Following almost immediately after the events of the first volume, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume two sees our uncanny menagerie confronted by an even deadlier threat: alien invasion. Foreshadowed in the previous volume, massive cannisters from Mars have landed throughout England, containing tentacled beings who use heat rays to incinerate all those who stand in their way. The might of England’s military seems to be no match for these invaders, especially after they construct their own deadly war machines. As a traitor emerges in their midst, the League must find a way to stop the Martians before they lay waste to humanity.
The beginning adapts the early events of The War of the Worlds quite closely, incorporating the League where appropriate, which I really liked. Despite being a team of exceptional people, the terror and doom that the Martians and their superior weapons represent are not at all diminished either. As a foe to be faced head on, it quickly becomes apparent that the team is very much out of their depth. The sense of dread that slowly sets in is quite palpable. Part of me does wish that a little more time had be spent in conflict with the Martians more directly, but I do understand that keeping the team more peripherally involved preserves the idea that the events of the novel conceivably take place unseen here.
A delightful expansion on the background of the Martian invaders comes from the opening of the first chapter, which takes us to Mars itself. This narrative universe is a “kitchen sink” of all of literature, so how we come to understand these Martian invaders must change. We are shown a Mars populated by various races of beings (from the plethora of literature that has imagined life on Mars), led by John Carter himself, coming together to fight what they call “Molluscs.” These Molluscs flee Mars for Earth, which is what leads the Earthbound characters to believe they are Martians. It is implied they are not native to Mars either, however. Though this all had no further impact on the story, I loved that Moore and O’Neill made sure to pay homage to the literary history of Mars, making the invaders a little more complex in the process.
Griffin, aka the Invisible Man, seeing that humanity could very likely lose against these invaders in the long run, becomes a traitor to all of humankind and aligns himself with the Molluscs, secretly feeding them information to aid in their conquest. This is not all that surprising since he is the most irredeemable member of the team, as far as I’m concerned. His treachery does not remain a secret for long and I was completely rapt by how things develop from this. Holding the Molluscs at bay is continually a background concern, but I like that the focus of the characters becomes much more about dealing with Griffin and seeking out a means to stop the invaders, which takes characters to a separate dark corner of the world to retrieve said means. The absence of constant peril gave appreciable time for them to develop and brood upon their situation.
Characters go through a lot in this book, but none quite so much as Edward Hyde, who goes through a lot internally and externally, sharing none of the stage with Dr. Jekyll in this volume. Edward’s arc stole the show for me. Hinted at in the previous volume is a growing sense of respect he has for Mina Murray, their strong-minded leader, which conflicts with his unrestrained, monstrous nature in a way that confuses and vexes him. Mina inadvertently uncovers Griffin’s treachery, resulting in him brutally attacking and humiliating her before she passes out, upsetting Edward a great deal.
I don’t want to get too much into the nitty-gritty of what transpires, but Edward dealing with Griffin, divided between build up and aftermath, are some of the most compelling sequences of comic book storytelling I have ever read. His entire arc is the highlight of this volume, presenting a complicated monster who can come across as sympathetic—even noble in one instance—yet is unequivocally a horrifying individual at his core.
Mina and Allan Quatermain, who had a very tense relationship in the first volume, get a lot of attention that I really enjoyed as well. In this book they clearly become cemented as backbone characters for the series going forward, as their relationship softens and they become more attached to one another. The only regrettable thing I find about Allan as a character in these books is that he doesn’t really do a lot. Mina isn’t exactly hands-on, but is intuitive and very capable at co-ordinating the group. Allan is a marksman who almost never uses a gun and sometimes it feels as if he’s just along for the ride.
The graphic novel portion ended and I was elated with it. Then I began reading “The New Traveler’s Almanac,” which I have a fiercely stark love/hate relationship with. This almanac is a prose portion at the back of the book, detailing all the known places of interest around the world in this narrative universe. In continuity it is written in the 1930s, so it often pulls from past League teams and the further adventures of Mina and Allan to describe certain places. The literary references here are vast, which I really loved. There was even a House of Leaves reference, made in a couple sentences, that I was excited to catch. Some references weren’t even to literature, including King Kong, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Big Lebowski (really).
What drove me absolutely nuts, despite my fascination, was just how dense it was. This section took me a dizzying amount of time to finish reading, yet I didn’t want to skip it because it also contained narrative developments for the characters. I was entrapped. The formatting is what gutted me most about it: absolute walls of text like a textbook. With so many references I didn’t know as well my eyes often glazed over while reading. It wasn’t exactly a narrative tour-de-force, just an interesting catalogue of information with story peppered in. Reader beware, I think it’s important to read this part, but you might have a bad time too.
While the first volume was a good introduction to a rich world, this volume is where things really hit the narrative stride, with excellent character development and storyline. If volume one hooks you, definitely follow through reading this. While I bemoaned the prose section, it is skippable (if you dare, which I daren’t) and it does not diminish the masterful graphic novel storytelling of the volume itself. As a bonus detail to leave you with, talking animal characters like Toad from The Wind in the Willows exist in this world too, as it turns out. Oh yes. Leave it to Alan Moore to turn that into a horror show.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
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[…] The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill I picked up so I could finally continue the series. I read volume one years ago and re-read it last month. I’ve already read this book now too, in fact, and you can check out the review here. […]