Saturday, October 10, 2015

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1910 by Alan Moore

Rating: WARTHY!

Having enjoyed the movie derived from the first in this graphic novel series, I was curious to see what the actual novel looked like (the movie bore little resemblance to the novels), and the library happened to have three volumes: 1910, 1969, and 2009, so I picked all of those up. The original series, began in 1999, had twelve issues, so I'm not sure how these relate to that. Wikipedia was unusually vague about how the issues were published and named, and how they related to one another.

The beginning of this story is a direct rip-off of a song from the Elisabeth Hauptmann and Kurt Weill opera Die Dreigroschenoper produced first in 1928 and based on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera first produced exactly 200 years earlier. The song was Mackie Messer, translated into English as the better known name of Mack the Knife. The music was by Kurt Weill and lyrics by none other than Bertolt Brecht. The song became very popular after Bobby Darin released a version of it in 1959.

The song (and the opera itself) is in many ways a precursor to gangsta rap and was radical, especially for its time. It satirized the British government, depicting them as no better than the thieves and con-artists they sought to apprehend and jail. John Gay's original was rooted in real life 18th century people. Jack Sheppard was somewhat of a Robin Hood character in his time and a celebrity amongst poor folk, but he was hung at Tyburn, at the age of twenty-two. Jonathan Wild was a wolf in sheep's clothing, adopting a two-faced approach to law-enforcement, chasing down criminals whilst availing himself of the criminal lifestyle. He joined Sheppard at the same gallows only a year later.

Kurt Weill's original song (Mackie Messer) mentioned only one woman, Jenny Towler, but the Darin version (Mack the Knife) listed a host of female names, some of whom were real life celebrities. For example, Lotte Lenya was the wife of Kurt Weill, and a celebrity in her own right as an actress, singer, and raconteur. Lucy Brown, however, is not to be confused with the modern actress of that name. Other characters were Louie Miller, Sukey Tawdry, Jenny Diver, and Polly Peachum (a name used in place of Lotte Lenya in some versions). The song was Darin's biggest hit, spending over two months at the top of the charts. It's funny to me, because the two month run was briefly interrupted by The Fleetwoods, with their release of Mr Blue. The Fleetwoods have nothing to do with band Fleetwood Mac, but the indirect connection between Mack the Knife and Fleetwood Mac wasn't lost on my warped brain.

In this graphic novel, those names pop up, sometimes quite amusingly. Jenny Diver, for example, is the name assumed by a run-away Indian woman named Janni, whose name is misinterpreted (typically for the time) as Jenny. She adds the 'Diver' portion to it because she loved to dive into the sea near her home in India. How she would know the English word 'diver' is left unexplained. She speaks English evidently, but didn't have much chance to use it in her native home. The Hindi word for diver is gotakhora, so why she didn't make her name up from something akin to that was quietly glossed over.

One problem with detailing Janni's life was that many panels contained text which was entirely in Hindi. The point of this, if there was one, was lost on me. The Hindi text was not translated, so I had no idea what was going on in those frames, except that her father was dying and she didn't want to take over this business - the business of running Captain Nemo's ship, not even after she learns later that her father has died. After this, she completely disappears from the story until an inexplicable and brief appearance towards the end. It made no sense after her flat refusal to become involved. The rest of the story is completely divorced from this and consists largely of some tedious dipshit dame singing the same nonsensical songs throughout, and no real story whatsoever. I can't recommend this drivel - and I've decided on a lot less Moore.