Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book review: BLACK DOSSIER

The Sherlockians may have first introduced the game back in the early 20th century, when they began treating Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes as a living, breathing, historical figure, which culminated in the early 1960s with the publication of William S. Baring-Gould’s definitive “biography” of the great detective, followed by a biography of Holmes’ bastard son Nero Wolfe. Science fiction author Philip José Farmer, a Sherlockian himself, added more than his two cents to this literary mythology in the early ’70s with pseudo-biographies of Lord Greystoke and Clark Savage, Jr. and his assertion that the landing of a radioactive meteor in Wold Newton, England, in 1795 had caused a genetic mutation responsible for most of the great “fictional” heroes and villains since then. At one time or another, Farmer has linked every character from Fu Manchu, to Professor Challenger, to Harry Flashman, to The Shadow, to Travis McGee into his Wold Newton family tree.

With a nod to Baring-Gould and particularly Farmer, Alan Moore launched his own literary mythos a few years ago with the graphic novel series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the first two volumes of which detailed the late 19th century adventures of Mina Murray, Allan Quartermain, Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, and the Invisible Man. The third chapter, released just last month, is Black Dossier. Like its predecessors, it’s illustrated by Kevin O’Neill. Unlike its predecessors, it did not first appear as a series of comic books. In fact, with Black Dossier, Moore and O’Neill have broken the barriers of conventional comics. The book is a heady print media mix that involves different paper stocks and sizes, like you’d find in a file folder, all bound in hardcover. The ingredients include government documents, a brand new Fanny Hill story, a hardboiled crime magazine, editorial cartoons, some newly discovered Shakespeare, and much more, all threaded together by a traditional comic book narrative that, by volume’s end, morphs into a surreal 3-D adventure (yes, the glasses are included).

Black Dossier’s storyline, if it can even be called that, is thin, merely a frame upon which the documents are hung. But it also brings Moore’s mythology from the late 19th into the mid-20th century (specifically, 1958). Along the way, the reader is peppered with more famous fictional figures than anyone can possibly keep track of, including (among my favorites) Emma Peel, James Bond, Bulldog Drummond, Harry Lime, and Mr. Waverly (yes, that Mr. Waverly, from The Man from UNCLE). And Moore’s alternative history is intriguing; in his 1958, the world is just recovering from a decade of post-war Big Brotherism (a la Orwell’s 1984).

Now, if you’re coming to Moore’s League series for the first time, please don’t start here. For one thing, none of this will make any sense at all to you. Now, if you just kinda liked the first or second volume, and thought the 2003 movie was only sorta neat, please skip this book. Black Dossier is for hardcore League fans only. It’s Alan Moore at his most eccentric. It’s Alan Moore unbound. The man’s thrown everything he possibly can into this book. I really enjoyed it, but it’s an expensive ($30) exercise in self-indulgence, and therefore strictly for rabid Moore fans and League completists.

Me, I’m now looking forward to the next full-blown League graphic novel.

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At 8:53 PM, Blogger Bob Hodges said...


I thought this was supposed to be the last work Moore did for Wildstorm/DC and hence the last League story. Or am I imagining things (I hope)?


At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's his last thing from DC/Wildstorm. The League will continue but will be published by Top Shelf in the UK. The next volume is called Century.


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