BLACK DOSSIER by Allan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (cover by O’Neill, all rights to current holder) was the third book in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, and when it first came out, I loved it. Rereading, not so much.
The story opens with a disguised Mina (“My name is … Oodles O’Quim.”) hitting on a British agent, Jimmy, just returned from a mission in Jamaica. Jimmy, sensing a lay, shows her to a convenient secret MI6 base where, conveniently, the eponymous file on the Murray Group and its predecessors lies. Mina and Allan knock Jimmy out, and now have to get the file back to the other-dimensional Blazing World, with James Bond, Bulldog Drummond and Emma Peel in hot pursuit.
I loved it when I first read because it took the League concept from the Murray Group and threw it back in time (details on Prospero’s Men, the original LXG founded by Queen Gloriana) and into the twentieth century, with cameos from Harry Lime (of the classic Third Man), Billy Bunter (old schoolboy character), Big Brother. Dr. Mabuse and Robur the Conqueror. That was awesome. And so was the style — comic strips, Shakespearian plays, Tijuana bibles, postcards, it’s a glorious crazy-quilt. The high point is What Ho, Gods of the Abyss, in which the Murray Group meets up with Bertie Wooster. I think it’s my favorite segment of the entire series.
Even on first reading, though, a couple of things really bugged me. One is that in the course of their escape, Allan and Mina try getting a ride out of England’s spaceport. This allows the creators to work the British SF characters of the 1950s and 1960s into the mix, such as Dan Dare and Fireball XL-5. But in a setting that’s otherwise at the 1950s level of technology, that kind of futuristicness didn’t fit. And still doesn’t.
And then there’s the ending. That it’s 3D (the book came with the glasses) was annoying; I always find 3D comics more trouble than they’re worth. But it’s also several pages that serve no purpose other than info-dumping about details of the pan-dimensional mythos and showing off the Blazing World. And the Blazing World ain’t all that (this article says is just a variation of the higher planes in Moore’s Promethea).
Rereading makes it obvious that the entire story is also well, pointless. It’s hard to see how getting the file really benefits the team; it’s just an excuse for all the in-jokes. Bond & Co. vs. Allan and Mina and the revelations are all fun (“The CIA is laughing at you—what they’re saying is there was No Doctor in Jamaica.”), but the pointlessness leaves a poor aftertaste. Especially as England is shown to be a despotic, dystopian nation, yet there’s not even a hint anyone in the cast cares or wants to do anything to change that. Just get back to the Blazing World and party down.
And that’s coming from someone who gets a lot of the references. I grew up knowing who Billy Bunter was, for instance, so seeing him play a role here was great. But as British fictional characters go, I can’t imagine that many American readers will have a clue. And Bunter plays a large role in the story, too; it’s not like the references in the text pages of Vol. 2, which I can just skim over. The first volume of LXG and to a great extent the second had a core cast everyone could recognize and stories — beat the Martians, stop Moriarty — even if they didn’t know the players. Here, not so much. Maybe not at all. As I said in my post on inside jokes, if you have to get the joke for the story to work, and a lot of people won’t get the joke, the problem isn’t the readers.
There was one more problem with this graphic novel that I’ll get to tomorrow. The Golliwog.