First, let’s start with the parts, a survey of sorts of the bar before we start imbibing.
There’s Oliver Haddo, the protagonist of The Magician, a book by W. Somerset Maugham, loosely based on, and an unkind representation of Aleister Crowley.
There’s Andrew Norton, the time-traveller from Slow Chocolate Autopsy, a book by Iain Sinclair.
Then there are the constant characters, Wilhel“mina” Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Allan Quatermain from H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, and Orlando (probably from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando).
Throw in pop references, such as Harry Potter, the Iraq war, Universal Exports, and Rosemary’s Baby, and what do you have?
Alan Moore regulars would have recognized the characters. They are from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, by Moore and Kevin O’Neill. And this particular edition of Cult Fiction is about the fourth book in the series (after Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and The Black Dossier), Century.
Century is a book in three parts, two of which are out (the second came out a few months ago).
The broad plot of Century (the one that you can say in two lines) is similar to several works that have come before it: A secret group works towards the birth of the Antichrist; another group works to stop them; they clash.
Only, this mix has a man called Moore in the middle, so the plot is anything but linear or simple. Allusions and references, some of them musical (Brecht and Weill, The Sex Pistols), come hard and fast. I have read the two parts that are out so far, and loved them (Moore is his usual self and O’Neill outdoes himself with the artwork), but even I couldn’t help but feel that Century treads the slender line between a masterpiece and an indulgence. Anyway, this fanboy will leave that to the critics, some of whom have trashed Century (and Moore) for the abundance of references, some of which will likely sail over the heads of most readers, and which do seem vestigial to the plot.
Moore mania: A mix of references.
Part 1 is 1910: What Keeps Mankind Alive. It is set in London of the 1910s and starts with the League in quest of a secret cabal that is looking to create the Moonchild (the Antichrist, and also a novel by Aleister Crowley).
Part 2 is 1969: Paint it Black. It is set in London in the late 1960s and after, replete with hippie and punk overtones. It starts with the death of Basil Fotherington-Thomas (another reference, and this one I will leave for you, Constant Reader, to work out; just google it, silly) at the hands of Haddo’s men and the subsequent entry of the League, which continues its investigation into the coming of the Antichrist.
Part 3, which hasn’t been released, is supposed to be set in 2009 and in a 2008 interview Alan Moore told Forbidden Planet, a magazine on fantasy, science fiction, comics and pop culture, while speaking about the freedom that moving away from a mainstream comic label (Century is published by Top Shelf), that the series is “a lot more atmospheric, it builds to a tremendously bloody climax…”
I can hardly wait.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to him at email@example.com