Fifteen years after Alan Moore wove together the literary world with his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he is still going strong with Nemo: River of Ghosts from Top Shelf Comix. The initial comics brought together favorite Victorian figures like the Invisible Man, Mr. Jekyll, Dracula’s Mina Murray, H. Rider Haggard’s great white hunter Alan Quartermain, and more together to defeat threats to the peace and prosperity of the empire, be they Sherlock’s old nemesis or Martian invaders. After such a success, the mixing of literary favorites continued with the Century as the heroes went on to stop the end of the world.
Now, Moore’s Nemo trilogy brings together even more characters from the twentieth century’s speculative fiction era best known as “Pulps.” In Heart of Ice and Roses of Berlin, the infamous Captain Nemo’s daughter Janni continued her father’s explorations of the unknown and his quest to strike down those who endanger that he holds dear. Heart of Ice touched on the mythos of writers like Lovecraft from the Thirties, while Roses of Berlin brought together German influences like the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. In the concluding third part, River of Ghosts ventures into a whole new realm of literature: the blue rags of the 1970s. Sultry, ultra-violent stories were the pulps of their days, and it is fitting to see the latest take in the credits page portraying “True Sweat” magazine.
The story in River of Ghosts begins when the aged Janni hears a rumor of her nemesis, the immortal African queen Ayesha, returning from the dead. She is allegedly heading for the Amazon river, where Janni pursues her despite advice of her allies to leave the rumors alone. The jungle is a mysterious place, filled with Creatures from Black Lagoons and young Hynkel clones, from a number of stories of doctors saving Hitler’s brain. Yet Janni has reinforcements in the grown-up Hugo Hercules as her bodyguard as well as a lifetime of supporters now appearing to her as ghosts. The story is action-packed with beautiful robot assassins and a plateau where dinosaurs still roam.
To fully appreciate the wealth of world-building in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen universe, it is best to read the story and then go back through the comic once more with a rundown of all the literary references. In the introductory pages alone, as Janni interviews her network of allies, names like “Blofeld” (of James Bond SPECTRE fame, which many readers may recognize) and “Mabuse” (a German villain who uses hypnosis through several films and novels in the 1920s, which many readers may not know about at all). The background of each panel is packed with pop culture references from across the generations, everything from cartoon Squiddly Diddly to the bell from the Titan, which sank in fiction more than ten years before the Titanic herself met such a fate. This weaving of such details into the shared world of speculative literature is truly what makes the League universe unique, and River of Ghosts is an excellent addition to the collection.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1603093559]