Posted by Pete Albano - September 5, 2010 | Updated April 19, 2012
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen : A Little Background
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen vol 1
The first issue of the second volume is my favorite issue of them all. It's different from all the other issues because its set on Mars not on Earth and the League only comes in at the very end. Nearly every panel of this issue is incredible.
The story starts with a man dressed in Arab garb and sporting a gas mask riding a flying carpet through the Martian landscape.
Note the red crags and the weird, swirling cloud tendrils. It's absolute sci-fi goodness.
The guy in the flying carpet lands and meets this green alien
And just like that I know what this alien is - it's a Barsoom, from Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian novels. I haven't read a single novel but I did read the Marvel Comics adaptation of John Carter, Warlord of Mars , so the green guy with the four arms and tusks is familiar. It's just absolutely delightful how Moore uses this stuff.
Soon the magic carpet guy, Gullivar, is conducted to the presence of another human whom he calls 'John'. It's John Carter! The discussion involving 'the Princess' confirms it. Unfortunately, something bad seems to have happened to the Princess, who could be no other than Deja Thoris.
The discussion of these two men is incredibly interesting. Mars seems to be inhabited by five races : Humans, Hithers, Xorns, Barsoomians and a parasitic race referred to as Molluscs. Everybody is at war with the Molluscs and the scene is the eve of a great battle.
The formation of the armies is shown in fascinating panels showing the stylized Martian landscape. Pretty soon the battle is underway and the Mulloscs reveal themselves as they ride out with their war machines.
These 'tripods' are right out of the writing's of H.G. Wells . The Mulloscs are so powerful that with only two tripods they begin to overwhelm the Barsoomian and Hither armies. But then these guys arrive
This image is only enriched by Gullivar's statement that he's never seen the Xorn's before. Evidently a mysterious race, and powerful - they manage to destroy the tripods
Here are the Hithers. They remind me of the armies of the Ottoman Empire
Just like the Ottoman's with their famous Hungarian cannons which they used to breach the walls of Byzantium, the Hithers have a formidable cannon of their own which they use to breach the enclave of the Molluscs.
The small panel showing the breach is just wonderful
Inside the walls they see this strange creature in a cage.
It is a Xorn with wings. According to Gullivar the Molluscs seem to have performed 'flesh mechanics' on the poor creature. It now looks like our popular conception of an angel doesn't it? Look at the other Xorns staring at it, what could they be thinking at such a thing being done to their fellow? This panel really welcomes a lot of scrutiny
Carter (John is never referred to as Carter, by the way), and Gullivar discover items related to Earth among the effects of the Molluscs. Shortly after that, they see 'rockets' blasting off from Mars and both gentlemen realize that the Molluscs are on their way to Earth.
Take a wild guess who the welcoming committee is going to be? The adventure is on!
The Mollusc ships that left Mars were very specific in their target destination. They did not simply want to arrive on Earth; every single one landed in England - Gullivar's and John Carter's country.
The first ship that landed produced a crater and has become a sensation. By the time the League gets to it, people are doing this . . .
What they are doing is assisting whoever is in the ship. Apparently, a substantial part of he people still theorize that the ship was from another country not another planet. I was initially nonplussed by this reaction from the public, but you know what, it makes perfect sense. A ship like this lands in our midst, what it really is, it's a blank slate. It allows us to project how we feel about it and hold that as truth. People who believe in benevolent aliens or foreigners will go out with their shovel. People who believe that the world is a dangerous place full where one should be careful will keep back. The League keeps back, not only on orders, mind you, they've been through too much to trust so blindly or allow their expectations to overrule the fact that they are before mystery.
Soon enough the craft opens and for the first time we see a Mollusc
The following two panels shows the mollusc struggle in the higher Earth gravity and fall out of the craft. I find these panels also very icky. Yech. Clams for dinner anyone?
I was talking a while back of people who insist on believing on benevolent aliens without proof. Well here they are - the welcoming committee with the white flag.
And here they go. The Mollusc reveal a fearsome weapon - a heat ray.
The attack on Earth begins when everybody starts getting killed
At this juncture, Mr. Hyde becomes a big, big, favorite of mine.
Go get them Hyde! It's amazing how when we were on our own, no alien in sight, Hyde was a monster and a concern for us. When the aliens arrive, Hyde is one of us, a fellow defender and friend. It's the old theory of the secret to world peace being an alien invasion. Anyway, the others manage to restrain Mr. Hyde for more opportune moments in the future.
British government response to this crisis is admirably organized. The government brings its regiments in to begin shelling the landing crater, and some newer ones that have appeared throughout the country. In the meantime, their team of special agents, the League, is kept on hand but not in the forefront.
The inn that the team stays in has been evacuated and it's called 'Bleak House' from the novel of the same name by Dickens. I love this inn. Living in the city myself, seeing all this space, and the nearness of nature, is just glorious. I'd live here in a pinch.
Inside the inn, Quatermain and Nemo are playing a game with matches that I am unfamiliar with - they end up spelling the word 'Nine' with the matches
This is a great panel showing the arrival of more craft from space. I just love the depiction of the night sky.
I can't get enough of that sky. Here's another shot of it, peaceful and clear with Mina looking up from a bench.
As the group turns in for the night, we have some remarkable panels that reveal the special relationship between Mina Murray and Mr. Hyde. A relationship that was coming to the surface during the first volume when they were infiltrating Moriarty's skyship.
If Mina Murray hadn't been attacked by Dracula she would not be able to countenance even a moment's talking with Mr. Hyde. But, as she says, she knows of worse horrors. As for Hyde, he is showing a tremendous level of humanity here - the man within the monster; under the surface, distorted, but there, nonetheless. Stan Lee should have done this with the Hulk in the 60s. Mr. Hyde is an excellent Moore/O' Neill creation.
Let's recall the many sins of Hawley Griffin, the Invisible Man. From volume 1, he raped those poor girls in the Edmonton School. He brutally killed that constable. And, he was about to abandon the League to the falling skyship. Griffin is becoming the villain of the piece and here is his personal apex. He betrays the Earth to the invaders because he has come to the conclusion that England, and the Earth, has no chance.
Mr. Griffin is not through, there will be worst things later on.
All throughout the night, a busy clatter could be heard from the craters. Nemo says that something is being assembled - and not by the humans. True enough, those vicious tripods we first saw in the first issue of this volume are now going to be introduced to Earth.
The regiments sent to shell the craters have been killed and the danger heightens to a point that the League is asked to regroup in their headquarters in the British Museum, farther from the danger zone.
I love the artifacts. I tried researching some of the labels in this panel, but they seem to be fictional.
The League goes around via a coach provided by the Government. The driver of this coach is Samson, a veteran of the British wars. I consider him a de facto member of the League - together with Detective Dupin from volume 1 - for the simple reason that he manages to stand up to Mr. Hyde. Witness . . .
Look at this coach, it's got one horse but it manages to carry the entire League - including Mr. Hyde
The League finally gets its first glimpse of a tripod. Click to enlarge
Back in the first volume, I considered the Invisible Man's assault on the constable to be the most brutal scene in the series. Here's the one that comes in second: The Invisible Man's assault on Ms. Mina Murray. Just terrible.
Look at this huge skull in the British museum. Must be a giant - fascinating.
Here is a pivotal scene: Mr. Hyde discovers the brutalized, but still alive, body of Mina Murray. The monster is a man after all.
Looking at this panel you know it's going to be bad for the Invisible Man. Remember Hyde can see him. Personally, I'm looking forward to it. As a consideration for the traumatic event, Mycroft Holmes sends both Mina and Quatermain on a side mission away from the immediate danger. End of issue.
Look at the cover of issue 4. That 'flame box' the tripod is holding is fascinating. It's never explained buy you can see a crystal right in front of it. The tripods seem to be magnifying the natural heat from our sun.
The start of the fourth issue shows the tripod attacking a passenger train.
We are shown how brutal it really is. Before the attack, a boy, Jimmy Grey, and his family.
After the attack . . .
Now here's a panel I really like. The Nautilus takes out a tripod!
Nemo starts recovering the parts of the tripod for study.
Here's another great panel showing the un-London with the Nautilus docked beside it.
Another wonderful rendition is the forest that Mina and Allan find themselves in during their side mission.
Meanwhile, the attack on London is underway.
I'm not an apologist for Captain Nemo. I'm only analyzing the panels. I insinuated racist tendencies from the Captain when he was gunning down British soldiers in the first volume. It seems I was wrong; the Captain was merely engaged in a fight he must win. The reason I say that is because of several panels scattered around this issue. The first panel occurs as London is attacked and the necessity of destroying a bridge with a lot of civilians on it becomes a distinct possibility. It's a horrid deed, but the Nautilus will have to do it in order to protect still more lives in the City. We have Nemo say something insensitive if not outright horrible.
It's just a front. Nemo doesn't really feel that way. He's just frustrated that there seems to be no other option. What he really feels can be seen from a panel previous to this.
Scene change to yet another inn, the Olde Stumpe. If this is a literary reference its one that is unfamiliar to me.
Big house surrounded by nature - simply doesn't grow old for a city dweller like me.
Did I mention that this issue and the next one are the sex issues? Hmmm. How could I have forgotten. Let's look into some panels showing showing Quatermain and Mina having some serious fun. I find O'Neill's realistic portrayals more rousing than the stylised, too perfect illustrations in other comics.
The whole thing is so enjoyable the pair is still at it well into issue 5.
This is when the pair meet up with the worst illustrated characters in the series. Here's a sample. Notice the soiled crotch area.
This creature and others like it are the creation of another famous literary character. H. G. Well's Dr. Moreau - the mad scientist who creates man-beasts.
I don't like the way they're rendered because they look like giant teddy bears.
Meanwhile, In the Thames, another betrayal by Hawley Griffin results in the Molluscs clogging the Thames with a red weed that traps the Nautilus.
Mr. Hyde has had enough of Griffin and, following his intuition that the Invisible Man is hanging out in the plush British Museum he proceeds there directly via Samson's coach. Intuition is a wonderful thing and very real isn't it? That little feeling you have on occasion warning you of danger or giving flashes of insight. Prepare yourself, the Invisible Man is coming up for a brutal comeuppance.
The understated way that it is revealed to Griffin that Hyde can see him only serves to project Hawley's sudden terror.
What follows next is bone-breaking, beatings and sodomy. Hyde makes it very clear that this is not because of Hawley's betrayal but because of the brutalization of Ms. Murray. In the end the invisible man is reduced to a suffering heap on the floor.
Back to Quatermain and Mina. The animals might be corny but Dr. Moreau himself is fascinating, largely because he considers his work, referred to by Quatermain as 'ghastly', as not only normal but beautiful.
It's a nice touch from Moore that the Dr. Moreau names all his creations with the designation 'H' and a number. 'H' for hybrid. Thus, the bear that Mina and Allan first encountered is H-9. Apparently the ninth creation; the doctor is is creating H-216 these days. The government is interested in H-142, the streptococci/anthrax hybrid they plan to use against the Molluscs.
Before leaving, the doctor invites both his guest to a little repast. Look at the food.
Fruits surrounded by dead rats. Served by a surly dog-beast.
Speaking of food, it's back to the museum for some dinner. During the meal something strange starts to happen
Apparently the blood is Griffin's blood from Hyde's brutalizations. It's suddenly appearing in front of everybody because the invisible man's invisibility is fading - and it's fading because he's dead. I can't think of a better way of showing the demise of the Invisible Man than this. Moore is wonderfully creative. On to the last issue . . .
The most bestial member of the League is the one with the most developed intuitive capability. Hyde sensed that Griffin was in the Museum, now he knows of his own impending death.
We are about to leave Dr. Moreau, but before we do, he has one final shocking detail to impart. H-9 the bear man has a very pronounced sexual drive which he satisfies by having sex with a local woman in exchange for a large sum of money. Moreau = total weirdness.
The pair proceeds back to London where Bond's face conveys just how badly things have been going
There are more tripods than I thought.
Here's the situation, every bridge across the Thames has been destroyed except one. The Thames itself is impassable because of the red weed. If the the tripods manage to cross the bridge it would be an utter disaster. They have to be prevented. It is Hyde who is up to the task. He knows he's going to die so he asks one final thing from Mina, and is granted it - a kiss.
It wouldn't be Hyde if he didn't also ask to touch Mina's breast. He he.
Now he's happy
One of the tripod's trains it's heat ray on Hyde and our would-be hero is incinerated. The defense is a failure. Absolutely disappointing. All that's really needed is a bit of time for the British to 'deliver' H-142. Just a little bit of time.
Let's give credit were credit is due. Whatever potion Dr. Jekyll concocted must be some magical stuff because Hyde manages to get back up.
Our ferocious hero manages to upend a tripod and open the hatch.
Now here's something utterly memorable. Hyde, who eats his foes, has a bit of oyster on a half shell.
The best commentary for this is provided by Nemo.
His words are dead-on. Proof of it is the other tripods hitting Hyde with simultaneous heat blasts.
Hyde has provided the necessary time for H-142 to be deployed. The tripods fall one by one.
The second volume ends with the end of the League itself. Hyde and Griffin dead. Nemo departs, deploring the chemical attack resorted to by Mycroft and Bond.
Here's writer Alan Moore talking about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen :
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen : A Little Background
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen vol 1