The League of Extrodinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
Fan fiction has a bad rep. Most today only envision it as the ill offspring of the days of LiveJournal, and with copyright law being as stringent as ever, playing around with fictional characters has become even more socially disreputable.
Of course, it’s fair to say this is only a recent occurrence. There has long been a tradition of writers that have borrow from previous works to expand upon them or turn them up on their heads. The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys reimagines the madwoman in the attic of Jane Eyre and displays her plight from a postcolonial perspective. Don’t trust that stuffy Mr. Rochester, Jane. He keeps his wife locked up in his attic, you don’t think he might be lying just a bit about the situation?
Of course, the connection between run of the mill fan fiction and high art never occurred to me until I read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. The practice is the same, but the execution and product vastly differ. Truly I tell you Black Dossier is a work of stunning genius. But I am getting ahead of myself.
After the first two volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in which the League (comprising of Mina Murray, Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll and Hawley Griffin, The Invisible Man) save London around turn of the century Britain, Black Dossier takes place in 1958 in a post Big Brother Britain. Mina and Quartermain, now immortal, steal the titular Black Dossier from MI5. The Dossier itself is a sourcebook on the history of The League and its previous incarnations, an assortment of documents of all styles, with annotations. Every section of the Dossier is interspersed with the plot of the volume itself, allowing the reader full licence to read primary sources, as it were, but also extrapolate and figure out the truth hidden underneath the pulp. Those well read will enjoy these sections even more, as Moore nails the different voices and writing styles (Jack Kerouac, P.G. Wodehouse, Shakespeare), making for a marvellous intertextuality that’s a joy to read.
While Alan Moore was already playing and deconstructing fictional characters with The League, it is here that Moore pushes the conceit and breaks the boundaries of what we consider art. Moore takes many a great fictional character and shoves it all into a text(s), but makes it all a meaningful and profound experience. Kevin O’Neill’s proves himself adept as well, adapting the artwork to suit every stylistic change.It’s a fantastic meditation on art, with an assortment of humor, satire, and other sorts of commentary the hodgepodge of text(s) the Black Dossier contains. I could explain more, explain how each segment is working, but I fear that would diminish the point. Its playful use of texts must be seen (3D pages!) and felt (different kinds of paper!) to be fully comprehended.
Lest you think this is hyperbole, let me make a plea. Friends, this book has changed me. It widened my scope and view of the world. It gave me thrills and joy that I haven’t had from a book in a long while. It has, for instance, prompted a sharper critical view of James Bond (whom I’ve been overly soft on for its misogyny in the past. But no more.) And it distills Castoriadis’ claims of the intangible’s impact on us to its vital essence. It’s now a favorite text of mine, and I hope someday it will be for you too.