Written by Alan Moore
Illustrated by Kevin O’Neill
CHAPTER TWO takes place almost sixty years later in the psychedelic daze of Swinging London during 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. The vicious gangster bosses of London’s East End find themselves brought into contact with a counter-culture underground of mystical and medicated flower-children, or amoral pop-stars on the edge of psychological disintegration and developing a taste for Satanism. Alerted to a threat concerning the same magic order that she and her colleagues were investigating during 1910, a thoroughly modern Mina Murray and her dwindling league of comrades attempt to navigate the perilous rapids of London’s hippy and criminal subculture, as well as the twilight world of its occultists. Starting to buckle from the pressures of the twentieth century and the weight of their own endless lives, Mina and her companions must nevertheless prevent the making of a Moonchild that might well turn out to be the antichrist.
It’s fucking amazing. More after the jump.
So it’s come to this. From the steampunk marvels of the not-so-ancient world, to Quartermain stooped in some shit dive bar, on the nod in a puddle of his own piss. Bad times for the empire. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969 is the peace and love that cometh before the fall. Last time we checked in on Mina, Allan, and ‘Lando, the three were consigned almost to the periphery of their own adventure — chasing ghosts around the fringes while the Threepenny Opera unfolded around them, culminating in the East End sieged by submarine and Jack the Ripper (AKA Mack the Knife) getting off scott-free thanks to the interference of Peter O’Toole’s character from The Ruling Class.
Invoking The Ruling Class’s main character is the perfect gateway to the collapse of the sixties — though he never appears, Jack Gurney, the mentally ill 14th Earl of Gurney, spends that film convinced he’s Jesus Christ, until he’s “cured” into believing that he’s Jack the Ripper. 1969 is wrapped up in those same themes: love transferring to hate, all wrapped in self-absorption, and the activities of Those Above Us unknown to the public. (I admit to some disappointment at Nigel Green’s character McKyle not appearing in any LOEG material — The Electric Messiah would fit in perfectly.) The most interesting thing to watch in 1969 is the activity in the background. After all, the hippie days of ’69 were also when the far-right forces were consolidating their power: Enoch Powell gave his Rivers of Blood speech in ’68, leading to his sacking… but the attitudes of merry old England outed themselves in 1970 in a crushing Conservative election victory. People weren’t happy. God knows our Extraordinary Gentlemen aren’t, either.
Mina Murray’s cracking up, Allan Quartermain’s chasing after her when she doesn’t want to be followed, and Orlando’s dancing on the ashes of it all, as ever. Their chase after Aleister Crowley stand-in Oliver Haddo has brought them to Swinging London, a place where the superheroes and science-heroes have failed to make a difference, and where ‘ard-man gangsters are the true powers that be. (There are five or six Ronnie Krays running around, after all.) 1969 depicts the rise of a culture where the ordinary person could believe that they’re communing with the extraordinary, and so Extraordinary Gentlemen are just faces in the crowd, milling about with the rest. Granted, our three Extraordineers are also immortals who either have no interest in engaging with popular culture (hi Allan, hi Lando) or who are so intent on keeping up that they can only wear its skin as a mask (hi Mina). It’s the mortals, who have something to lose, who truly come close to the supernatural and extraordinary here. Enter Terner.
Terner is a legal-purposes misspelling of Turner, the antagonist-of-sorts of the film Performance, co-directed by Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg in ’68 (but not released till ’70). Played by Mick Jagger, Turner was a rock singer who collapsed into broken drug-haze majesty in his stately London house, living with the elegantly wasted Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and the androgynous French nymph Lucy (Michele Breton). Turner is a man who’s built himself into the sort of being that David Bowie sang about in “The Supermen” — no pain, no joy, no power too great. Having it all is a bore, though, and he’d really rather like to try someone else’s identity on for size. In Performance, this is James Fox’s gentleman gangster — but this is 1969, and Performance isn’t out yet, so James Fox is still waiting in limbo. In the meantime, Turner fancies he’d like to be an Antichrist. (Note: the reason I spend so much time here on Performance is because it’s one of the best movies ever made. Go see it. The DVD’s out of print so I fully endorse whatever means become necessary.)Continued below
Turner/Terner’s inner vacancy leads him to quite liking the idea of inheriting Oliver Haddo’s dark and terrible occult power, and this simple thing — a goal of any sort, and a plan to make it happen — puts him at odds with most of the rest of the cast. Jack Carter — Michael Caine, Newcastle’s best angry man, grim conqueror of Get Carter — is empty but for the cruelty that gives him flashes of sensation. Haddo wants armageddon, as all great villains do. The heroes, meanwhile, are lost. Allan wants Mina but sets about this through the amazingly well-thought-out plan of sleeping with Orlando instead. Mina takes hallucinogens to try and see past the confinement of reality. Orlando doesn’t even really seem to have much of a purpose for sticking around, other than there not being anything else more interesting happening.
What’s interesting — to me at least — is that as the Extraordinary Gentlemen grow more dissolute and rudderless, the world around them only increases in metatextual density. What’s great about 1969 is that pop culture is truly locked in as a dominant force defining the reality of everyday life, and which sucks up history — past and present — to feed its own engines. Thus we have five or six Ronnie Krays, because pop culture kept drawing his blood to power its villainy. In 1969 we have characters based on characters based on people who model themselves after characters. If the fictions don’t burn as brightly as they did in the 19th Century or 1910, as Alan Moore has claimed in interviews, then it’s because the sky is blindingly full of stars. Of course the Extraordinary Gentlemen are rudderless. The only time English culture has produced a novel (and these are all heroes of novels) to match the cultural deathgrip power of pop music, TV, and film was with Harry Potter. Mina and Co. are avatars of a medium that’s been “dying” more consistently than a comic book superhero, and the telling thing is that the only person who comes away from this book more powerful for the experience is Tom Riddle. (If I even need to explain who Tom Riddle is on a website as nerdy as this one, honestly, I fucking give up.)
After twelve years of his amazing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen work, sometimes it feels like it’s easy to overlook Kevin O’Neill’s contribution. This guy is so consistently excellent that praising him is actually difficult — comparing him to anyone else working in comics today is nearly impossible, in the most enjoyable possible way. The real beauty of O’Neill’s work in this, though, is that it’s a showcase for his knack for being both devilishly subtle and screamingly over-the-top in the space of the same panel — maybe even in the same line. He imbues Jerry Cornelius with a spectral sci-fi majesty, yet refuses to shy away from the moral decay (or whatever you’d like to call it) teeming beneath the story’s surface — the impractical go-go outfits lead to this book having more panty flashes than you’d expect from even a sticky-paged manga tome.
We have the darkness and squalor of the occult, the grey stone grids of city streets, and a hallucinated chrome-plated Mr. Hyde with a lightning bolt penis. Toward the end of the book, O’Neill breaks down the “reality” of the series completely, and no matter how bizarre it gets, it’s always crystal clear to follow. The man’s a storytelling genius, pure and simple, and Ben Dimagmaliw’s colors bring out the best in him. (At the same time, O’Neill’s penchant for open spaces and lack of need to fill every white space with line work leaves plenty of room for Dimagmaliw to strut his own stuff to dazzling effect.) Todd Klein, too, remains the letterer’s letterer, controlling the rhythm of the text so subtly that you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it.Continued below
Really, though, this is what I want from comics. Not only is it a good story, it’s a story that doesn’t scream out its debts to other comic books, even as it pilfers from pop culture more thoroughly and with stickier fingers than a John Oswald record. Its art is the work of a singular group of creative people who relish in uniqueness, rather than trying to fit their styles to anyone else’s agendas. And let’s face it — it’s deeper than punches. It’s something that can be talked about, that can be revisited again and again and mined for subtlety that just doesn’t exist in a comic about Booster Gold.
This is what comics needs.
Final Verdict: 9.9 / It only loses .1 because I was selfishly hoping there would be a Blow-Up reference somewhere