August 4th, 2011
I Can See You!
Bobsy and I were worried that we’d make this ‘Best Of’ a bit too Hyde-heavy, but it seems somewhat inevitable that this would the case, given the crowd pleasing nature of the big ugly bastard. If we can’t all love our Id what can we love…?
Way back in the first volume of the League there was a moment that you just knew was going to have some repercussions later on down the track. Caught midway through some brutal black ops with Edward Hyde, the Invisible Man gets a brief glimpse at his bleak, black future. In the sequence, we cut to an infra-red heat image of Griffin, seen through Hyde’s animal eyes. With the simple words “What? What are you looking at?” right there and then you just knew that Griffin’s invisible chips were cooked. By Christ, we didn’t know how horrible his comeuppance would be in Book 2, but with the look of feral glint in Hyde’s eyes in the next panel we at least get a hint. It’s the look of a cat about to commence the hunt with it’s mouse prey.
The simple but effective juxtaposition of Hyde’s ‘I’m not blind you know‘ with the realisation of quite how far from blind he actually is, is classic Moore. No-one does horror in comics quite as well Uncle Alan, and when pared with an artist as subtle and talented as O’Neill the effects are devastating.
Sherly and Jim’s Swiss getaway
Last year or thenabouts the BBC broadcast a new Sherlock Holmes remake/remodel show. Called No Shit Sherlock Homiez and starring Bananadick Thundersnatch from Eton and Ringo Starr from The Office, it was a rare smash hit for the nation’s favourite craven Auntie. For a few summer weekends it held the nation spellbound – TV execs duly started thinking about ‘fantasy-crime’ or something as a viable TV genre, and telly watching humans the length and breadth of the island responded by causing unseasonal spikes in sales of flouncy All Saintsy overcoats, public school haircuts and cocaine. (There you go, I got the obligatory ’Sherlock did coke‘ bit out the way early.)
I, knee-jerk reactionary to the last, was having none of it. For me, the programme failed at the first hurdle. There they were, Sherl and Watson, doing that BBC-drama running thing around a recognisable, not-too gritty London, all Millenium Eyes and Boris Bikes, every inch the wonderful playground for Russian billionaires, and yes, this is what a showcasin’, rollickin’, fun for all the fu- Wait a minute, no, sorry. So hang on – you mean to say this set, this city, this place that I’m supposed to believe is just like London, has never had a Sherlock Holmes before? You want me to imagine a London that never had Sherlock Holmes in it before today?
This was something I was utterly unable to get my head around. London without Holmes propping up the story of its past just isn’t London. What do they have on the walls of Baker Street tube there? Can you even have Baker Street without Sherlock Holmes?
I may not be terribly, terribly sane, but London without the reality of Sherlock Holmes is not reality at all. For me, and for everyone else living inside the world of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, few things are realer or bigger than the Great Detective.
It was when LOEG declared, with the above panel’s welcoming of Sherlock and James within its horizon, that I decide I was home at last. This was a place where even the greatest and most potent of the stories we feed our minds and souls on could be incorporated and given a new type of life. This isn’t the stranging half-life of h***********l [word redacted to avoid scaring any bravely myopic anti-intellectuals who may be reading] affect. It’s simpler than that – it’s just the blank prototype, the real thing in its original life-form, at play once more. This is how the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen exorcises its ghosts – it absorbs them into the cellular body of itself. The drugs, the fetishisation of law-and-order, the latent homosexuality of the Holmes stories are not applied as external filters coloring the modern, modulated reader’s perception. They are dealt with like a magician would a demon- faced, processed, dragged into quotidian daylight, accepted. They’re just there, original, intrinsic cores of the meaning of these narratives all along, as they would have been if you were in there, living among them like one of the Baker Street Irregulars. Life as it is lived in League world shows us that Sherlock Holmes never died at all.
What do we actually get? In a scene hidden somewhere at the end of The Final Problem, the two foes face each other. They are about to make the transition from one state of reality to another – from life to death, from fiction into immortal myth – with the gulf between here and there illustrated by the seething white froth filling most of the page’s space.
The build-up, the mounting tension, is more than half the battle. This is the only time they will ever meet, but they know each other with the intimacy of lovers. They divest themselves of their last few responsibilities, preparing to enter naked into legend.
The mark on the silver case, a throwaway detail, is the boldest branding. Moore and O’Neill saying ‘We’ve always been here. He was always one of us.’ Holmes says goodbye to his friend. Moriarty reflects on what it is to be a man. It is not something his adversary has cause to be concerned by.
Moriarty cheats of course, trying to get in first with the blade. Holmes is the essence of the warrior here – taking the hit on the shoulder in order to get the enemy, humble enough to allow his own blood to be spilled, aware of the necessity of sacrifice. He barely needs to do anything else – the treacherous attack is its own defeat.
Holmes’ departure into histoy is more dignified, and takes merely a moment’s decision. This is how cool Batman dreams of being.
There are no accidents here in the burning white heat of myth – everything is deliberate and could be no other way. ‘You sodomitic, drug-addicted god’, Moriarty names him, as the Detective climbs into forever.
Dinner with Edward
You don’t get many mealtime scenes in comics, not throbbing boys adventure comics anyway. Funny really, because, as the credits to Dexter show, eating, the simple everyday murder of animals and vegetables, is one of the most blandly violent things people do.
Maybe there’s a very simple, easy reason for this reticence, the unwillingness to go too far into thinking about things you do when you sit down to table. Man has to eat. And you don’t want your Lunch to be too Naked, do you? The dinner table, traditional muster point for family tensions, individuals who choose to spend all but those few short minutes of each day very much apart from one another, is the social convention that more than any other has acquired a labyrinth of customs, manners and mores describing the permitted limits of behaviour and cutlery.
‘Mad’ Eddie Hyde doesn’t seem to fussed about any of that.
He, the science-terrorist Captain Nemo, and Samson, their war-bitten Netley, settle down to a fine meal at the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s British Museum headquarters. Unbeknown to his dinner companions Hyde has spent the last few hours previous to mealtime massacring the traitorous Invisible Man, there in the dining room, the parlour, just about fucking everywhere. We, the somewhat traumatised reader, know this, but are so far unaware of the extent of the carnage.
This knowledge sits at the back of the mind, like a chord played on an organ in a gothic cathedral, swelling until it’s the only thing you can hear.
Buoyed by his afternoon of fun (and perhaps already aware of invisible death stealing up on him) Edward Hyde indulges in a boastful, unapologetic confession. He regales his companions with the story of the truth of his being. As his speech comes to its end something strange happens. In an adjoining room, Hawley Griffin dies and his invisible body can be seen by the naked human eye once more. It is everywhere.
The first spots of blood appear on Hyde’s chest. An eerie foreshadow of tomorrow’s events, and he is told ‘You are wounded.’ Nemo has at least been listening. The stain is Lacanian, the mis-step with the paint brush, the core of truth and meaning that can’t be hidden away by the contortions of the symbolic order. Hyde’s speech is honest, as much as he can be, but the implication of what he means, the reality behind his words, is revealed far more effectively by the blot of blood than anything he can say. So the illusion of his speech, the suit, the dinnertime, his word as a gentleman, cracks open and the awful truth leaks out.
In a further compression, the material of the stain itself is also its meaning. The truth of the English gentleman unbound is simple: blood everywhere. On the hands, on the food, on the dinner table, in the museum, in the carpet, on the curtains.
Nemo and Samson understand immediately. Nemo: ‘You are the shit of the world’, and unsheathes his sword in revulsion. The pirate desperado who has pitted his will and wonderful intellect against Empire sees it sitting before him and rushes to strike at it, yet knowing this act of violence against violence can only destroy himself. Samson is more stoic, reminded, one suspects, of a truth he has learnt many times before against the Kurds and the Pathans, but learnt to ignore. Hyde himself becomes a statue, a monument to himself, and to horror, made permanent, chained again by Jekyll’s sobbing ghost as the truth of what they were dries on the cutlery.
Beyond the metaphysics, the brutal indictment of man and history, is a simple moment of comicbook perfection as the blood is unhidden. In this sequence pace and plotting, form and technique are quietly operating at the limits of what the medium can do. This is comics at their most sublime.