American’s Best Comics, 2003, 224 pages, C$22.95 hc, ISBN 1-4012-0118-0
After the critical and popular success of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume I (the comic book, not the movie), the expected sequel took its time to appear, and in doing so raised expectations to an unattainable level. Now that Volume II is on bookshelves in a trade paperback format, everyone can be disappointed for less money than the hardcover edition.
As suggested on the last page of the prequel, this sequel deals with a Martian invasion of England. Once again, our Extraordinary Gentlemen are sent to investigate. What they find seems to be safely contained within an impact crater, but as we may expect from those type of stories, things don’t remain under control for too long: it doesn’t take two issues for the English countryside to be set ablaze. But if you think that the Martians are the only problem, you’ll be sorely mistaken: Tensions between members of the League, simmering since the Volume I, are finally allowed to boil over. Terrible things happen. More literary references are made. Two (maybe three) graphic sex scenes occur. The Martians are vanquished. The book ends.
If the violence in Volume I made you uneasy, Volume II is much worse. It’s not simply a matter of thousands of people dying through the Martian invasions (some of them in a gruesome fashion; being burnt alive is not a pretty death, even in comic form), but also of very personal violence between the protagonists of the tale. Issue 5 alone will make more than one reader queasy. The violence is not without consequences; Moore alters the series so significantly that whatever League composes the rumoured Volume III won’t look anything like this one. (Don’t lose hope, though: the appended prose “New Traveller’s Almanac” describes more than a few further adventures for the surviving characters), The least we can say is that the go-for-broke dramatic intensity of this adventure is a refreshing change from comic book series designed to last decades in static patterns.
What is unfortunate, however, is that the League’s actions in this adventure seem far more passive and limited than in the prequel. Most of Issue 1 is spent on Mars, in a prologue that seems as drawn-out as superfluous. For the longest time, The League simply looks at what’s happening with scarcely any progress. Then, as it splinters in interpersonal conflicts, the big heroics come when two members of the League are used as glorified messengers. The same lack of explicit action also plagued Volume I, but to a lesser extent given how it was counter-balanced by the formation of the League. Here, half the characters are wasted. Plot-wise, Volume 2 is just a disappointment.
Naturally, the simple fact that this is a sequel works against its impact. We’re already familiar with the imagined world of Moore’s pastiche. We already know how The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a mash-up of Victorian-era heroes. We already think that this is a piece of genius. We already played with fascinating elements from the period. While H.G.Wells’ The War of the Worlds and The Island of Dr. Moreau are not trifles, they can’t compete with the heady spin of the first volume’s constant invention. Oh well.
For fans of the first book, the sequel is still worth a look if only to bring the story to a natural conclusion. Moore’s writing definitely has its moments —though the motivation in one villain deciding to turn against the league seems highly suspect. Even if I’m still not a big fan of Kevin O’Neill’s deliberately stylized work, it features a dynamism and a gorgeous use of colour that’s pleasant to see. The playfulness of the concept is still strong enough that anyone with even the slightest interest in Victorian literature will get another kick out of this. But please: no movie sequel.