Sunday 17 June 2012

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 2009 - Review and background

People who have been around me in conversation know that there is one unavoidable truth.

At some point in the conversation, I will talk about Alan Moore. More than likely, I will do so at length. Boring, interminable, overly-detailed length.  So it was really only a matter of time before I did so in a blog post. I'm actually surprised it took this long. But then, today, I read the conclusion to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century. So there's quite a bit to talk about.

Feel free to skip to the review if you wish. But the background to this book, and the controversy around it, is interesting in itself.


The timing couldn't actually be better for this to come out, since Moore is currently in the middle of a lot of conversation amongst comic book fans, with the launch of DC Comics' Before Watchmen. This is a prequel series to Watchmen, Moore's best known work.

It's also a project that Moore doesn't want to happen, for reasons that I will attempt to briefly summarise.

When Watchmen came out, it was seen as something of a progressive move for creators' rights in comics. Since the majority of major comic characters and stories were created under "work for hire", the properties were owned by the companies rather than the creators. This led to a lot of bad feeling when one of the creators of Superman had serious financial difficulties, having never really had a fair share of the amount of money made from the property. By the eighties, there were attempts to fix this situation and make it more fair.

As such, it was agreed that Watchmen would be more creator-friendly, and that Moore and Dave Gibbons (the artist) would gain the rights to the series when it went out of print.

Watchmen was enough of a hit that it has never been out of print. So the rights have never reverted to Moore and Gibbons. Moore feels strongly that, while this was legal, it went against the spirit of the agreement. It wasn't helped when DC classed some of the merchandise for Watchmen as 'promotional material', meaning that Moore and Gibbons didn't receive money for it.

This, along with the varying quality of movies based on Moore's work, has led to a lot of bad feelings and Moore now refuses to work with DC at all.

He's also been very critical of DC's decision to launch Before Watchmen, which obviously does not have his blessing or cooperation.

Some fans feel that Moore is being irrational or petty. Others feel that DC are being disrespectful. But the main arguments are usually over Moore's comments about DC's lack of originality. Because a lot of Moore's work involves other people's characters, some perceive this as hypocritical. Especially since some of his stories tend to be rather sexually explicit, which has got some people's backs up with regards to classic characters aimed at children (specifically in Lost Girls, but also some of the later instalments of the League stories).

Personally, I feel there's a difference between what Moore is doing (a fictional world inhabited by literary characters, using them to tell a story that is separate to their own narratives) and what DC are doing (an official prequel to Watchmen, presented as part of the same narrative). The League is not presented as a sequel to Dracula, or indeed as an official part of the Harry Potter universe.

I like DC a lot, and have massively enjoyed their recent relaunch of their main titles, but I have no interest in Before Watchmen. Not because I find the idea offensive or disrespectful (I'm with Rick Blaine, in that I have sympathy with the fox while understanding the point of view of the hound), but just that I feel the Watchmen story was told completely enough that it doesn't feel like there's anything new to say about any of that universe that interests me.

But Century: 2009 interests me a lot.

I loved the first two volumes of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Silly, dark and strange, it's a beautifully effective story. The follow-up, Black Dossier, was something of a mixed bag, which makes a lot more sense when you bear in mind that it was intended to be a primarily prose-based scrapbook of sorts, and the comic book elements were added in later as a framing device.

Century, which is published in three parts, tells the continuing story of the characters over a hundred years. It's been the least interesting part of the series for me, as it felt rather inconsistent. So that brings us up to today.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Century: 2009 review

As much as Century: 2009 is the last part of the Century trilogy, it's actually the final part of the story that began with Black Dossier,  which is absolutely necessary reading for this one in order to understand the Blazing World elements of the story. To a certain extent, this means that Century and Black Dossier effectively comprise the third full volume of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

For the first time, this feels complete in a way that none of the other parts had so far. I'd been worried about a law of diminishing returns, but what Century: 2009 actually does is to provide context for a lot of what had gone before. As a result, not only is this a strong story in its own right, but it actually makes the previous instalments much more satisfactory in and of themselves.

What felt like dangling plot points at times, or needless tangents, are often explained and completed here in a smooth way. It also provides an overall point to the story that was missing before, which in turn ramps up the satirical elements of the story in completely unexpected ways. Also brave ones, with Harry Potter being a particular target for a kicking - although to be fair, this appears to be more about the growing influence of franchises than Rowling's work specifically.

It's not a perfect piece of work, and it's still not up to the levels of the first two volumes of the League. It gets a little bit uneven with the pacing occasionally, and on a first read-through it feels like Moore started writing it without a specific ending in mind, but this may require some further re-reading. As a result, it feels like the resolution of the story probably would have happened in mostly the same way whether or not the main characters had done anything.

But it's audacious, it's big, bold and feels rather different to what's gone before. Some aspects (Michael Moorcock's time traveller, for example) may feel like handy narrative devices were it not for the fact that they actually feel mostly earned through the first two volumes. And all three of the main characters are handled fantastically, with where they all end up making complete sense.

At times, I was unsure about Moore's decision to continue using Mina and Allan from the first two volumes, but this final volume made me feel much, much more comfortable with that decision.

Kevin O'Neill's artwork is as great as it always has been on this series, and there are some beautiful artistic moments throughout (Prospero, who exists in a third dimension, breaking through the panels at one point is a particularly nice device). And his ability with caricature is astonishing. There aren't many artists that could so convincingly represent Michael Gambon at a single panel at a distance in such a way that you recognise him immediately. This means that the old League game of spotting references is as much fun as ever.

Overall, the work Moore has done on League since the original two volumes isn't as accessible as his earlier work, but it is hugely rewarding. It's funny, dark and sad all at the same time. It's also the most outrageous part yet.

Who would have thought that someone could tell a story entirely filled with other people's characters, and yet have it be such an original piece of work?

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Prometheus - My Thoughts

Prometheus is the first film in a long time that I've actually been willing to see in 3D. Between the landscapes in Alien and Blade Runner, I could see the appeal in seeing Ridley Scott working in 3D. In fact, as disinclined as I am towards retro-fitting 3D into movies, I would be very up for a 3D Blade Runner, just for those cityscapes.

Scott has been very clear that he does not regard this as a prequel to Alien, and rather an extension of the same world. Whether this is the case or not, it's reflective of a rather muddled thinking that permeates the entire film.

As an example, Guy Pearce plays an elderly character, with heavy makeup in order to make him look realistically old. Unfortunately, this is difficult to convince with. I suspect that even if Guy Pearce was an unknown, it would come as a revelation to precisely nobody that he wasn't the age he was playing. It appears that the main reason to cast a much younger actor is for the viral promotion in which a young Pearce addresses an audience at a futuristic TED conference.

Now, that's not to say that Pearce isn't good in the role. He's as good as he always is, as is just about everyone in it. There's a whole load of really good actors working really hard. And the direction is good throughout. The music is great, and other than the opening disintegration, the special effects are lovely throughout.

A lot of it does work, but it has problems. The dialogue is clunky at times, with people volunteering information for no particular reason. One character's infertility is introduced awkwardly, as is another character's motivation. On top of that, the supposedly unfeeling android repeatedly displaying obvious emotions (and not in such a way that suggests that he is just designed to pretend) means that the question of his humanity is a rather strange one. And the big questions ("What does it mean to be human?" "Why are we here?") are not so much subtly asked as repeatedly asked out loud.

Also, there are plot points that happen in such a way that they appear to be purely to allow the plot points to happen.The rest of this paragraph will have some plot spoilers, but I'll try to keep them vague. A remarkably handy hologram effect turns up occasionally to advance the plot, even interacting with surroundings to the point of switching on a star map. A medical bay appears to be gender-specific for no reason other than to add tension (I can think of a reason it's there, involving the revelation of another character, but not why it's gender-specific in the first place). A character reveals a secret plan which appears to have been secret for...absolutely no reason.

It's a frustrating movie in a lot of ways, but that's not to say that it's bad. It isn't. It's quite good, and that actually makes it more frustrating. I watched "Double Headed Shark Attack" the other day, which was absolute dross, so I didn't care about the ludicrous plot.

This movie, I liked a lot of, and so the frustrating elements were more frustrating. It doesn't hang together like it should, and it doesn't get me to care about the characters as much as it should. But it does mostly work, and I did care about the characters to an extent. It made me care enough about the movie that the issues with it annoyed me more than they would with a lesser movie.

It isn't as good as Alien. Or Blade Runner. But it is interesting, and there are a lot of good people doing very good work.

Oh, and Fassbender is great, but you didn't need me to tell you that.

Monday 4 June 2012


The actress accepted the award. Newspaper editors glared at the screen. Not only had she won the award yet again, but it meant that the front page would be wasted on an actress in her late sixties, rather than the cleavagy young thing that had also been nominated.

She was gracious, noting that she felt that she was very lucky. After the award ceremony, she made only perfunctory appearances at the after-parties. They were important for networking, but were for the publicity-conscious, which she no longer needed to be. Ten, twenty, thirty years ago, maybe. But no more. 

Instead, she went home.

She received multiple phone calls, and had many messages, but the only one she cared about was the one that told her that she had to be killed.

She cried at first, but she knew what it meant.

She had a stiff drink and then made a phone call. It was the early hours of the morning, but it didn't matter. She knew they'd answer.

They did, and they knew it was her calling.

"Does it really need to be so soon?"

The woman on the other side of the phone was pleasant and professional. "I'm afraid so. The time has come."

“You’re sure?”

“There’s no need to be scared,” she was told. “It won’t take long. Come in on Thursday. That way, we’ll announce it on Saturday morning and get maximum exposure in the weekend papers.”

She said good bye and put the phone down. “I know it won’t take long”, she said to herself, wishing that she’d said that to the woman on the phone.

She looked in the mirror while she removed her makeup. Not just the first layer, the eye liner and the makeup, but the rest. The latex, the putty, everything. It took hours to put on every morning, but always came off so quickly.

Taking off the tinted contact lenses last, she looked at her own eyes. Removed of the dullness of the contacts, they shone brighter than they had on screen for years.

On Thursday, she sat waiting in the clinic. The nurse came out to her. A young (yes, young, of course he was young, she thought to herself) man.  They introduced each other, then he said, almost predictably:

“I’m a big fan.”

She smiled. “Thank you. That means a lot.”

“Look, before this happens, could I get you to sign something for me?” He was, bless him, awkward.

“Of course.”

He pulled a DVD out of his jacket pocket. “It’s not for eBay or anything. It’s a transfer of one of your first movies.”

She looked at it. “I didn’t even know any copies existed.”

“They’re not allowed to.” He said. “You’re too recognisable in it.”

“I’m too recognisable in all of them,” she said. “Do you have any idea how much trouble I got in when they found out that I’d lied about not being in films before?”

“I know. As I said, fan. I had no idea you were one of us until you came back in the seventies.”

“So how did you get a copy of it?”

“I was a projectionist in the twenties. I kept the original. You were amazing in it.”

She couldn’t help it. She started to cry.

“I’ve never…” she said, gulping for air, “I’ve never done this before.”

“Really?” He asked. “I thought you had back in – “

“No,” she said. “The theatre… God, that was easy.  It wasn’t until photography turned up that the problems started. Stupid bloody invention.”

He hesitated, and then asked “Is it true that you always wore sunglasses for photos?”

She laughed, although the tears continued. “Yes. Worked great for about a decade.”

“It’s just going to be simple surgery. You’ll be unconscious, and we’ll break and reset some bones. It’ll hurt for a while, but it’s so much more effective than plastic surgery.”

“I know. I just… I wish there was another way.”

“You’re in the wrong business for that,” he said. “If you want to continue, you need to change your looks. The arts aren’t like other industries. You’re too public.”

“And it’s not like I can be anonymous.”

“Not with what you do. Writer, street artist… you can do those and be anonymous. You know that big guy in Britain, does the graffiti? Nobody sees that and thinks of the stuff he did during the renaissance. You can get away with that with art. Not the screen though.”

“I know. It’s just…I’ve really liked being her.” She dabbed her eyes, which had finally stopped crying.

“You’ll still be you.” He said.

“No, I won’t.” She said.

“Why not?”

“It won’t be my face any more. It’ll be a stranger in the mirror.”

“Then you’ll get to be someone else. Someone new.”

“They want me to have a boob job, you know that?”


“Because I’ll get to be the young actress now, and they don’t want my body recognised. It won’t even be my body any more. I refused to do it while I was… me. Now, though, they’re insisting, or I won’t be allowed to go back to it.”

“There’s a plus point though. Next time you do this, you get them taken out again. You get to do that.”

She laughed. “How fucking efficient.”

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get it over with.”

“Wait,” she said, looking in the mirror as she stood up. “Just let me say goodbye.”

Months later, she stood in front of the mirror in her new bedroom. She undressed and looked at her body first. She still didn’t like the new breasts. But she did like the tattoo. She’d never dared have one before.

Then she stood closer to the mirror, and looked closely at her face. She ran her fingers across her face, feeling her way around while she looked.

She didn’t know the face. Not yet. She was still working on it, but she could finally hold her own gaze without crying.

“Hello,” she said. “Hello, you. Hello, me.”