Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kevin O'Neill on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 in PW Comics Week

PW Comics Week has an interesting interview with artist Kevin O'Neill in which he discusses the influence of Mad Magazine on his current League of Extraordinary Gentlemen work. I'd never really considered that but in retrospect it seems so obvious. So much detail, so many little side jokes and references. When you read League, it's not enough to scan the dialogue and look at the main action in each panel; for the full experience, you need to go deeper. The subtext is as involving as the text and you can find annotations online that are incredibly detailed an in-depth.

I recently read Black Dossier and enjoyed it very much, but with its simple chase plot, it seemed a bit like League Lite. I've always admired George Orwell, but the way Alan Moore worked 1984 into the story seemed a bit forced. Even in a world where Queen Elizabeth I has been replaced by Queen Gloriana from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen (fitting since he wrote it to kiss Elizabeth's royal butt in the first place), I tend to doubt the UK could go all totalitarian socialist complete with newspeak, IngSoc, proles and telescreens and back again so quickly. Still, with League's recapitulation of so many literary characters and situations you just have to give into it and accept almost anything in fiction as possible grist for Moore's plots. And even though I'm also a James Bond fan, I really thought Moore's and O'Neill's savaging of him as "Jimmy Bond" the misogynistic thug was hilarious and dead-on. Also, Orlando makes a fantastic addition to the team, and it's easy to see how enamored Moore has become with the character since teasing him/her in the previous League story-- Orlando gets most of the best lines. While all of O'Neill's stylistic changes in the background material are certainly dazzling themselves, the colorful, violent and somewhat sexy Orlando biographical strip is easily my favorite.

The most breathtaking aspects of Century: 1910 are the Bertholt Brecht/Kurt Weill segments. It's not so much that Moore creates new lyrics for songs from The Threepenny Opera to relate them more closely to his plot, but what's truly thrilling to a lit-geek like myself is how he connects Captain Nemo to those particular characters through the device of having Nemo's daughter play the role of Jenny Diver, or Pirate Jenny. Having Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle and briefly touching on The Threepenny Opera back in my lit major days, I appreciated Moore's audacity. It made me laugh, too. I also admired how at one point, Moore twisted Threepenny Opera's actual ending while keeping its satirical deus ex machina nature. That, my friends, is the work of a true virtuoso.

Interestingly enough, Weill's wife Lotte Lenya not only won a Tony for her performance as Jenny in The Threepenny Opera, but also later menaced Sean Connery as James Bond in From Russia With Love and at least partially inspired Frau Farbissina from the Austin Powers movies. One has to wonder if Moore and O'Neill will somehow tie this all together in the upcoming Century: 1969 installment. O'Neill's dismissive comments about the "Swingin' London" seen in Austin Powers could mean it was on their creative radar at the time...

Anyway, I've been thinking about reviewing Black Dossier and 1910, but I might just leave it at this: 1910 is the best comic I've read so far this year and really got me excited about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and fiction in general. And like Mina, I prefer Orlando when he's a woman.

Oh... and I certainly don't object to all the nudity. That's a strain that seems to be increasing as we go along.

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