According to an article in Salon.com by Douglas Wolk, years before its publication, Alan Moore described The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier as “not my best comic ever, not the best comic ever, but the best thing ever. Better than the Roman civilisation, penicillin...and the human nervous system. Better than creation. Better than the big bang. It’s quite good.”
It isn’t unknown for a writer to tout his own work, but Moore, best known for Watchmen and one of the finest comic book creators around, isn’t just any writer. His reference to the big bang isn’t out of place either. Black Dossier, in some ways, is the comic book equivalent of one of Umberto Eco’s more playful allusion-filled works. As Wolk writes in Salon.com, “There’s a certain kind of hyper-referential cleverness at which nobody else is even in Moore’s, well, league — a knitting together of other people’s creations into a Grand Unified Theory of the cultural imagination — and Black Dossier is the apotheosis of fan-fiction, a dumbfounding mash-up of pop culture and pulp entertainment.”
That’s high praise for a comic book that isn’t short of either allusions or gimmicks (including special 3D glasses that need to be used to read one section).
It’s also the best possible culmination for a series of three books (one of which was made into a movie that, despite having its B-movie moments, didn’t exactly set the screens alight). The first two books, by Moore and Kevin O’Neill (the artist), tell the story of how Victorian-era England assembled a collection of “fictional” heroes and heroines (Mina Harker from Dracula, Allan Quartermain from Rider Haggard’s pulp fiction, Mr Hyde, Captain Nemo and others) to complete a mission (in the second book, this is to fight off space invaders). The third, also illustrated by O’Neill, makes for more difficult, and also more interesting reading. It presents extracts from Black Dossier, and these vary from the visually enchanting to the downright pornographic.
The book, a sort of here’s-the-meaning-of-everything offering from Moore, is also as postmodern as postmodern comes. Other people before Moore have taken creations of other writers and artists and built something entirely new and entirely different, but no writer has done it as well in recent times as Moore does with Black Dossier.
As P.G. Wodehouse, one of the writers used thus in Black Dossier, would have put it, the man must eat a lot of fish.
Write to Sukumar at firstname.lastname@example.org