Along with the main characters, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2, is jammed with so many references from British literature that Alan Moore shouldn’t be credited with writing it so much as with editing it — or, even more accurately, with stringing things together. For those not interested in spotting the sometimes obscure, esoteric references, there’s a main plot which pits the League against a Martian invasion.
If there are any redeeming qualities about the second volume of League, the credit must go to H.G. Wells, since the good parts are all taken from The War of the Worlds. From that classic novel we get the basic plot of Martians landing in cylinders and then marching on London. League includes Kevin O’Neill’s own interpretation of the Martian war machines, as well as some appropriately horrific attacks on the people of England.
The League itself — Mina Harker, Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Edward Hyde, and the Invisible Man — is practically useless, as their main contribution to the battle against the Martians consists of Mina and Allan acting as a delivery service. The real solution against the Martians comes from a surprise character from another H. G. Wells novel. The League does little else, including develop as characters. What was initially a clever idea — bringing together fictional characters from disparate sources — has proven to be a dead end gimmick.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that sophistication or complexity isn’t enough for Moore; he usually relies on a certain crudity to indicate that his work is mature. The most disturbing thing about League is that it features yet another example of a woman being brutalized. Mina, who is the leader of the League, has been strong and resourceful throughout this series. But Moore couldn’t leave it alone; she is humiliated at the hands of another League member. On what’s supposed to be a positive note, she also has sex with Quatermain, and allows Hyde to feel her up. Mina isn’t allowed to be just a hero; she has to be defined by her body and how the others react to it. In retrospect, Moore’s choice of Jack the Ripper as the subject for his graphic novel From Hell was inevitable.
The two volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have garnered praise from the comics industry, but I’m even more convinced now that Moore’s great work on Miracleman, Watchmen, and Swamp Thing is unlikely to be repeated. He seems to have left his talent back in the 1980s.