Posted - September 5, 2010 | Updated : April 19, 2012 | August 15, 2015
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1
As we begin our story, a portly gentleman waits at the docks at Dover. He is a government agent whose name is Campion Bond. Mr. Bond reminds me of that other Bond, also a government agent, James.
Mr. Bond is soon joined by Ms. Wilhelmina Murray, more popularly known as Mina Harker. the wife of Jonathan Harker, who was trapped for a time at Castle Dracula. Mina Harker, you will recall, was bitten by Dracula but her companions managed to save her in the end. Mina keeps her neck wrapped in a scarf at all times - she has not escaped unscathed from the depradations of the undead Prince.
The next panel is a full page splash which tells us many things about the setting.
We are in England but not in England. Like the England of our world, the Empire depicted here was the world power coming into the 20th century - The events of this story happen in 1898. Unlike the England of our world, this England chooses to build gigantic, nearly vulgar, monuments to English pride and power. They're grotesque but fascinating - the edifices shown in this splash page is but the first of many. Also, this England is replete with clunking, smoking, mechanical marvels that were never seen in the England of our world.
Going back to the tale. Mr. Bond has orders from the mysterious 'M' to form a band of adventurers. Ms. Murray is but the second recruit; the first is Captain Nemo of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea fame - and of course, he has the Nautilus by his side.
Ms. Murray and Captain Nemo are sent to Egypt to get a third recruit: Allan Quatermain, the famous hero of King Solomon's Mines. By now, the idea and attraction of this League is beginning to take shape. It will be formed by famous personalities from legend and literature. Absolutely enthralling.
In Cairo, Ms. Murray finds Quatermain in a sad state - he has become a heroin addict. While trying to convince the nearly unconscious Quatermain to join their group, Mina is nearly raped!
Not fully unconscious, Allan Quatermain, manages to shoot one of the would-be rapists. The other attacks him and would have killed him had not Mina Murray intervened with a knife to the back. Both protagonists begin running for their lives pursued by an armed and angry mob.
At this point, I'd like to bring up some examples of Kevin O'Neill's excellent layout work.
This panel shot is from the point-of-view of Mina and Allan as they are running from a mob that wants to kill them. They have made a desperate dash to the top of the staircase. Note first, the man on the left, pointing at them dangerously, and then, the even more dangerous armed men following. Compared to the panels around it, this panel is of a lighter shade - highlighting that this is the part when the murderous pursuit begins in earnest. The next panel is equally good.
The next panel is from the point-of-view of the mob at the bottom of the stairs. It's brilliant of O'Neill to frame this panel with daggers, the tips pointing threateningly at Quatermain and Murray.
Then we have the breathtaking first sight of the incredible Nautilus.
Captain Nemo is an Indian Prince.
I love this creative departure from the popular notion. Although there was no mention of Nemo's actual race in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. I'd love to hear what Jules Verne thinks about this.
Here's another excellent shot of the submarine Nautilus. I love how the bubbles convey the idea that the ship has just now, gone under the waves. According to Moore they went for an Indian design when creating this ship. It's stunning.
Inside the ship, the junkie Quatermain is going through a terrible opium withdrawal period. The sequence that has always stuck with me from this part of the comic is when Allan wakes up and looks out the porthole and there is this horrendous fish looking in. Check it out.
Miss Murray's "situation" with Dracula is not well known. Nemo thinks she's a plain music teacher!
We've seen London. Now here's Paris. The art isn't distinctive enough to set it apart thus the wonderful use of color - here a garish rust tinge - to convey a different place and culture.
This old gentleman has introduced himself as Auguste Dupin.
This is the detective created by Edgar Allan Poe; one of the more famous adventures was The Murders in the Rue Morgue. It took me a while to get used to this image, I keep seeing Dupin in that movie where he was being played by George C. Scott. Rebecca de Mornay was so gorgeous in that movie. Anyway . . .
The League is in Paris to pick up there fourth member. Let's follow along shall we?
There are some curious panels here that suggest a kind of fetidness. Look at the muck in the lower part of this panel.
And here, what's that oozing out of the sidewalk?
Night time Paris now has a blue tinge with yellow for lighted windows. Beautiful.
Our hero succumbs to temptation and they lose site of Mina. Further search reveals that she went with a skinny Englishman named Henry. They find Mina, but it is not Henry who is with her; it is Edward.
The fourth member of the League is Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde from the famous novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
The cover of the second issue is a collection of portraits; some of them are very interesting since they were from years previous to 1898, the year of our current storyline.
Here is a picture of Captain Nemo from 1867, nearly thirty years previous. He's obviously under the sea and wearing ornate gear for the ocean depths - he's very young and looking hot-headed and brash; and who are those people floating in the waters behind him? Another portrait is of Allan Quatermain from ten years ago before he succumbed to opium addiction. The adventurer is obviously in Africa; those must be Bantu warriors behind him. Here's Campion Bond also from ten years ago; not as portly as he is now. Last we have a very young Auguste Dupin, this one from more than fifty years previous to our tale; the Detective has a rather Oriental look to him.
Getting back to our story, our three adventurers, Allan Quatermain, Wilhelmina Murray and Auguste Dupin are on the verge of getting murdered by the gigantic and savage Edward Hyde. Quatermain, whose worth as an asset is questionable up to this point, lunges on Hyde and manages to force the monster to quaff the laudanum from that pharmacy a while back. Amazingly, it's effective. A panicked Hyde screams that he's been poisoned and promptly falls several stories to the Parisian pavement below. His unconscious form is carted back to the Nautilus, making him the strangest addition yet to the League.
Back at the Nautilus, Hyde transforms back to Dr. Henry Jekyll. During the scuffle in Paris, retired detective Dupin managed to shoot his revolver at Hyde point blank, taking off Mr. Hyde's ear. In one of the ghastlier panels, Dr. Jekyll wakes up to discover his missing and bloodied ear.
Obviously, the blood is one of those sticky kinds with the consistency of mucus. Yechh.
Here's another shot of the London that is not London.
Back at the wharf, Campion Bond makes arrangements with the League's leader, Ms. Murray, for the final addition to the team - the Invisible Man. They talk of a number of things but most notable is the mention of the detection by an astronomer of "bursts of incandescent gas from Mars" - this little tidbit will have little bearing on the present tale but is related to the second of the League's adventures.
This is the girl's school at Edmonton.
Here's a sample of what goes on inside the school
Here is Rosa Coote, the school's headmistress.
It is absolutely wrong to pre-judge a person just because she goes around braless with her nipples poking out of her dress but the fact is Headmistress Coote practices sex bondage during nights at the school - you know, to get the edge off.
Hawley Griffin, the Invisible Man, has snuck into the school and has proceeded to have illicit sex with the students. Not only are the students baffled, but a number of them are pregnant. What would you do if you became invisible? What would I?
Here's a nice twist. Three of our adventurers have visited the school: Ms. Murray, Mr. Quatermain and Captain Nemo. They are all coming in under false guises. Because of racial profiling, Captain Nemo, the most scientifically accomplished in the League together with Dr. Jekyll, is forced to take the role of a manservant. It galls him greatly, and it pisses me off too. Quatermain and Miss Murray come in as man and wife. Because of this, Ms. Coote gives the group a main bedroom for the married couple and a small anteroom attached to the main room for the Captain, the manservant. Captain Nemo being practical, suggests that the smaller room go to Ms. Mina while the gentlemen take the big room. In the end, guess, who's staying in the smaller - and decrepit looking - room.
I don't think these two are going to be doing any sleeping tonight. I mean, the bed's too small for the Captain and I've never seen anybody get a wink in that kind of chair.
Next we are treated to spectacle of the Invisible Man attempting to impregnate yet another hapless schoolgirl. Check this out.
The other girls are naturally reacting to what seems to be a ghostly event. The no-nonsense Mina Murray, no doubt steeled by her past encounters with the Vampire, promptly douses the Invisible Man with paint and knocks him out with the pail. To date, we now have two members of the League whose "recruitment" includes them being knocked unconscious.
I'd like to point out O' Neill's particularly eerie rendering of the Invisible Man on the floor, partially covered by paint.
The issue ends with the League now complete at five members. They are given a part of the British Museum as headquarters and are told of their first mission: To recover an anti-gravity substance called Cavorite from a Chinese crime lord in the Limehouse area of London; but more on that later.
In the Nautilus the League is having a meal of sorts - at least some of them do.
Dr. Jekyll, ear patched-up, eats pills in lieu of food. Ten to one those are the Victorian equivalent of Valium, to prevent any sudden transformations. Quatermain just had some fish and is going for a huge chunk of cheese. But what are those snails around the cheese plate? The Captain is eating octopus with what I fancy is hot sauce. I don't know what that contraption is in the middle, some kind of aquarium? What an interesting panel; kudos to O'Neill.
In order to be seen, the Invisible Man, puts on greasepaint or theatrical makeup. The ones who use it the most these days are the circus clowns.
Here's another shot of those impressive structures built around this other London.
There's only one use for these giant statues - to convey pride and pomp. The Victorians had a right to be proud, but in actuality, they were much more subtle - and frugal - with their architecture; not that the houses of Parliament aren't magnificent to look at.
The team splits up to locate the mysterious Doctor who stole the Cavorite. Ms. Murray and Mr. Griffin have a comparatively tame adventure which ended up yielding the possible location of the Cavorite as being under a bridge on the Thames. Dr Jekyll and Mr. Quatermain have a more exciting encounter. They encounter the Doctor himself while he is torturing somebody. On top of that, the Chinese crowd the pair fall in with are unconscionable bullies. All this adds up to a rising level of tension that is quite toxic to Mr. Jekyll. If not for his incredible willpower, he would've turned into Hyde.
Never fear. Hyde will get his turn at teaching these bastards some manners later.
Another meeting scene inside the Nautilus.
Let's see, extremely plush comfy chairs for misters Griffin and Quatermain. A severe hard chair for Dr. Jekyll; and Captain Nemo coming in and trailing water all over the floor. Hmm.
Once again, Ms. Murray and Mr. Quatermain are going as husband and wife, this time to infiltrate a poorhouse which they suspect of being a front for the Doctor.
This is the second time I've read about poorhouses from this era; the first was in a book about Jack the Ripper . These places are terribly squalid. Witness . . .
As Allan and Mina are ushered in, a lone candle is lit - the only source of light and soon to be extinguished. Inside the rooms people just lie on the floor. Just terrible.
Entrance to the poorhouse was only a ruse for the pair to explore the environs behind it. They find a seemingly abandoned tunnel there. It is as Ms. Murray surmised, the tunnel is being used by the Doctor and his henchmen to build a large, armed skyship . I find the art on this particular panel exceptionally well drawn.
It shows Mina and Quatermain scurrying around the corridors in the tunnel in order to avoid detection. The dynamism in their running forms is very exceptional, particularly when we consider that O'Neill has to give us this kind of effect with Mina's body under so much fabric.
Before long they discover the formidably armed skyship
Its on to the docks at Wapping, where Nemo is talking with two of his trusted lieutenants. It's a straightforward enough conversation about their distrust of Campion Bond. What is surprising to me is that two white Englishmen actually look up to the Indian Nemo as their superior - in Victorian England. It's a bit implausible (or is it? School me on this one); but I'm putting it down to the undeniable charisma of the legendary Captain; and yes, not everybody, even then, would have been so racist - there is that, too.
Back in the tunnel, Mina and Quatermain descend some scaffolding. Quatermain first, then Mina, putting Allan in a position to look up Mina's skirt.
When I saw this panel I thought Mina was naughty enough not to wear any underwear; or else to have something somewhat daring on. But this is what she's wearing underneath.
Knickers. So what's with the goggle eyes Mr. Quatermain? Tsk tsk. Victorians.
Our pair of adventurers can't possibly evade detection indefinitely. And they don't. Soon enough they are discovered by an Oriental guard, a huge guy brandishing two fearsome blades. Here we get to see how dangerous the Invisible Man can be. He has been here all along. He takes a blade and does this.
A distraction is agreed upon, and only one man will do - Mr. Hyde. The Invisible Man is sent out to find Dr. Jekyll. O' Neil uses nothing to outline Griffin, no ghostly glass form is shone. O' Neill shows nothing in a brilliant series of panels but we still get a sense of how the Invisible Man is moving around.
Soon enough, we have the savage Mr. Hyde with a distraction.
Yes, Hyde shows a great predilection to eating his foes.
And here's another thing, Hyde can see the infrared spectrum, making it possible for him to see the Invisible Man through Griffin's heat signature.
Hyde maybe a brute but this is no mindless monster, never more clever than when he keeps his ability to 'see' the Invisible Man a secret.
An accidental fire starts consuming the poorhouse and everyone runs out. This is a happy mishap, soon enough a deluge will emerge from the tunnel mouth to wash over the poorhouse like a tsunami.
Alan Quatermain has put on Chinese clothing. Under this absurd disguise he manages to get into the chamber with the Cavorite.
The objective now is to escape. The pair meet up with Hyde who is still busy dismembering the Doctor's henchmen. All these is shown in some pretty bloody panels but let's just be content with the flying head on this one.
Now here's a strange place. The tunnel they are in was meant to connect the London areas of Rotherhithe and Shadwell but it was discontinued. A part of this tunnel has a glass roof where the river above can be viewed. It's really convenient for what happens next.
All the while Mr. Quatermain has been toting a well-wrapped package containing an Elephant gun. Here's a picture of the kind of ammunition this gun has.
Mr. Quatermain's rifle has only one shot, but it is put to good use. Mina comes up with the idea. The rifle will be used to shatter the glass roof while the Cavorite will propel them to safety. It's a crazy idea that works.
Soon enough the Cavorite is given to Campion Bond and the identity of the mysterious 'M' is revealed. He is James Moriarty arch foe of the world famous Detective Sherlock Holmes.
Next we see the greatest literary figure of the age : Detective Sherlock Holmes. Come to think of it, Holmes is very much deserving of being a member of the League. I've read that the five most recognizable characters to most of the world's population are Spider-Man, Superman, Mickey Mouse, Batman and Sherlock Holmes. Anyway, Holmes has a very good reason for not being part of the League - he's dead. We open in Switzerland, the setting is the famous death scene of Sherlock Holmes from Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Final Problem. But this is not Conan Doyle's world. It is Moore's. In this world Professor James Moriarty is an agent of the British Crown, a puppet criminal mastermind to hold criminality in check. It is quite upsetting to read that Moriarty, who has lost to Holmes in a fight, cravenly order the assassination of Holmes. I hate Moriarty, I hate Bond and I hate Moran, the stooge/policeman who actually did the killing. Damn them all and thank heavens for the events that we will see later.
Remember, I told you that this was London but not London, one reason being that there are so many contraptions that didn't really exist in Victorian England machine.
Up until I saw the panel below I thought the Campion Bond was in perfect alignment with James Moriarty but this panel shows that Bond, happily, has his reservations.
What happens next is the most senselessly brutal act in the whole series. The Invisible Man attacks and kills a constable.
Why does he do this? No reason at all, actually there is a reason, but it is so petty there might as well be none - he just want to wear the officer's uniform and scare people by walking around headless. At this point, Hawley Griffin is the most evil character in this comic. His compatriots are rightfully alarmed at his amoral ways but the whole incident is swept under the rug at the revelation of the identity of 'M'; most of the group don't know Moriarty, they are surprised that it isn't Mycroft Holmes as Ms. Murray thought. It is Nemo who informs them who their employer is and that he plans to use the Cavorite to do great damage to London in order to eliminate the Doctor.
The group then sets about to go up against Bond and M. As Holmes would have put it, "the game's afoot", and the pacing and atmosphere of the book takes a more exciting turn.
Moriarty's fearsome machine materializes in the skies over the city.
The people are shocked.
O' Neill's rendition of people is so realistic; people look different from each other, that's just how it really is. Movie star good looks are not the norm. You'll notice that the blind man is actually looking up.
At this point it seems that events will take a brutal turn.
The start of the conflagration brought about by Moriarty is something to see.
That cheesy bat on top of the skycraft is just perfect - just the right vulgar touch.
And here we have a cameo of the literary creations of Charles Dickens - the gang of pickpockets from Oliver Twist.
Last issue, Nemo was rummaging around the Nautilus for something to use against the skyship. I was half expecting it would be some kind of advanced air tech that would match the Nautilus but it's just a balloon. How can our heroes survive in this vulnerable little craft?
Here's another series of surprises, the cruel Doctor is still alive and he can still fight back. He launches (literally) his forces against the Cavorite-powered machine.
I don't know what to make of this extremely colorful assault. Come to think of it, in the tunnel scene, the machineworks were lit by Chinese festival lanterns.
Back in the balloon, Dr. Jekyll talks about something very interesting: It seems that when he first turned into his alter ego, Hyde was smaller than he was. This revelation is interrupted by Mina Murray who calls everyone's attention to the task at hand. This trivia will be taken up again in the second story, this time, by Mr. Hyde. I might as well go into the whole explanation here. The reason Dr. Jekyll concocted the potion that turned him into Hyde was a desire to separate his evil tendencies (vices, etc.) from himself and so become totally good. What happened was Jekyll started to diminish because the aggressiveness symbolized by Hyde was the source of his vitality. Hyde, starting out a smaller man, became a giant because the control provided by Jekyll no longer held his tendencies in check. Absolutely fascinating.
The League manage to board the airship undetected. Ms. Murray begins to slap around Dr. Jekyll in order to call forth the power of Hyde; and here we have a very important detail
As you can see Ms. Murray has a certain degree of control over Hyde. Or rather, Hyde allows this control.
Back to the battle.
This time the opponents are British, and the 'distraction' is provided by both Hyde and Nemo, who is armed with a primitive machine gun of his own design. A while back I was commenting on the evident racism that Nemo found himself in the receiving end of, but here it is Nemo who considers Englishmen in a racist light.
Once again, both Quatermain and Mina come near the precious Cavorite. Mina releases the substance into the sky, at this, Moriarty behaves very strangely.
Moriarty actually kills himself making an insane grab for the escaping Cavorite. This is quite baffling. How could this man, possessed of such a sharp mind that he is able to go head-to-head with Sherlock Holmes suddenly behave so irrationally? It must be megalomania. Moriarty is so fixated on the Cavorite as the key to his primacy that its potential loss unhinges him. A fitting end for this cowardly murderer.
Once again we have the Invisible Man showing his true colors. Seeing that the Cavorite is gone, and its the only thing keeping the airship afloat, it's time to beat a hasty retreat. Mr. Griffin has no problem of escaping all by his lonesome the others be damned.
Luckily he gets caught before he cuts the rope.
The balloon cannot carry the weight of Hyde so the team falls into the Thames into the waiting arms of the Nautilus
With Moriarty gone his position goes to this man
This is Mycroft Holmes, elder brother of Sherlock Holmes. In the Conan Doyle stories Mycroft was portrayed as even more brilliant than his brother but he was indolent and was content not to be involved with his younger brother's affairs.
The story ends with a foreshadowing of the next League of Extraordinary Gentlemen adventure.