The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009
Obligatory warning: Major spoilers ahead:
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009 marks the completion of a narrative arc that began with Black Dossier. But it also works (whether or not the LOEG actually continues from here) as a fitting conclusion for the series as a whole. Having brought the Victorian-era cast right up to an apocalyptic Twenty-First Century, there isn't much left to do but to give them a fond sendoff. That is, if they can survive the rampage of Oliver Haddo's antichrist.
Admittedly, I was less engaged with the de rigueur tangle of cultural references found in this book. Partly, this might be due to the contemporaneous nature of what was being referenced. And the heavy Anglo-centric focus didn't really help, as it's something of a personal blind spot. So I'm pretty sure I missed about 99% of them on my first reading. While I picked-up on some of the James Bond allusions, I had already lost interest in that franchise even before Roger Moore left the role. But given the overall mood, I'm not sure it matters. In my review of Century: 1969, I noted an oppressive undercurrent just beneath a surface of gaudy colors and sexual liberation. Forty years later, things have become far worse. The year 2009 apparently discloses an exhausted world just waiting for an inevitable end.
Lest there be any doubt where everything is heading, LOEG's satire is far more blunt than in 1969. As the glorious monuments from previous adventures crumble, nuclear war is an ever imminent threat, British bobbies look and act like Imperial Stormtroopers, and popular entertainment as a whole is crude and apathetic. It's vaguely reminiscent of the Cold War ennui of Watchmen. The comic attacks the essentially bourgeois nature of pop culture, specifically through its biggest target: J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. As principal characters Mina Murray and Orlando stand on the ruins of Hogwarts, the former comments "This whole environment seems artificial, as if it's been constructed out of reassuring imagery from the 1940s…" Just one of a continuous string of zingers castigating the mega-popular franchise. And yet nothing is quite as reactionary as Mina's own indictment of the new millennium: "People were desperately poor in 1910, but at least they felt things had a purpose. How did culture fall apart in barely a hundred years?" To which Orlando replies "By becoming irrelevant, same as always…"
Eh, whatever. But Mina was trapped in a madhouse for forty of those hundred years. So I can cut her some slack. Isn't her distress part of the point? Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill are most effective when capturing the inner turmoil of the cast. In 1969, they were grappling with the consequences of immortality. In 2009, they're dealing with an overwhelming sense of crushing defeat. Allan Quatermain in particular cuts a truly pathetic figure driven to the depths of despair by Mina's disappearance in 1969, yet manages to perform one last act of heroism before being killed by the antichrist's magical piss. I know that sounds ironic, but it's actually quite touching when read. Given how anachronistic a figure the "Great White Hunter" has become, it's as fitting a way as any to end Allan's life of adventuring. And after being put through the ringer, all of these vintage (but cleverly re-imagined) characters are just about ready to call it a century, and a career.
But if anyone has earned the right to be a crank baying at the world, it's Alan Moore. And if anyone has had cause to complain about the uninspired perpetuation of media franchises, it's also him. If he wants an underwhelming Harry Potter to be easily bought down by an equally unimpressed Mary Poppins (And not by the more conventional means of the mythical sword Excalibur), I'd say it's as clever a way as any to depict the fall of Western Civilization. So what comes next?