The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, published by Top Shelf, brings the saga-of-sagas to a close. Two decades ago, the already legendary comics creators did something novel by taking characters from classic Victorian novels and weaving them into a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The team of heroes from before superheroes battled Moriarty and then a Martian invasion before going their different ways. Even that was not enough as the epic continued through the twentieth century with appearances by pulp adventurers, secret agents, atomic spacefarers, and even Mary Poppins. Through generations of descendants as well as familiar immortals, the mélange incorporated literature and film from all over the world before at last coming to an end.
The story continues with Dracula-fighter Mina Murray, millennia-old-warrior Orlando, and former-Avenger Emma Night fleeing toward the archipelago of mystical islands in the south Pacific to work with the heir of Captain Nemo to investigate yet another potential end of the world. They are pursued by MI5, whose new director, a revitalized Jimmy Bond, decides to deal with uncontrollable magical lands using tactical nuclear strikes. It is all out war between the rational world and the irrational.
The main story is crossed with an adventure from the 1960s, when British superheroes had their heyday. Pulling from one-shot heroes that appeared and disappeared at publishers’ whims, Moore and O’Neill build a strange team of Vull the Invisible whose helmet always shows; Electrogirl, who discovered her powers by electrocuting her cat; the zodiac-powered Zom; and Captain Universe, who gained his powers from thinkers like Pythagoras and Galileo. In addition to dealing with a science fiction movie monster, the various heroes have to contend with copyright legal action and comical ultra-hungry schoolboys.
In true form to Moore and O’Neill, the comics are interspersed with gems creating a level of metanarrative along with the narrative. Each of the six issues combined into the Tempest volume includes a one-page essay about a tragic creator in comics history like Leo Baxendale and Marie Duval as well as a letters-to-the-editor page where they look more into the classic characters while replying to questions from totally-not-made-up-at-all fans. These are in addition to the familiar cavalcade of literary references in the secondary characters and backgrounds that shows the depth of the widest shared universe of all time, best read with annotations. Practically each page is an homage to a different style of comics from the modern heavily inked, ragged boxes to the neat block panels of early newspaper strips with heavy narration in their captions.
The story’s end segues into a reflective postscript with Moore and O’Neill reviewing the colossal set pieces of the ongoing epic from Moriarty’s airship to Martian vistas to the good ole Nautilus. Tongue-in-cheek as it is, there is such a note of sweet sorrow as Moore and O’Neill narrate their achievements and imperfections in creating the ultimate mashup that just kept mashing up and up across twenty years.