Steampunk Book Review: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1
Steampunk is all about literature, and nowhere else will you find so many Victorian-era characters rubbing elbows as in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from Vertigo. The creator, Alan Moore (whose brilliant mind also brought us The Watchmen) and illustrator Kevin O’Neill take their audience on a wild ride which spans several classic works of science fiction and creates a way for them to occupy the same universe.
The story opens with the corpulent Campion Bond (an ancestor of James Bond) who convinces Mina Murray (aka Wilhemina Harker’s maiden name in Dracula, 1897) to go on a recruitment mission on behalf of the British government. She picks up the opium-besotted ex-adventurer Alan Quartermain (King Solomon’s Mine, 1885) with the help of Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1870). After a jaunt into The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) for the title character and a school run by notorious fictional dominatrix Rosa Coote to pick up The Invisible Man (1897), the league is ready for action.
They head next to London’s East End, where the nefarious Fu Manchu (referred to only as “The Doctor” for copyright reasons) has stolen a valuable mineral that allows heavier than air flight. He is at war with another crime lord on the West End (none other than Professor Moriarty of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1894), and the conflict is on the verge of costing countless lives. Can the heroes beat the bad guys, and the clock, to save the day?
This is a really fun book and I definitely recommend it for fans of Victorian-era fiction. Over the many iterations of the series literally hundreds of literary figures and places grace the pages, so it is kind of like a who’s who of Victoriana. I occasionally have issues with some of the liberties Moore takes with core character traits, but otherwise it is a great display of imagination. As a bonus, if you get the first volume you also get 30 pages of cover art, games, stories and fake historical factoids in the spirit of the Victorian era.
Fair warning, Volume 2 goes darker, dirtier and deadlier, and you can read all about it next week when I review it!
Have you read this book? What did you think?
I just finished re-reading Moore and O’Neill’s run on LOEG including the latest entry, Nemo: Heart of Ice. What I love about this series is the way it tackles different aspects and eras of pulp, fantasy, and science fiction, distilling a plethora of ideas into a heady mix of referential beauty. For all of the references I pick up on I am certain that three have passed me by.
I also love that Moore took Mina Murray and turned her into one of the great superheroines of modern comics, it truly is a joy to watch as she evolves and adapts over the course of the books, growing into a formidable agent.
Looking forward to your second review!
February 4, 2014 at 1:58 am
Yes, I agree about Mina. I like seeing her as the leader in Vol 1 and 2. I haven’t read any of the later installments but I am definitely intrigued to see who else gets invited to the party 🙂
February 4, 2014 at 8:00 am
I love these books, especially the first two volumes. There’s such a wealth of detail and the plots and characterisation are very strong. The characters are interesting and usually succeed, but their flaws do trip them up and that makes them more relatable.
I’ve not been so convinced by the later volumes. I thought that the first two – this one and the Martian plotline – made clever use of cultural references while not being dependent on them. Some of the late stories I’ve felt like I was missing the point if I hadn’t read all the books Moore had. Still good, but not as engaging.
February 4, 2014 at 4:50 am
Yes, I too have worried about reading later volumes and getting lost. I have a good enough background in classic literature that the first two volumes were alright (though I did look up a couple side characters) but it could definitely turn into sort of like an inside joke that won’t quit in if one doesn’t know the references.
February 4, 2014 at 8:03 am
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