Download our LOEG Century 1910 annocommentations (pdf)
Interview with Kevin O’Neill here
Zom: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with its backstreets of reader memory, association and personal experience, along with its grand shared-universe vistas, is a sprawling city of a fiction, and as such actively encourages our meandering annocomments. Expect a few references, yes, but also commentary, meditations, criticism and reminiscence.
So pull down the seat in mindless hackney cab, guv, and prepare for a long, strange ride.
A great many spoilers follow
Amy: 1969 opens with an establishing shot of a mansion (in all likelihood a combination of A A Milne’s farmhouse and Christopher Robin’s fictitious, largely off screen home just outside Ashdown Forest in Sussex) which has, in true 1960s style, been recently purchased by Brian Jonesalike Basil Thomas. Like Jones he too shall soon be meeting his maker under mysterious circumstances.
There are two major themes embedded in this image. The first is the idea of fantasy now commidified into rock myth, ghosted, in the form of the statue outside, by the calcified spectre of that which it replaced, reminding us of the world of the league that has passed but perhaps is still immanent – afterall, the statue is foregrounded, requiring only a sprinkling of fairy dust to see Christopher and Pooh resuming their dance. And, secondly, and this is something we’ll be returning to again and again in this book, there’s the familiar theme of childish dreams being supplanted by more adult concerns, the hippy dream washed up on the shores of the 70s.
It’s a quietly powerful panel.
Zom: As someone who’s lived in Sussex for most of his life, who grew up with a rock superstar’s rural retreat on his doorstep, and who, just a couple of years ago, went camping with his wife and son on the fringes of Pooh’s territory, a mere 45 minute drive from my house, there’s something wonderfully evocative about this page. I can smell the spliffs on the night air.
The reciprocal relationship between the (art deco?) statue of Pooh and Christopher Robin dancing with Piglet and the much mythologised 60s rock god tragedy that was Brian Jones’ death, here literally mythologised, generates a strange energy. Not only did Jones, with his floppy blond page boy haircut, resemble Christopher Robin. Not only is there a real statue of Christopher Robin at Cotchford Farm (A.A. Milne’s family home, and latterly Jones’ country pile) and more than a few well known photos of Jones posing with it.
Not only did Jones die young at the age of 27, making him a member of the Forever 27 Club, a pop-cultural construction comprising a number of rock superstars who died at that age, and to which a good many people attach a mythic significance, unsurprising given the live fast die young trope’s inextricable ties to our rock mythology*. Not only do the fuzzy contours of Jones’ mysterious, semi-fictionalised death leave him forever young in much the same way as Christopher Robin.
[*This was written mere days before Club 27 was on everyone's lips post the death of Amy Winehouse]
But the back-to-childhood energy of Sixties youth culture, that Jones’ story contributes not insignifantly to, seems to be embodied in that statue. Pooh and Christopher Robin’s dance, while at first glance tame, could be something wilder, something out of a Happening or a Stone’s concert. Are they dancing with Piglet under the light of the Moon or are they fighting over him, is there something jealous, perhaps sexual underneath the surface? I only ask because in the world of the League Piglet, Pooh and Christopher Robin no doubt really existed, with maybe the kind of savage overblown emotions reserved for children and wild animals and the Dionysian denizen’s of Sixties rock mythology.
Christopher Robin’s pose (the wilting wrist, the kicked back leg bring to mind the Charleston), dress and haircut are also reminiscent of a flapper, the 1920′s answer to the hippies, the ur-youth movement of the 20th Century: disrespectful of authority, disdainful of respectable behavior, dabblers in drink and drugs and casual sex, and pro-youth in the wake of a terrible war. The Flapper craze would have have been at its height during the years in which Milne wrote Winnie the Pooh (1926-1928), so it makes a certain historical sense for the text to channel that energy here. Especially when you consider that by suggesting – which given the context of the League the statue simply cannot fail to do – that the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood actually existed in this world – during the Twenties, no doubt – the statue in fact describes something of the reality of Christopher Robin’s existence.
Amy: Yeah, it’s highly likely Pooh and the rest can be explained away as the descendents of Moreau’s experiments in vol 2, either that or puckish nature spirits.
Andrew: Pooh, I’ll give you – especially since the version of Mr Toad in League v2 owed as much to Milne as to Grahame, but given the moon stuff, and the vagueness of the silhouette, I’d bet anything that Piglet was a Clanger
Zom: Good call!
Where was I? Oh yes. While Christoper Robin with his angelic features, bob of golden hair and blousy shirt is the very image of idealised boyhood circa 1926, to modern eyes he’s curiously gender ambiguous. Even more curiously he fits with the short haired, flat chested, “Garconne” image exemplified by the flapper. This ambiguity seen through a 1920s lense has to be understood as more than purely aesthetic, however. The Twenties were a decade which saw women encroaching on traditionally masculine territory as they shrugged off Victorian gender roles, demanded the vote, autonomy and consumer choice. The decade also saw women start to understand themselves as sexual agents and act accordingly, a cultural change which found flappers in the vanguard.
The point here isn’t to argue that Christopher Robin is intended to be a flapper, although that might well be the creators’ intention, but that there’s a visual resonance between the League incarnation of the character and the iconic flapper image that it’s deeply tempting to explore. After all, the flappers’ frenzied, sexualised, and at the time shocking, dance routines, their sexual behaviour, their drug taking, were in some respects the forerunners of the sort of social and physical freedoms adopted by the Sixties generation, and go some way (in conjunction with the frightening behaviour of Moreau’s creations. I mean, that’s a bear) to evoking the bachannalian aspects of hippy existence. Hence my earlier reflections on Piglet’s status and his dancing(?) partners’ intentions.
At the same time as allowing us to wallow in fiction and fantasy, the League, by bringing the weight of reality down upon our fictions, insists that all our childhood playthings be dragged through the mire of maturity. This tension is captured in the Sixties youth culture, with it’s two-way pull of radical politics and LSD catalysed play, but it’s also, to my eyes, concretised in this statue. Childhood is both lost and found in Pooh, Piglet and Christopher Robin’s nocturnal dance, against a backdrop of murder and magic. Just as childhood is lost and found in the forever young story of Brian Jones, within it’s parent 60s mythology, and the irresponsible, childlike, hedonistic but implicitly adult female agency exemplified by the flappers.
I suspect that Moore and O’Neill know how Milne’s story ends, with Christopher Robin on the cusp of leaving the Hundred Acre Wood and Pooh Bear behind him, and going out into the world.
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.
- The House at Pooh corner
The past inside the present inside the past.
Andrew: And maybe I’m being obvious here, saying stuff that can safely be left implicit, but Christopher Robin is based on a real person – and remains young and sweet and innocent in the public imagination even after the character destroyed its writer’s successful literary career and wrecked the life of the now-long-dead man he was based on, estranging him from his family. This image feeds into a lot of the stuff in the rest of the story about the curse of endless youth, the difference between image and reality and so on.
Zom: Yeah, from Christopher Robin Milne’s Obituary in the Independent:
“It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son.”
Amy: I’m firmly in agreement with Zom here. Chris Robin always did strike me as strangely indeterminate. I know that was the look at the time – little posh boys were often got up more girlish-like – but I suspect Moore and O Neill are interested in the way the character’s look serves as a portal into the softer, less rigidly gendered masculinity presented in this book.
It’s enjoyable to see Moore foregrounding male on male sexuality so much. While not exactly absent from Moore’s league work (Orlando is queer in the (un)(re)strictest sense and Hyde is Jeckyll’s repressed homosexual libido unleashed) the ‘brown hatters’ haven’t got much of a look in. Well as if in answer to the critics, especially those who viewed Orlando as a cop out, Moore and O Neill not only open this installment with a squirmingly sexy blow job, they then flood the pages with as many different flavours of man on man romance as you can shake a prick at. I’m not sure there’s a principle male cast member who isn’t doing it with another bloke actually, or who wouldn’t given the chance. Oh yeah, there’s Jack Carter, but his unreconstructed hard-body sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s interesting that Moore’s used the sixties to explore the softening attitudes towards homosexual coupling, actually. Not women’s lib or anything, but same sex relationships. It’s nice to know this is still an issue for our Uncle Al all these years after The Mirror of Love. Now if only other comic writers with mainstream clout wouldn’t be so fucking childish and scared of addressing this stuff then we’d be getting somewhere.
Amy: Basil’s orgasmic salutation to nature (‘Hello sky! Hello trees!’) is clever because it combines the hippies’ general pantheistic/pagan attitude with the catchphrase of the Molesworth books‘ Basil Fothering-Thomas, upon whom his character is based. There’s also the platonic idea embedded in there somewhere about homosexual coupling being the purest and most natural expression of love because it represents a return to the unity of the first being who was perfectly self contained.
Like the Stones themselves, Wolfe is keen to appear like a boy from the wrong side of the tracks and so of course the ‘Fotherington’ has been dropped.
PAGES 2 & 3
Amy: Here Moore firms up the Molesworth connection by referencing the fictional school St. Custards directly. It seems most of the books’ principle cast have wound up in Basil’s band, actually, with Molesworth himself the notable exception. One wonders how things ended up as they did, especially given that in the book Basil was hardly part of the Molesworth inner circle. My own pet theory based upon the fact that Baz is wearing Grabber’s ‘Mrs Joyful Prize’ medal is that at some point he and Grabber embarked on an affair - an archetypal king jock meets girlish geek relationship (you can just see Grabber presenting Baz his medal in a little pre-fuck ceremony, can’t you?) – he discovered Baz’s vocal chords and the band kind of sprung up from there.
Andrew: That was my interpretation too – though it does seem odd that this reverses the normal 60s manager/star relationship (normally the manager would be a posh bloke and the star would be his bit of rough). Also, Baz here isn’t the vocalist, is he? The reference to fairy bells would suggest he’s the keyboardist, but of course it was Molesworth II, not Fotherington-Thomas, who played that. (I heroically resisted the urge to say ‘as any fule kno’ there. Are you proud of me?)
‘Ooooh, Wolfe, the world is so magical. Does Vince rough many people up?’
Amy: There’s a real irony to much of this scene in that Baz’s ‘magical’ world lies in such close proximity to the decidedly unmagical world of organised crime, the world of black magic and, a few minutes after uttering these words, his own death. Moore is reminding us that while the world may indeed be magical, and magic may indeed be wonderful, etc., it’s also something to be taken very seriously, the cutesy fairy revealing itself as soul eating demon once the clock chimes twelve. The way events play themselves out mirrors the arc of the entire hippy narrative as portrayed in the book, the aquarian age coming down from its trip.
So who is it under those hoods? My first guess would have have to be Haddo’s followers, but killing Baz in order to manoeuvre Turner into a position where he’d accept Haddo’s offer seems a somewhat convoluted plan… Perhaps it’s a magickally guided action the results of which Haddo could not at the time of the murder fathom but trusted would eventually become clear to him. Perhaps the ‘monks’ were never there and Baz really did drown.
Or maybe someone else is pulling the strings here….
I’ll get onto tadukic acid and Wolfe in a bit.
Cue title music.
Amy: I like the way O’Neill’s incorporated the skull into the new Nautilus’s design.
Zom: That would have been good.
So, Lincoln Island being the eponymous island from the Jules Verne novel. The sequel to 2000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Amy: Yeah, I mean we’ve already visited Lincoln Island twice in the League books, once in the Black Dossier and once in Century: 1910.
Amy: These people are the fictitious precursors, and possibly the inspiration, for the offshore communities we hear so much about these days, but have so far yet to materialise. Sadly, the more I look back at RAW, the more I’m convinced he was a bit of a dodgy libertarian.
Andrew: He certainly influenced the burgeoning libertarian movement, but he was more of the old-school anarchist type – a proper left-libertarian. Or, as he said himself, he didn’t vote for the Libertarian candidate in Presidential elections because “I’m not the kind of Libertarian who hates poor people.”
Amy: And the title, Paint it Black, serves as another iteration of the end of the sixties theme. The Stones were, sadly, the band to whom the death of the hippy dream was brought home most acutely. If you want talk about where hippydom intersects with other more terrifyingly adult stuff, then the Stones is the band you’d pick. The deathstink of Altamont (the bloke’s got the whole documentary up on his youtube site – amazing!), Bad acid and Helter Skelter are barely masked by the sweetly cloying scents of patchouli oil and sandalwood smoke floating through this comic.
The song’s literal meaning is relevant here too, in that it details the death or disappearance, something horrible basically, happening to the singer’s girlfriend and the depression that descends upon him as a result. This, it should become clear by comic’s end, could almost be Quatermain’s theme tune. And it’s certainly true that after Mina disappears the darkness quickly descends, the summer of 1969 fastforwarding to the doorstep of 78/79′s winter of discontent.
”Well Miss Murray, there’s your England with the ruins of its causeway.’
Amy: The various books of the League have tracked the progress of the causeway up to this point, and, like the league’s members, to whose fate it’s own has been intimately bound, it’s been through quite a lot over the last hundred years. Naturally now that we’ve reached the closing days of the British Empire the causeway has fallen into disuse and disrepair, a titanic folly roaring from the sussex coastline. The hauntologist in me loves it’s newfound abjectness.
Whether Moore intends it or not, one can’t help drawing a comparison between the anachronistic causeway and the League’s members. They are as much out of time as it, ghosts haunting their own skins. We’ll talk some more about this later when they arrive at the Basement.
Hira’s grandson, Jack, scampering like a little madman about these panels will be making an appearance in the next book as a man approaching his fifties and captain of a new Nautilus. I like this fleeting glimpse of him as a child ricocheting around. He looks cute at the moment, but with the blood of Robur and Nemo coursing through his veins he’s about to get really scary really fast. Moore fully intends us to reflect on the way this childish zing and ping flesh themselves out into dangerous borderline psychopathy I should imagine, but, as with so much of Century, this kind of compare and contrast won’t become apparent till we hold the entire sweep of the thing in our hands. The theme of time and what it does to us will really pop when Century’s read in collected edition.
Lando’s response to Janni finding her immortality through her children is interesting because while Janni’s position makes sense and feels right, Lando’s is still the more tempting. I think maybe Janni’s more sorted than Lando…. Interestingly I’ve never felt remotely convinced by the citizens of Ian Banks’s culture novels’ decisions to commit suicide after the first thousand or so years of their potentially immortal existence, but Moore’s more convincing: Janni’s sense of equanimity contrasted with the overabundance of being enjoyed/suffered by Mina, Allan and Orlando feels right, feels sensible. Human.
Amy: And so we return and begin again. The Causeway is where the first League story began and it’s inclusion would appear to be a commentary on the cyclical perspective of the immortals. This volume is full cyclicism, the eternal return of the same.
‘It’s not that far. We built a road straight there [to London] when I landed here with Caeser. or was it Agricola? Julius someone, anyway’
Orlando’s at the point where even the biggest events in history are mulching together in his mind. You can see why. Events are edging towards blurring together for us – will we remember exactly how all this played out in 2,000 or so years or will we have cobbled together some weird memory chimera that has Mina and Orlando arriving in England to save the world from the martian invasion of Satan by the son of a hippy called Dean Moriaty-Haddo? Or something.
Amy: And we’re straight into the sleaze. Seriously, that massive DUREX sign travelling down the page is enough to let us know that the general tone of this swinging london isn’t going to be… well it’s not the kaftans that’ll be swinging, that’s for sure. I remember our interview with Kevin O’Neill last year where he talked about one of his abiding memories of sixties London being all the grime and right then I knew his and Moore’s take would differ dramatically from the popular one. I think an ever fleshy writer like Moore would feel it dishonest to tell stories about the sixties that didn’t include sex clubs, bad drugs and organised crime. I imagine he feels the popular conception of the period is far too romantic and glossy and that it’s only right by history to redress the balance.
A woman and a Vril? Non stop? Horrible. Sex slavery follows Jack Carter around like a bad stink. It’s interesting to me the way that in the League the essence of each character’s story has to be present in some form in order to remind us of who they are. There’s a sense that they’re imprisoned in these fictions, indeed we know that they are..
Amy: The people at the table to the right constitute most of the core Carry On cast: Barbara Windsor, Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey. Team Nevins may well nail which film they hail from, but I don’t know that it really matters. You could smoosh together all the characters played by the actors in the Carry On films and it wouldn’t make at jot of difference – Sid James was always a chuckling, randy schemer, Charles Hawtrey a Mummy’s Boy, Kenneth Williams a Leering Queen and Barbara Windsor a jiggly sexpot. They were simply part of the fictional backdrop of the sixties, whoever they were in whatever film…. and of course in the case of Windsor and James it wouldn’t be at all unusual to see them hobnobbing with London’s criminal element.
Saying that, though, perhaps they’re fresh from from their camping trip in Carry On… Camping. If they are it’s pretty horrid, actually. Sid James’s character, Bernie Lugg, by the looks of it finally getting his seedy way with Babs Windsor’s, the schoolgirl, err…. Babs. Suddenly his shit eating grin looks a whole lot more sinister… I also find it interesting that Moore has them watching the sex show, perhaps implying that he thinks, like most of us now, that the breezy misogyny, prurience and sexual repression that formed the narrative engine of the films disguised a slavering monster which given full expression would look very violent and ugly indeed. Is Williams cracking some corny double-entendre at the poor sex worker’s expense?
Andrew: And there’s some relevance here to the ‘poofs’ vs ‘homosexuals’ dichotomy as well – both Williams and Hawtrey definitely being ‘poofs’, but playing straight men in the films. Here, Hawtrey’s wearing a pink shirt, and both are drinking effeminate-looking cocktails, even though they’re watching the misogynist sex show. Terry-Thomas, sat at the next table across, also appeared in several misogynist comedies (notably the witless How To Murder Your Wife), but by this time was mostly appearing in Italian films (or taking on Italian Jobs?)
‘This is Wolfe Lovejoy. Say ‘ello Wolfe.’
Amy: When I first read this through for some reason I didn’t put it together that when Moore named his character he wasn’t simply giving us a clue as to the actor who played Wolfe was and what films he starred in, but that he was basically smooshing Wolfe and Lovejoy together.
Andrew: And this may be common knowledge, but as well as being played by the same actor, the TV version of Lovejoy had the same writers as Villain, Dick Clement and Ian le Frenais.
Amy: This makes for an interesting chronology and one that makes a good deal of sense. In Villain Wolfe, far more so than his, err, friend, Vince, appears a little in love with high society. He eeks out a living as a fixer for the hoi polloi, charming girl’s into prostitution at their lavish weekend parties, sorting them out with drugs and, well, anything else. He’s establishing his contacts and his taste for expensive things, basically, as well as developing his rogueish charm, but Moore, ever the shatterer of sexist illusions, is here disinterring the seedy subtext beneath the rogueish charm.
One thing that isn’t addressed in Villain, however, is whether or not Lovejoy really does swing both ways. It’s conceivable, based on the information provided by the film, to reach the conclusion he may simply have found himself forced into bottoming (?) for Vince, but Moore likes to complicate his characters and so, two scenes before, we see him making out with Baz. Then again perhaps the Lovejoy of Villain really does find women a turn off, the sex and affection he doles out to them more in line with a pimp’s strategising than it is genuine interest. Who knows?
An interesting aside I dug up. It seems that in the books upon which the Lovejoy series was based Lovejoy is prone to a bit of the old violence. Fictions coverge……
Zom: Lovejoy being a character best known to British audiences from the late Eighties/early Nineties television series about an antique dealer and ladykiller, played by Ian McShane (or Al Swearengen, to you yanks), with the uncanny ability to spot valuable items without recourse to specialist knowledge.
‘Don’t take the piss. We’re not poofs. We’re homosexuals.’
Amy: An attitude shared, I’m sure, by Dakin’s fictional inspiration, Ronnie Kray – man on man love as a perfectly masculine past time, a perfectly masculine *space*, uncontaminated by sissifying contact with women. And it seems Ronnie certainly preferred the more neutral term ‘homosexual’ to more loaded slur words like ‘poof’. Indeed, one of the more famous incidents of Kray violence saw a fellow East End hard man getting shot in the face for daring to level that particular insult at our Ronald.
‘Do you mind? I’m watching this.’
Amy: It’s probably telling that the monster in this scene is a Geordie, the thematic core of the whole sorry shitstorm Jack’s about to walk into encoded in the image of this used, commodified and debased woman being fucked in the arse by a demon from Newcastle, Jack’s home town and the setting for the events of Get Carter.
Knowing what we know about Mr. Carter’s future lends this scene a squicky atmosphere. In Get Carter Jack doesn’t display the slightest concern for the women who appear in porn films, not until he stumbles across one with his daughter in the title role. With this in mind, then, it’s perhaps telling that Moore and O’Neill ensure Jack’s expression is inscrutable here and his words likewise. Is he horrified by the spectacle of the sex worker fucking a monster…. or is he entertained? Could it be that Jack’s suicidal rampage in the film is inspired not by his rage towards the gangsters he kills, but by self hatred? Afterall, Jack does nothing to help the women in question, either here or later on, apart from a lame attempt at convincing the girl who may or may not be his child that she might want to up sticks and immigrate. It’s all so incredibly narcissistic. The women aren’t important – they’re simply abandoned to whatever grisly fate awaits them, aggresively sidelined by the all important male revenge narrative. A woman’s suffering converted to an endless mental tape loop, an engine of vendetta.
But when he’s dead and gone, she’ll still be there on that stage. Non. Stop.
Amy: The hippy kicking the machine is straight out of the Donovan song Sunny Goodge Street.
Looks like someone was suffering from the munchies.
Look, I really don’t know anything about the Tic Toc club, except that Dylan Thomas may’ve drunk there, Little Monmouth Street and Nightmore street are a mystery too and as for The Basement, well, there are a million clubs with that name and I’m sure its source can’t be as simple as the Ramone’s song (though I’m not so sure, Allan does seem resistant to go down there, Romeo-uh!).
Andrew: Nightmore Street is a Moorcock reference. Can’t remember which book.
Amy: So off we all toddle to Mr. Nevy’s site….
But. There are things to be said about the Basement before you do.
I think there must’ve been some sort of hoo ha from the nerds about this now. From pulp adventure to punk rock….. How could the league get trendy?!? It’s so silly! Etc. Well, like most things that upset the straw man I’m currently weighing into of course it all makes perfect sense. For starters you’ve got characters who’re supposed to mirror the times in which they live. That’s the metatextual reason. But there’s another, more personal, reason too.
Mina’s inability to cope with her immortality is one of the book’s story engines. Just as Orlando takes refuge in caustic wit and general debauch, Mina, an existentialist (how could you be anything else in her condition?), attempts to stave off eternity by acting the age she looks – by emphasising form not content in an attempt to see form become content. Whether or not this is a realistic way of coping in the long term remains to be seen – although personally I think it can’t hurt, even though, as Orlando predicts, there’s probably a billion nervous breakdowns awaiting her whatever she does – right now it’s her best way of anchoring herself, of staying part of the world. Because that’s the real thing here – she’s NOT part of the world. The world, while older than most of us can imagine, wasn’t built to last.
And so: the Basement.
An HQ right in the beating heart of everything. The Rutles played there first, you know? The basement is where it all happens, where it all begins, and the perfect place to lose yourself in the temporal – the fashions, the music, the attitudes, the politics. It’s all so close, you can reach out and….. almost touch it, but you’re always annexed away from it in your space age pad, an underground Olympus made to house gods. There’s a real poetry to the league’s living arrangement and I’m sure it’s not lost on Moore.
But the Basement has uses of a far more practical kind. As a space it’s probably a good barometer of where the culture’s headed at any given time – in fact it’s clearly portrayed as such in the book – and therefore in all likelihood it’s probably a fantastically useful scrying glass for an operative of the Blazing World who always needs a headsup on the general trajectory of things.
The song the hippy’s singing references some Moorcock stuff. Basically if you get really stuck with anything in this book, just google Moorcock/Sinclair plus whatever said thing is.
Andrew: In fact there’s a good chance that the hippy here is Moorcock – there are two bands called The Deep Fix, there’s Moorcock’s real band of the 1970s, and a fictional one fronted by Jerry Cornelius from his stories. Given that the singer looks nothing like Cornelius, but slightly like Moorcock, this might be another case, like Sinclair, of a real writer crossing over into fictional reality.
Amy: Having reread the Black Dossier yet again for the purposes of writing this piece, I found myself marveling at how neatly the Dan Dareified space port slotted in with all the frampton overcoats and morris minors. There was nothing jarring about the transition at all. On reflection this makes perfect sense because the science fiction of the fifties was precisely that, but sometimes it’s only when you see it on the page that it all falls into place. Just so here, with the Seven Stars HQ – the Superhero’s base as pop art gallery, as idealised space age design showroom. In one panel O Neill demonstrates exactly why, Marvel’s themes and characterisation aside, the sixties saw a renewed interest in the superhero. With their increasingly stylised, eyepopping costumes and their deconstructive, punchy pop chest motifs, the superhero of the sixties told you all you needed to know about the art movements and designer dreams of the decade. Their supersuits made of unstable molecules ‘contained’ all the synthetic materials so popular at the time – the spandex, the plastic, all the colour, and all the technology you needed to create same. They not only heralded a strutting America at the height of its powers, but our entire present day consumerist culture.
But in true et in Arcadia ego style there’s a grinning skull in paradise in the form of an ashtray full of hastily smoked and prematurely abandoned cigarettes.
In Moore’s super universe the Justice League are people as overstressed and neurotic as the rest of us – indeed, possibly more than the rest of us. We don’t have to contend with the stresses of saving the world every day, do we, or superpowers, which, if we’re not careful, end up in our frying the pussy cat, as was the case with poor Electro Girl?
The other thing the fags suggest is that the Seven Stars’ meeting ended pretty fast, with no one hanging around to clear up. These people were either too het up or too busy (likely both) to bother with such things. Afterall we know their last mission against the (Quater) Mass ended in disaster – the bright young dream, like all things in this comic, fast degenerating into a bad trip.
Zom: Not just a grinning skull and a few fag ends: The ruins of the superhero. As Moore himself commented in the introduction to The Dark Knight Returns, Miller’s real coup, the thing that made the book possible, was the introduction of time to Batman story, and with time came consequences. Consequences which made it possible for Batman to fit a truly mythic mould because with the passing of time comes beginnings, middles and endings.
Here we’re beyond the superman’s starry horizon. In the world of the League (perhaps in Moore’s world given some of his comments in interviews) the superhero is spent come the end of the Sixties. Their superbases abandoned, their dirty, decaying costumes forgotten. Seen with the right eyes time might help to confer mythic status, but time also washes away, and it’s that aspect that Alan Moore’s interested in here.
There’s no wonder left in the Basement, and despite Alan’s declaration that Mina’s pad is “space age”, and therefore of the moment, there’s no escaping the fact that the helmet on the table is rusting, the armour is stained, and the robot’s head is broken. Already on the way out.
Ju-u-st about fashionable this old superbase might be, but fashion is fickle, always ready to discard what’s now for what’s next. More importantly, if the superhero is reduced to a fashion statement then the superhero is simply another commodity, another piece of pop art, on the cusp of being subsumed by the rise of capitalism, at the dawn of which the Sixties stand.
PAGEs 12 & 13
Amy: Orlando pops some music on.
Andrew: For those not familiar with that song, Peter Cook is playing the Devil there. Cook’s Devil was also the proprietor of a basement club very like The Basement.
Rosemary’s Baby is really one of the key texts for this chapter of League, and not just because of its plot (being the first of the wave of Satanic-child horror films that became the big trend in horror for the next decade, many of which are referenced later) and tone (especially the misogyny and sexual violence), and the fact that it featured Crowley-wannabe Anton LaVey, but also because of the whole cluster of ‘end-of-the-sixties’ (literally and metaphorically) nastiness centred around it.
Filmed at the Dakota building in New York, Rosemary’s Baby starred Mia Farrow, who, stressed after the experience of filming her first major role and her divorce, flew to India shortly after, to a retreat with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, along with the Beatles, Donovan and Mike Love of the Beach Boys. While there, the Beatles wrote most of the White Album.
18 months later, Charles Manson, another Crowley-wannabe and friend of Love’s bandmate Dennis Wilson (with whom he co-wrote a number of songs, including (allegedly) one which to my ears is about the Moon Child), had murdered Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of Roman Polanksi, the film’s director, supposedly inspired by lyrics from the White Album. John Lennon was later to move into the Dakota building, outside which he was murdered by deranged fan Mark Chapman.
Amy: Adrian Marcato obviously doubles up as Macato, the satanist from the Devil Rides Out.
I’ll get around to listing the superheroes later on down the road when we see the group shot in full. For now, just so you know, that’s Captain Universe, Vull the Invisible and Mars Man (Marsman).
No one’s thought to comment yet on the psychological implications of Mina adopting invisibility as a superpower. She, or the Blazing World, may see her as the only fitting candidate for the role given that there’s a trend in the invisibly inclined towards megalomania/ psychopathy (it seems the first Vull, like Hawley Griffin, was a bit of an evil bastard), but, whatever the case, the irony can’t be lost on her. There’s something syncretic/therapeutic (?) about her decision to *become* her former antagonist and I’m sure Moore will get around to discussing the implications of this when we eventually get to see her ‘league of marvels’ in the next volume (?). I wonder if she’ll be tempted by the same sense of unaccountability/invulnerability her invisible antecedants were. Her helmet of invisibility might’ve been useful this time around, but she seemed disinclined to wear it. Ah, maybe there’s just too many bad memories – who knows? Anyway, the invisibility works on another level too, symbolising a woman who’s feeling increasingly disconnected from the world and estranged from her, very few, friends.
Zom: I really like the alarm clock adorned with League question marks instead of numerals. I’m sure it’s just a throwaway idea of O’Neill’s but it fits, perhaps too on-the-nose neatly, with this volume’s efforts to throw the passage of time into question. How to make sense of the past present and future when you have forever? (Cont…)
PAGES 14 & 15
Zom: (Cont…) There’s a very sinister side to that line of thinking, which the inclusion of that alarm clock seems to channel as we move into a scene which is pure horror. Mina, talking to a dead man, a creature that embodies time out of joint, that died years ago back in Hastings
Amy: As one of us commented in the emails, Moore really is a very good horror writer. Talk about having a safe space invaded. And the way Haddo just stares…. It’s likely that the reason for this is simply technical – he’s focusing on whatever device (possibly a yantra) he’s using as an astral transport – but the effect is unnerving nevertheless. The great thing about Crowley is that he was a real life shit, so his gloating evil resonates even more profoundly than if he were simply a fiction.
You might also notice that he’s got an erection. Again, it’s disturbing (and funny simultaneously – very Crowley), but it’s quite likely sexual arousal is necessary to effect the projection, with spirit as opposed to semen ejaculated into the transport. The cool thing is, I know Moore’s thought about this and it’ll be based on an actual yogic ritual, the broad strokes of which I can guess at, if not the specifics.
Mina’s got the right idea, though. Only a magic sword, in this case Excalibur, can kill a spirit.
Just a note about penises. It’s really good to see so many penises in this comic. Rape aside (am I allowed to say that? Errr….), Moore’s body politics are much better than most writer’s. God, it’s so refreshing to see so many penises! Floppy penises, erect penises, sexy penises, evil penises…..
Andrew: Yeah, this book’s really just Moorcock and more cock, isn’t it? (Sorry)
PAGES 16 & 17
Amy: 1969 sees the action move from the League’s usual East End haunts to Fitzrovia and Soho in London’s city centre. If you’ve never been to Soho, it’s a weird place. Like it’s twin in New York, Soho is an area famous for its steady gentrification, but unlike SoHo, Soho is a weird nexus where the city’s best restaurants, media and sex industry meet. Obviously the sex show clubs are getting thinner on the ground now, but in the sixties I imagine the place was teeming with wall to wall sleaze. In some ways Soho is a place quite close to my heart. My mother was a TV/pop video producer in the seventies and eighties, so naturally I spent a lot of time there as a child (and later as an adult before I decided I really did not want to work in television). My abiding memories are of pitch dark basement editing suites, production company offices squeezed into cramped ex-brothels and alongside fully functioning ones, restaurants that doubled up as same (complete, it was rumoured, with ‘menus’ of girls), being jokingly propositioned by the women outside the poky doorways of strip clubs and long taxi rides back to Sussex, falling asleep with the neon lights playing across the windscreen. Moore’s and O Neill’s Soho is brighter than I remember, but that’s probably because they want to make the darkness visible. It’s easy to romanticise this site of so many people’s suffering, all the broken small town dreams of streets paved with gold, all the broken sexuality.
Andrew: I think the most disturbing part of this scene, actually, though only in there as a joke, is the phone box full of adverts from prostitutes. They’re all the names of girls’ comics of the period…
Amy: I don’t know what fictitious analogue standing in for the National Front Moore has daubing the double cross (Chaplin’s swastika equivalent in ‘The Great Dictator’) on the window of shop here, but it’s telling that he feels it necessary to include this sort of thing. The fascist movement that featured so predominantly in the cultural life of the mid to late seventies had its roots in the late sixties, in all likelihood birthed in the collision of mass immigration and the permissive and progressive politics of the period with the first generation of white working class poor with little to no memory of the Hitler and Second World War.
Andrew: Yeah, this is the period of Enoch Powell and the ‘rivers of blood’ speech, and people taking Alf Garnett seriously. It’s just lucky we don’t have prominent politicians race-baiting these days, or ironic racism being taken non-ironically.
But at this time racism really was endemic. Peter Griffiths had won a seat as a Conservative in the 1964 General Election on the slogan “If you want a nigger for your neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour”, and in 1969 the Beatles were singing “don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs, get back to where you once belonged” (supposedly parodying Powell, rather than supporting him).
Fascism was becoming increasingly respectable, not just among the poor, but among the very rich (people like the McWhirter twins, and Mountbatten plotting a military takeover of the UK). Within a couple of years, David Bowie would be singing about becoming homo superior, and about “Himmler’s sacred realm”, while also singing in the same song about Crowley and the Golden Dawn.
Fascism has always had these two parts to it – the anger of the disenfranchised poor and its manipulation by aristocratic lunatics who think they’re a higher, better life form, and that’s often been linked to occultism. Occultism by its very nature is about keeping knowledge hidden, about a small inner circle leading and a larger outer circle being led. About freedom for those who will take it, and slavery for the rest. As Crowley put his own views:
Where there exists the burgess, the hunting man, or any man with ideals less than Shelley’s and self-discipline less than Loyola’s – in short, any man who falls far short of MYSELF – I am against Anarchy, and for Feudalism.
Every “emancipator” has enslaved the free.
And again, the Manson murders, which hang over this book like a bad smell, were the work of a Crowley-inspired cult leader who wanted to start a race war.
On a lighter note, the building that is being defaced, Fenner Fashions, is from one of the earliest examples I know of of live-action TV series retconned to be set in a shared universe. The Rag Trade was a popular sitcom in the early 60s, which was revived in the late 70s, and in the revived version the character of Olive, who had first appeared in On The Buses (an early-70s sitcom) was a regular.
Amy Moore wants to challenge the popular view of history where it consists of easily identifiable reference points and narratives normally determined by the buying habits of the middle class. In Century history is instead portrayed as a vast, messy splurge, with too many moving parts to be easily reduced into stable, and resultantly dominant, narratives. The guy can’t show free love without showing the non stop woman and Vril show – we’re always asked to accomodate both. Like an endlessly edited and re-edited Wikipedia article you have all these different conversations running at the same time and it gives a really fascinating overview, a highly complex overview, of the culture at the time the comic’s set.
‘So these are Hippies….’
It’s weird that Allan’s never seen a hippy until now, suggesting he and Orlando, apart from the odd vacation in the third dimension, have spent much of the last decade in the fourth.
Andrew I’m not so sure it’s weird. The long-hair-and-beard type hippie was a relatively late occurence – and only really hit London in 1969, and the provinces a year or two later (as Robert Lindsay’s character in Jake’s Progress says, “the sixties didn’t start til 1971″). If you look at, say, the crowd singing along in the All You Need Is Love broadcast in Summer 67, you can see there’s no facial hair other than George and Ringo’s ‘taches, either in the band or the crowd. Other than the more floral outfits, this could be a crowd from Ready Steady Go. Jump forward eighteen months to the Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus in December 1968 and hair is shoulder-length but beards are still short or non-existent (unless you’re Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull). Really, summer 69 was the earliest anyone would have seen a hippie that looked like the stereotypical hippie of most imaginings in London.
Amy: There Will Come Soft Rains is the League universe’s equivalent of London’s now legendary comic and sci-fi shop Dark They Were and Golden Eyed (which is a much better name) , and, like the store it’s riffing on, it too is based on a post-apocalyptic short story and resides on Berwick Street.
England’s modern day comic culture was formed in the crucible of DTWGE – Alan Moore and Mike Lake, the founder of Titan press and Forbidden Planet, both shopped there – and it’s nice to see the ultimate pulp comic pay homage to the place. Would the League exist without it?
‘Oh, I see. So this place sells chapbooks about superfellows, like the ones you were managing in 1964.’
‘Yes, tell us about that. I’ll bet you wore one of those kinky skin-tight costumes…’
Yet more evidence that Allan, Orlando and Mina haven’t exactly been living in each other’s pocket over the last decade. Seriously, Allan doesn’t know even the most basic facts about Mina’s adventuring, like the fact that she was largely invisible? This stuff is still the background noise to their conversation here, but before this story’s through the schism will become much more explicit.
Andrew: Just wanted to point out the appearance of The Karkus in the comics on the newsstand here. It’s a more resonant choice than most here, because The Karkus is from the Doctor Who story The Mind Robber, where the Patrick Troughton Doctor (who we’ve seen make a brief cameo at the top of the page) visits the Land Of Fiction, meeting such characters as Rapunzel and Gulliver. The Karkus (supposedly a character from The Hourly Telepress, an early 21st century comic) is the only fictional character in the Land of Fiction with whom the Doctor is not previously familiar, and so is more real to him than the other characters.
Amy: It’s from a different time zone, but, then, so’s Jerry.
Like many cameos in LOEG, Jerry Cornelius’s serves little purpose other than Moore thinking he’s cool and wanting to include him. I agree, Jerry Cornelius is cool, the sixties wouldn’t have been the same without him, but anyone else could’ve given them the pointers to ‘Taffy’ and Kosmo. Saying that, however, it does make sense that Cornelius and Norton would be on good terms, just as their respective authors are, being as they’re both reality hopping metafictionnauts. In this sense they’d share a lot in common, probably occassionally popping into Soho 69 – 234Xb’s Coach and Horses to blow off some steam and gab about their day in ‘the office’. Like Norton, Jerry probably knows a lot more about the actual structure of the imaginoverse than Mina and Co. They really are out of their depth with him.
If Jerry’s attitude seems a little perverse here, it’s useful to remember that he spends a good deal of time as an agent of Chaos and so of course ‘peace and love’ would depress him. His value system is a fourth dimensional one – the kind of value system you end up with after having been destroyed/seeing the universe/friends detroyed/ressurected/AAARRGH! a billion times – and he probably views the hippy era as a weird pecadilloe arrived at by 200000,00000 weird eccentic, rogue realities, the kind of realities everyone avoids for a few hypermoments until they get over it, not anything to be taken seriousl. Anyway, it’ll all be bombed to shit when the Antichrist shows up in the next five minutes/thirty years. But that’s okay, he’s nothing to be taken seriously either. The Jerry Cornelius we’re dealing with this time around hails from Moorcock’s A Cure For Cancer where the action takes place across a backdrop of American occupied English cities, many of them reduced to rubble, so the hippies probably look like naive idiots from here to forever.
Another thing worth mentioning is that in the league’s universe, just as in our’s, Jerry is a fictional character, his adventures serialised, he tells us, in the countercultural fanzine, The Hunchback. It seems to me Moore is implying that Jerry is, perhaps of all the league’s cast, ‘closest’ to the reality of his existence as a fiction. This would make sense given that the best way to understand him isn’t as an embedded character, but as a meta-fictional process that ultimately resides outside of whatever fiction suit he’s wearing in *this* or *that* story. It’s also worth noting that Moorcock’s career, and hence Jerry’s existence, emerged out of a symbiotic relationship between the writer and the underground press, and the scene represents Moore’s acknowledgement of this fact.
Zom: Yet more time confusion in the conflation of witch trials and the Seventies fuel crisis.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Gotta break up a long journey like this. See the sights properly.
Drop you off here, eh. See you again in a few days for Part 2.
Oi! Hang on a minute, guv…
Just a quick thing, ’cause it’s important to get in there first: THE PERVY GUY AT THE HYDE PARK CONCERT IS VOLDEMORT
Right, see yer later. Cheerio.