The first thing that one notices upon opening their copy of the graphic novel “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is the nostalgic marketing pages. The creators have a page of credits and illustration that seem to place the creation of the book into the same time frame as the setting of the book.
It is made most clear on the back cover, where the descriptions of the authors are related. Both are described as reaching the pinnacle of their respective careers in the mid-1800s.
From the first page of story, we can see that the artwork, in full color, is well detailed, and well thought out. On just the second page we can pick out what kind of society this story is going to take place in. It is a full page illustration with only two small lines of dialogue.
The illustration depicts a large concrete bridge, over a green river, surrounded by complex, motored machines.
There is a sign on one of the posts of the bridge which declares the building company has postponed the completion of the bridge. The machines are emitting white puffs which could be smoke, but seem more likely to be steam.
At first one thinks that the water may be polluted, due to its color, but then we see a small boat under the bridge, and a small fish being carried away by one of the white sea-birds. The plaque posted by the construction company ends with ‘Long live the queen.’
It’s a London with clean air, and clean water. It’s an alternate London where steam engines are the future, instead of combustion, and the sun still never sets on the empire. It is the fictional steamy London of the late 1800s.
The story that follows makes for a good fantasy adventure. A team of ‘heroes’ who complement each other’s abilities, must undertake a great quest, and succeed against great odds. A quest that is complete with a journey to the underworld.
The story in general could have worked in any medium, indeed most of the characters within already existed in fantasy novels. These characters are all depicted exceedingly well, not exactly as they were in their novels, but how they possibly would have been, years after the original stories were over.
This is seen most drastically in Griffin, The Invisible Man. The character in the original story had to wrestle with a few daemons, but he is not really a bad man. The temptation to be completely selfish, when you know that you cannot be caught is very strong, I’m sure, and in “The League” these temptations have overcome Griffin, and taken control of his life only a year after gaining his unique attribute.
He seems completely unable to care about other people. The team finds him in a girl’s dormitory, ravishing the innocent Pollyanna, while she is seemingly suspended in the air, believing that a spirit is taking her.
The characters are very interesting and dynamic. All of them seem to go from destitute to hero, with the exceptions of Murray and Nemo, who are already members of the team at the beginning of the novel. Quartermain makes the most drastic transformation: From emaciated opium addict to hero, and romantic lead.
While reading through the book for the first time I couldn’t help but constantly think how difficult it must have been to write the plot lines. All of the characters are drawn from period literature, not just the main characters.
Granted, that is not a small pool to draw from, but it still seems amazing how well all of these characters have been woven together in this tale. There are even hints at previous leagues made up of older literary figures. It makes one curious who was in each generation’s League, and what kind of adventures they may have had.
If there was still a league today, who would be in it? Harry Potter? Jack Ryan? James Bond? John McClaine? Agent K? Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
It’s difficult to come up with popular adventure characters that are from stories set in today’s world. This generation’s group would have to draw from movies and comic books as well as novels, or there wouldn’t be enough members. Very few of our novelized adventure and action stories are set in our own time.
All of these components together make this story successful as a grand adventure: The variations in color and style of the illustrations throughout, set the moods and scenes well, and the dialogue seems to flow naturally from the character’s personalities.
It has a detailed setting, dynamic characters, a verisimilar plot and resolution, and a story world that leaves the reader curious about, not just what’s going to happen next, but also about what came before.