Science Fiction Book Review


Heroes & Monsters

(2006) Jess Nevins, Titan Books, 12.99, pbk, 239pp, ISBN 1-84576-316-5

 

This is volume one of The Unofficial Companion To The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Also available volume two, A Blazing World (2006, Jess Nevins, Titan Books, 12.99, pbk, 304pp, ISBN 1-84576-317-3) and, forthcoming, volume three The Black Dossier. For those who only know the League from the film with Sean Connery, I should perhaps point out that it was based on a comic series written by the brilliant Alan Moore and drawn by the equally talented Kevin O'Neill (both 2000AD alumni). The comics brought together the fictional worlds of H Rider Haggard (Allan Quartermain), Jules Verne (Captain Nemo), Bram Stoker (Mina Murray/Harker), HG Wells (The Invisible Man), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Moriarty), Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde), and Sax Rohmer (Dr.Fu Manchu), to name but a few. The series also contain innumerable references to literary Victoriana and the fact is, no matter how well read the audience might be, no one could possibly be expected to follow every single reference. Hence these 'companions'. The first two volumes, originally published in 2003, grew from a web-site to which various people posted references that they had picked up in order to share with fellow readers the joy in depth of the comics. The first volume contains, in addition to the extremely detailed panel-by-panel annotations, an introduction by and interview with Alan Moore, and various essays on the archetypes represented by some of the major characters, on crossovers in general (which stretch back, if you think about it, to such tales as the Iliad and Jason and the Argonauts), and on "The Yellow Peril", all of which are fascinating. The second volume with, again, extensive annotations to the series, has another introduction and interview with Moore, and also an interview with Kevin O'Neill. In both volumes the annotations are, themselves, annotated by O'Neill. It's worth mentioning also that each volume sports beautiful cover art by John Picacio. The film can, or course, be enjoyed on its own merits, such as they are, but it will never be in remotely the same league (ahem!) as the comics. The comics can also, of course, be enjoyed in their own rights without recourse to these volumes but, for a certain type of reader, these companion volumes will be absolutely enjoyable and can enhance one's pleasure in reading the original material (and even, perhaps, in re-reading the original sources...). Highly recommended to those of that particular frame of mind.

Tony Chester


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