more exciting. If you are familar with The War Of The Worlds you'll get a big kick out of his volume. It's very inventive and always very readable. Kevin O'Neill's art is a plus too with some nice background detail and a sense of mood. I like the way he draws facial expresions and he has fun with the tripods and all the action - a Martain tripod destroying a bridge with a train running over it a good example.
Overall I'd recommend The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II a great deal for any comic fan.
In addition, this second volume includes 'The New Traveller's Almanac', a lengthy written piece about the world that these stories take place in with numerous references to fictional characters and places, all given an Alan Moore twist. Narnia, The Black Lagoon, Alice In Wonderland. Even Twin Peaks gets a mention. I especially liked the passage on El Dorado. We learn that the last expedition to find it was launched in the 1920s by a young Swiss-German tycoon called Auric Goldfinger!
Other extras include the cover art from the original run of comics, fake Victorian adverts, and some spoof games including 'Game of Extraordinary Gentlemen' and 'Nemo's origami Nautilus'.