June 26th, 2012
Andrew: First impressions, this is a truly strange comic. I mean, it’s *good*, but it’s an attempted critique of modern pop-culture by someone who has no idea what modern pop-culture *is* (outside of the work of Armando Iannucci, anyway). I haven’t owned a TV in my adult life, and yet I have a better idea of what the pop-cultural feel of 2009 was than Moore seems to have.
And it’s a shame, because the story Moore wants to tell — of the deterioration of culture since the 1960s — is one that could be plausibly made. But to make it work, one has to criticise the 60s counterculture. Most of the problems in the world today stem, ultimately, from the utter self-obsessed infantilism of the generation that were young adults in 1969 — Moore’s generation, the generation that voted in Thatcher, the generation that made up Blair’s cabinet — but rather than admit the link, Moore has instead basically taken a line of “Weren’t the 60s great until Charles Manson and Altamont, but now the world’s full of young people with their hippity-hoppity music and their pinpods, and I wish it would all be like it used to be.”
But all that said, this is still a great comic and a great conclusion to League Volume 3.
“Osman spare parts” — Austin Osman Spare was the other great occultist of the twentieth century, after Aleister Crowley (who has already featured many times in these volumes). Whereas Crowley’s methods were essentially those of a scientific investigator (no, seriously… Crowley was aiming to systematically study the occult in a repeatable way, focusing only on what could be shown to work), Spare, who started as a follower of Crowley, worked more from an artistic standpoint. Spare’s work was ignored for decades, but his idea of sigils became a huge influence on the Chaos Magick scene of the 80s that hugely influenced Moore (as well as Grant Morrison, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). He appears as a character in Moore’s Promethea, and it’s no exaggeration to say that none of Moore’s post-1990 work would exist without Spare’s influence.
“December 21st 2012” — the date that various New-age people believe the apocalypse will happen, variously because the Mayan calendar apparently starts a new cycle then (people who believe this usually believe in a physical apocalypse as in the actual end of the world) or because of the idea, popularised by Robert Anton Wilson (and in The Invisibles by Grant Morrison, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) but originated by ‘psychonaut’ Terrance McKenna, that the rate of information doubling will reach infinity at that point. Most people holding the latter view believe in an apocalypse of the type shown in Promethea (of which more later) — where the old order is replaced with a new way of thinking.
bobsy: This proud example of the breed is from Whatever Happened To Corporal Cuckoo? by Moore/Sinclair favourite Gerald Kersh. It’s taken him five hundred years to get from Corporal to Colonel.
Adam: All these violent types who get to live forever… Soldiers, psychopaths, vampires…
Amy: It’s difficult to write about this comic without making reference to Moore’s thoughts about cultural degradation. But while Moore’s point of view is problematic and frustrating, the way it’s expressed is effortlessly graceful and often very clever. It’s first introduced in the dialogue on panel four.
“We were mopping up insurgents south of the capital in ‘Operation Sindbad’. I–I knew Sindbad. I knew Q’mar when there were flying carpets.”
This is typical Orlando, harping on about his exploits of times past, but with a pathetic twist. Because here he’s not bragging, but mourning, trying to make sense of how an age of wonders can concretise into the harsh materialist reality of modern warfare. The image of a masked insurgent caught up in a firefight, bodies strewn around him, set against a backdrop of bullet riddled concrete and cracked windows that follows the panel underscores this point: there is no magic here, the flying carpets are all grounded. Sindbad is dead. And what are we left with? Orlando. Orlando, who, while confused with a hero in the classical mold (he’s to receive a medal for surviving a massacre he started), is in actuality a dangerous psychopath, fighting wars for the sake of fighting them, killing indiscriminately because there’s no wrong or right anymore.
War, Moore seems to be saying, represents the ultimate failure of the imagination and the death of meaning. Story’s end.
Illogical Volume: This matches up with the thesis of Moore and Gebbie’s Lost Girls, he says, knowing fine well that he hasn’t actually read more than a couple of pages of that comic yet.
Still, the man Plok had some harsh words for the dominant reading of Moore’s later work that I think are definitely worth bearing in mind when considering LOEG: Century as a whole and especially 2009:
…and indeed the point is that you could find yourself in a bit of trouble if all you do is crack it. In point of fact if you try to crack Lost Girls or Black Dossier, the greatest danger is that you will — you’ll hear Father Inevitable say that only moralists and magistrates can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and you’ll see that War kills Imagination, but that’s all you’ll see and hear…you’ll notice Allan Quartermain despairing of the condition of modern British pop-fiction, and you’ll notice that sex is magic and magic is Idea…but you won’t notice anything else. You won’t notice, for example, any irony in the presentation of the moral woof! woof! Imagination is Great, and Sex is Good to Have!
Which, I think, will mean that you’ll hardly notice anything at all.
You’d have to be daft to suggest that the reactionary tone that Andrew and amy have already discussed is actually absent from this comic, but this isn’t just a story about how modern life is rubbish, and it’s important to remember that as we go on.
Andrew: Absolutely. Moore’s a reactionary old crank, but he’s a reactionary old crank because he sees the possibility of a better world. LoEG is very Swiftian, really, in the sense that Orwell talks about, but with a writer who’s not yet given up hope. It’s also, actually, very Orwellian indeed.
Adam: One of the things that it is is a touching story about a group of people who need each other very, very much, which isn’t your standard Boy’s Own fare. More on this later.
Andrew: Agreed — and one of the reasons it works is the de-emphasising of all the references. This isn’t about spot-the-reference any more, if it ever was, it’s a story which happens to make those references. And so the fact that Moore doesn’t know current pop culture to anything like the extent he knows those of the Edwardian era or the 60s actually works in its favour.
Amy: I like that Cuckoo doesn’t judge, that he understands the temporary madness Orlando describes as a regrettable but unavoidable consequence of living forever (It’s no accident that the massacre’s opening shot is greeted by surprise, not just by his fellow officers, but, if O’Neill’s pencils are to be believed, by Orlando hirself!). It seems shocking to us that in lieu of goodbye Cuckoo sets the time for their next meeting, which he describes blankly as the ‘next war’, but from the perspective of eternity this is just a statement of fact. Orlando may not want to hear it now, but Cuckoo knows, and so in the end does ze, that mass murder is a highly effective way to process the nihilism immortality engenders.
Andrew: T-10 — Thunderbird 10?
Amy: Definitely. Again a symbol of wonder and imagination brought low. Why save the world and explore the stars when you can bomb the shit out of ‘towel heads’?
Illogical Volume: Baldy chaos magician/Enemy of the House of Moore Grant Morrison and ace art droid Chris Weston presented readers with decayed and degraded version of Gerry Anderson’s vision in The Filth.The brief Anderson reference in LoEG Century isn’t as fully realised as that curdled fantasy, but it’s worth noting that Moore and O’Neill use their Thunderbirds reference to point outwards, towards the rotten imperialist politics of the day, while Morrison and Weston’s comic turned inward in response to such atrocities.
bobsy: Thunderbird 10′s appearance is for me a useful emblem of Moore’s position – the present-day condition he’s describing isn’t necessarily a reactionary one lamenting tarnished promise; it’s more up than that: ‘don’t kid yourself’. Like, what did you think those nice Tracy boys were really doing on that private island, if not reviewing military contracts?
Adam: How did they pay for it in the first place, one might ask.
Although, I think Moore explicitly comes out and says what his position is later in the book, and it looks a lot like one of tarnished promise, or at least something similar. There is absolutely a good deal of ‘same as it ever was’, however, I’ll give you that. More on this stuff later
Andrew: The Tesco bag Orlando is carrying is funny of course — slogan “We control every aspect of your lives” — but it’s also a sign of something we’ll see more of in this story — the leaking of real things into the world of fiction.
Illogical Volume: Back in 2008 Tesco was suing people who criticised its aggressive expansion in Thailand, so it makes sense that this particular supermarket chain would be pig-headed and ambitious enough to expand into the world of fiction as well.
bobsy: On the Iannucci tip too, didn’t Tesco go to war with Denmark at some point in Time Trumpet? No one in the universe believes that Tesco is a simple innocent grocers, that’s for sure.
Illogical Volume: Good shout bobsy! The “We control every aspect of your lives” slogan originates from this Time Trumpet bit…
…which almost undermines Andrew’s (very elegant and compelling) notion that this represents slippage from our reality into this defiantly fictional one. There are enough “real” phenomena in this comic for his thesis to stand, but here as with many of the other examples in these pages, the boundaries between the worlds had been blurred before Moore and O’Neill got to work.
Andrew: Ah. right… Time Trumpet is one of the few things by the old On The Hour team that I’ve not seen, along with the film version of My Wrongs.
“Pinter’s Schit Bags” — probably a reference to Harold Pinter’s play One For The Road, about totalitarianism and the use of rape and torture on political prisoners. “Your father fought for his country. I knew him. I revered him. Everyone did. He believed in God. He didn’t think, like you shitbags. “ — the character saying this line is about to threaten a woman who supposedly escaped from a psychiatric hospital with rape.
bobsy: Sid the Sexist blocking Orlando’s path off the bus. There’s your transphobia portmanteaud nicely. These Viz characters tend to run in packs, so that’s probably Roger Mellie The Man On The Telly (and long suffering PA sort, Tom) berating the chugger. You know how cartoons can put the fear into you sometimes – the repetition, the violence, the bendy rules? Imagine the nightmare world where you actually have to dodge past Viz characters on the street.
Illogical Volume: DriveShaft was the band that yon wee Hobbit from Lord of the Rings was in on Lost. The title of the album that’s being advertised here, Who Cares?, pretty much sums up my feelings on that TV show so that’s all the context I’m able to provide here.
Andrew: “The Drum ‘N’ Bassment” — was drum ‘n’ bass still a thing in 2009? I know it was a thing in the mid-90s…
Amy: No. Well, not really. Obviously people were going out to D&B nights then, just as they are now, but by 2009 it had long since stopped being at the bleeding edge. It’s not completely incongruous as a name for a club, but it does help bolster the argument that Moore’s out of his depth here.
Andrew: About what I thought.
bobsy: ‘Rhythm & Bassment’ would’ve been better, and contained a nod to the lineage of UFO; or just ‘The Bassment’ would’ve done. An interesting exercise here might be to come up with some possible method of measuring ‘cultural decline’. One I’ve seen suggested elsewhere, by Mark Fisher most probably, would be to see how many new musical genres are being produced by club culture at a given time. If, as seems quite plausible, fewer underground subgenres are arising out of the bass scene of 2009 than that of, say, 1991, then is that evidence that a kind of cultural enervation is occuring?
(Amy: That doesn’t work because Bass Music was designed as a catch-all term to somehow accomodate the polymorphous perversity of current dance music. Ramadanman does not sound like Actress does not sound like Andy Stott does not sound like Jam City does not sound like Blawan, but you might hear them all on the same night. I think Fisher’s metric’s wrong. We don’t live in the world of movements in the same way anymore. Anyway, digression over.)
bobsy: There’s another point that the authors have lost here though. Not just the name of the club or scene it services, but the type of club itself.To make a point that Pink Floyd were better, and dancing to them meant more, than Andy C or whoever seems specious in the extreme. A better thing to note would be that those single-genre venues hardly exist any more, that keeping the rent paid in a central London club (immortal superheroes aside) requires a spread of punters & rather a more financially pragmatic or ruthless outlook in general. London’s taste-forming tribes are a more diffuse and less brand-loyal group than yore.
Illogical Volume: It’s funny though, I almost prefer the idea of Moore making slightly out-of-date drum’n’bass references to the idea of him trying to make jokes about dubstep. To paraphrase Mister Attack, it’s almost like thinking about Oor Wullie on X-Box live or something – somehow the idea of him playing on his Gameboy is mildly less disconcerting.
Amy: Maybe. But this is where the youth is, where the new stuff’s happening. Don’t be wagging your finger and telling everyone creativity’s dead if the last time you had any idea what was going on in popular music was 1995.
bobsy: Wullie’s, or the Glebe Street lot’s form of bounded immortality, where nothing can die but nothing can change either, is probably far more subjectively unpleasant than the various eternities that Orlando and Mina are forever freaking out about…
Illogical Volume: No doubt.
Andrew: Fur-Q — An Eminem-like rapper who sings about paedophilia in Chris Morris’ Brass Eye “Paedogeddon” special from 2001.
Amy: I think he’s from The Day Today actually. Yeah, so both Fur-Q and N.W.H. (from the Spinal Tap inspired Fear of a Black Hat) are hardly modern reference points. Moore could probably just about explain this away via the glut of reunions and comebacks these days (an example of a culturally starved society feeding on its recent past, etc…), but not altogether convincingly.
Andrew: You’re right, of course — he’s the one who did Uzi Lover, not the Eminemalike.
Adam: Chris Morris being perhaps the preeminent British satirist of the last 25 years. During the 90s and 00s he mined a thick seam of idiocy, often targeting our hysterical tabloid culture, and causing scandal simply by throwing their own vile map of reality right back at them, hence Paedogeddon and the drug episode of Brass Eye in which celebrities were encouraged to prattle on about the hideous dangers of “a made up drug” called Cake.
There’s a nice aesthetic alignment in Morris’s taste for the surreal and the absurd and O’Neill’s art. Both are grotesque in their way, and both are highly idiosyncratic. If you want to convey a society, and people, gone wrong Morris and O’Neill are your men
Illogical Volume: Most definitely, they both have a way with the grotesque that makes even their clumsier critiques seem fierce and strange, though if I’m honest Morris’ portrayal of Fur-Q always made me cringe in the way that only middle class white guys parodying black culture can. Says the middle class white guy.
Massive Genius is a rapper who appears in the Sopranos episode ‘A Hit is a Hit’, in which he attempts to secure overdue royalties for a deceased relative, only to be threatened with a counter-lawsuit over unauthorised sampling. Somehow I can imagine vaguely similar scenarios playing out in Alan Moore’s more mundane nightmares right about now, though of course that sort of thing could only happen to him in the minds of comic book fans.
Amy: One thing that becomes painfully apparent very fast now that we’ve arrived in London, is that neither Moore or O’Neill have much of a grasp of today’s high street. This might seem like a small thing until you consider what a fun part clothes have had to play in shaping the feel of the different eras depicted in previous volumes. I know there’s an attempt, what with the low slung jeans in the previous page, to nod to current trends, but the FCUK jacket is pure 90s, as are the combat pants the chugger’s wearing. I don’t want everyone to look completely up to the minute obviously, but I’d like to get the feeling the book’s creators were capable of capturing the zeitgeist – it would make the book stand out, feel relevant, and perhaps allow me to take the cultural critique a tad more seriously..
That said, the two black guys outside the club are rocking a 2010 via the 1980s look, which is up to the minute…. but…… it’s probably just a happy accident.
Andrew: I assumed they were a reference to something I don’t know about
Amy: I wonder if Orlando wears a trenchcoat to disguise the change? After centuries of this stuff ze probably can’t be bothered with all the bullshit it entails, least of all with the idea of taking a stand against transphobia. It’s these little details that make reading Alan Moore’s comics fun, because while you can’t know for sure if their intentional or not, you’re probably on pretty safe territory assuming that they are.
Amy: I find Orlando’s reaction to hir period equally satisfying. It’s nice that in a comic with themes as grand as the end of the world Moore still takes time for these little character moments.
Illogical Volume: Andy Millman is the bit part actor turned sitcom sellout from Ricky Gervais’ Extras. Extras was, amongst other things, a way for celebrities to show that they were in on the joke, that they were so comfortable with their own fictions that they could join in with their audience and “have a laugh” at themselves (and get paid for it). The show Millman is scheduled to appear on here, Celebrity Rape an Ape, is the famous person’s version of the reality TV show Rape An Ape from Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet. The broken biscuit brand names and advertising phrases that Moore and O’Neill scattered across pages 6 and 7 of this comic owe a lot to the curdled whimsy of Iannucci and his frequent collaborator Chris Morris, so it’s nice to see Moore parting the beard for my favourite Officer of the British Empire more than once in these pages.
Andrew: I think one of the reasons for the focus on the work of Iannucci and Morris here is so much of it’s about the blurring of the lines between fiction and reality, whether something like Morris’ “Richard Geefe” columns, the celebrity entrapment in Brass Eye or the way that The Thick Of It or Four Lions (or Veep, the most recent thing on which both men have worked) are largely improvised.
Illogical Volume: While it’s not one of Iannucci’s stronger shows, Time Trumpet’s focus on the triumphalist stupidity of certain facets of modern pop makes it a particularly apt reference point in LoEG Century. A preemptive retrospective TV show set in 2031 and broadcast in 2006, Time Trumpet parodied the format of the “I Love 1996” style programs that spread through British television like a particularly vicious AV cancer in the early naughties. In the straight versions of these shows various rent-a-celebs would provide lovingly banal tributes to the cultural detritus of the recent past. In Iannucci’s program aged celebrities and eerily ageless comedians (sorry, cultural commentators) spouted exactly the same sort of space-filling piffle, but with an extra layer of deliberate absurdity.
As an attempt to imagine the (un)natural endpoint of the cruel streak of reality TV, Celebrity Rape an Ape strikes me as a particularly tight (!) fit for Moore and O’Neill’s project here. Popular opinion droid Charlie Brooker recently stated that actual television had outpaced his ability to parody it, noting that he could never have conceived of a world in which you could watch people only slightly more famous than your own beloved mother feasting on kangaroo anuses for your mild amusement. I’d say that Celebrity Rape An Ape suggests that Brooker just needs to dream harder, but I’m worried that a punch-drunk producer will stumble over these words and try to make Rape an Ape a real prospect.
Adam: In a nutshell, that there’s a number of references to the work of two of our finest contemporary satirists is unsurprising when you consider that 1910 was in thrall to Brecht’s social critique and that Moore spends a good deal of this chapter having a dig at modern Britain. I mean, who else was he going to call upon?
Illogical Volume: Might as well talk about the other sense in which this particular reference is important while we’re at it, eh? You see, the thing is I’m not breaking any big news here or anything, but there’s a lot of rape in Alan Moore’s comics, isn’t there? I saw former Fanboy Rampage blogger and Savage Critic Graeme McMillain referring to Moore as a “rape-happy” writer on twitter the other day…
…which still seemed a little bit off to me. I know Graeme was tweaking the nose of the respectable end of the comics internet with that tweet, but for all that sexual violence is common enough in Moore’s comics to make me want to see someone ask him about it in an interview*, I don’t think I could ever characterise his writing as being “rape-happy”. Violence in Moore’s books tends to be treated an awkward and reprehensible occurrence, and troubling as it can be his treatment of rape is in line with this. A “rape-happy” comic would play out more like Rape an Ape, and would do much to make Moore’s point about modern culture for him.
*Somewhat fittingly given the overarching conceit of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the only interview in which Moore has been properly quizzed about this aspect of his work is this Interview With a Figment, which I like to think crossed over into the LoEG universe in the form of a bolt of pink light that was beamed right into Horselover Fat’s head.
Andrew: Absolutely. There’s a hugely problematic aspect to the use of rape in Moore’s work — as we pointed out in the discussions for the last volume of this — but there’s a difference between what Moore does and, say, Mark Millar’s (apparently serious) suggestion to DC Comics that they follow The Death Of Superman with The Rape Of Wonder Woman.
The rape in Moore’s works is generally there for good dramatic reasons, is never there to provide motivations for a third character (except in The Killing Joke, which Moore admits was a bad idea) and seems to stem from an, if anything, overly decent place — it’s like he keeps shouting “Rape is really, really bad! No, really, honestly, it’s terrible! Don’t do it!”
Which is, unfortunately, a message that many people still haven’t got through their heads (just look at the ongoing defences of Julian Assange despite his lawyer admitting the charges against him are true, and just arguing about what does and doesn’t count as consent). But on the other hand, after a while, going on about it that much seems a little… odd.
But one thing I would never call Moore is ‘rape-happy’, no. ‘Rape furious’ would be more like it.
“Incoming President Palmer” — President Palmer is a character from 24. Here he’s elected in 2009, replacing Jeb Bartlett, the president from The West Wing, and denouncing him, though both were Democrats and in their respective TV series served at approximately the same time — Palmer from 2001 through 2006 and Bartlett from 1999 to 2006.
Amy: Moore follows through on the 24 reference when he has the newscaster nod to (presumably Jack Bauer’s) counter-terrorism unit and its claims to end the recession in 24 hours. This is a biting bit of satire, poking fun at the U.S.A. and its delusions of invulnerability, the recession being just another baddie, like terrorists, it can sort out with a good old fashioned, all american punch to the face.
Andrew: And of course this resonates with the old Marxist critique of both war and TV — that it’s there for economic reasons and to distract the masses from the real problems. “War means work for all”, to quote an album Moore almost certainly listened to in the 60s.
Amy: The trick Moore and O’Neill pull here is quite ingenious. Even though Prospero and his , err, companions appear, on the surface of it, to be invading Orlando’s realm, there’s the sense throughout this scene that the situation is in fact the reverse, that the League’s universe has been brought to heel at the feet of a far older and more capaciously dimensioned reality (as Ms. Dwyer explains in The Invisibles “He [a fourth dimensional archon] doesn’t come to us, rather we go to him”). This effect is achieved through a variety of tricks, not least of which the speed lines pushing the eye towards the centre of the first panel and Orlando having to reel backwards in order to avoid ploughing into Prospero’s index finger.
Also, the sense of a dominant reality is conveyed via Prospero’s immanence – no doors are closed to him – and via scale. Things are bigger and somehow more real in the Blazing World, as the maxed out colour dial and the platonic solids that float about the page can testify (and embedded somewhere in there is the idea that maybe those weightless baubles are how planets look from a fourth dimensional vantage point!). More than this, though, the whole scene, and this is especially well conveyed by the second panel of page eleven, has the atmosphere of a cop show ragging, with Prospero, seated, fists on the table, as the pissed off captain and Orlando, standing, cowed, as his gifted, but lazy employee.
(love the way Caliban’s pressing at the glass unable to get through.)
Andrew: We should probably mention the lettering here, too — the drop-shadow that Klein puts on Prospero’s lettering is a lovely, subtle touch.
Moore captures the dialogue of Malcolm Tucker here perfectly, although Tucker almost certainly wouldn’t speak this way on an actual TV interview. It’s worth it, however, just to see Moore write such perfectly splenetic Tucker swearing.
Adam: It’s not how Tucker would speak in an interview, no, but it’s a lot of fun, and it helps to build the very slightly tongue in cheek atmosphere of this chapter. The League has never been averse to taking a broad brush approach to its cultural references.
Illogical Volume: Tom Davis is The Thick Of It’s Gordon Brown-alike minister who became Prime Minister in between the second and third seasons, but I’ll say more about him later.
You’re both right to say that Tucker wouldn’t talk like this during a TV appearance, but I enjoyed the way Tucker – whose role in The Thick of It was usually to harangue the hapless ministers on behalf of “the PM” — appears here just as Prospero pops up to ball out Orlando on behalf of The Beard.
bobsy: That’s a ‘real’ Jon Snow that Tucker is talking to though. The cadences and lexis are again pretty perfect. I can’t actually recall or find any examples, but I’m sure Snow has played himself as a character once-or-twice on TV or some shitty Britflick, so this slightly incongruous appearance here isn’t necessarily reality-leakage.
What IS reality-leakage though, is the way Tucker-Snow reflects the c.2003 real-life events of Campbell-Snow. Campbell is the real-life analogue of Tucker, imagine Tucker without the glimpses (‘I was the fucking pharoah’) of humanity.
Adam: That Campbell-Snow interview on the question of the intelligence that led to the invasion of Iraq was one for the ages. Not at all surprised to see it referenced here.
bobsy: The recycling lorry = proto Mek-Quake. (As much as any truck by Mr. O’Neill doesn’t look like Mek-Quake.)
Adam: That might be my favourite bit of Mindless fanwank (or is it?) evar.
Andrew: That’s Arthur Daley and Terry, the lovable conman-and-violent-thug team from Minder, a 1980s TV show that was briefly revived in 2009, when it was based around Daley’s nephew. The character they’re beating up bears a passing resemblance to Shane Ritchie, who starred in the unsuccessful 2009 revival.
I don’t know if it’s just me reading into it as a Who fan, incidentally, but it’s curious how many references to things connected to the very start of Doctor Who there are in this comic. Minder’s original producer was Verity Lambert, who was also the producer of the first two series of Who.
A real place here — Gosh Comics, one of the best comic shops in the UK (though I believe it’s now moved from its spot here opposite the British Museum), whose owner also owns Knockabout, the co-publisher of League. I think the man being thrown out is meant to be Graham Linehan — it doesn’t look much like him, but Linehan is a customer at Gosh, has written for Moore’s Dodgem Logic magazine, co-wrote a sitcom, Black Books, set in the same area as Gosh, and the magazines he’s dropping (“Drink”, “Feck” and “Girls”) echo the catchphrase of Father Jack, from Father Ted, another sitcom Linehan co-wrote.
Linehan is, of course, another frequent collaborator of Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci.
Meanwhile, the British Museum is advertising an exhibition about Sikandergul, the city from the film (and Kipling short story) The Man Who Would Be King — a story about imperialist white British explorers coming to an unhappy end, a man who tries to become a god and has his head cut off as a result, and freemasonry…
bobsy: That’s actually Bernard Black, owner of Black Books, kicking @glinner out of the shop. Though of course readers may fanwank away any troubling ‘creation kicking creator out of heaven’ metaphor, useful as it might be, by recalling that this isn’t the real Mr. Linehan we’re talking about, but actually an Irish TV producer called Aidan Walsh.
I’m sure I remember the bat-symbol outside Gosh as being black-on-yellow, but I could well be wrong. This isn’t the real Gosh of course, it is lunar-Gosh, dead Gosh, no longer situated opposite LOEG HQ any more Gosh.
Illogical Volume: on the copy of the Big Blanket we see here, “Tom Davis: A Nutter Too Far?”, continues in the tradition of the previous Thick of It reference by taking inter-departmental gossip from the Thick of It out into the public eye – supporters of Davis within the incumbent government in The Thick of It were known as “nutters”, but I can’t remember them being referred to as such in any public communications.
Davis became Prime Minister in the Special episodes of The Thick of It that preceded the third season, ‘Rise of the Nutters’ and ‘Spinners and Losers’. Like Gordon Brown, Davis took over the role of Prime Minister without winning an election, and despite persistent whispers about his mental health and the threat of other potential leadership candidates.
Also like Gordon Brown, it seems likely that Tom Davis also happens to be in charge of the country in the middle of Moneygeddon 2009.
bobsy: Tom Davis is one of The Thick Of It’s several offscreen-only characters, so there’s no actor to model the face on. Sticking a question mark where someone’s face should go is usually quite a deliberate move for this comic though, and here it functions nicely as ‘keep your eye on the homeless guy’ marker.
Amy: another nice character moment here, with Orlando gazing wistfully at the British Museum. We’ve said it before, but Century is a wonderful meditation on what it means to live forever, and one thing that’s come out of it is how sad it must be to have to constantly say goodbye to places and people you’ve known – after all, the museum was the League’s home for decades. This panel effortlessly underlines the hopelessness Orlando feels. How to find Mina and Allan and resurrect the League? There are practical considerations that probably seem insurmountable, but in the end they’re almost a metaphor for the real question the character’s wrestling with: is it even possible to go back? Is the past a locked door?
Amy: It seems that the most likely origin of the Queequeg coffee shop isn’t Moby Dick but the computer game Deus Ex. Despite his curmudgeonliness Alan understands that you can’t depict the imaginary world of the modern era without incorporating elements from games, and that’s to his credit. Deus Ex, the sequel to which was the best selling game in 2009, is well suited to Moore’s conspiracy and war addled fictional present, being as it is the testosterone fueled epitome of early zeroes sub-Ikean twaddle, incorporating everything under the sun from global coffee brands pretending to duke it out in order to increase revenue for the parent company that owns them both, to islamists, the W.T.O., the Outer Church and the Illuminati. If Deus Ex’s timeline can be trusted as a guideline for how things will turn out, then everything’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Those riot police on every corner are only the beginning.
Andrew: I like the Deus Ex resonance, but I don’t think he’s necessarily making the connection — I think Starbuck-Queequeg is the kind of joke that people come up with independently.
Illogical Volume: While I agree with Andrew that it’s entirely likely that Moore came up with this gag on his own, the Deus Ex connection still comes with lots of nice texture. Here’s what a little boy called Kieron Gillen, aged 8 ½, had to say about the game at the time. You can make up your mind as to whether Gillen’s chat about combining different genre types in order to create a greater sense of freedom has any relevance to Moore and O’Neill’s project.
Amy: “Newsjiz….etc” The VJ’s voice reminds me of someone… Further to Fur-Q, I’d say that the many alter-egos of Chris Morris have taken over the airwaves. The Day to Day and Brasseye have from time to time felt prescient and most fans will say that having watched both shows it’s impossible to watch the news in quite the same way again.
You know that Moore’s quietly satisfied with the name Spooky Tawdry, don’t you? A pop icon who’s both uncanny and otherworldly and yet…. strangely dull. I wonder who he had in mind? Again, the sublime in thrall to the banal.
David Beckham as a Centaur is lifted from Time Trumpet. I like the way even the most outlandish of these jokey asides comes complete with a rationale. Here zoomorphic modification becomes the ultimate fashion statement, and why not? Tattoos are so popular right now – I think we can go a bit further……
Anyway, I always wonder when our heroes were supposed to have posed for the photographs that litter these volumes. I like to imagine that the one Orlando’s checking out in this scene was taken just before, or just after, we met the team on the deck of the Nautilus in 1969. There’s pathos here, because this was just a matter of days before the League fell apart….
bobsy: Orlando’s cab ride isn’t that far, but she pays with a fifty, and doesn’t look too fussed about the change. Chas gets some good luck for once.
Amy: The memorial plaque on the bottom left hand side of the first panel commemorates Dixon of Dock Green, but collapsed with his real life inspiration George Dixon MP, an educational reformer who died in 1898 This yields up two different conclusions – that this George Dixon is father or grandfather of the aforementioned titular police officer, or that Moore and O’Neill are shuffling timelines to make everything fit. Either way it seems likely the guy was a Freemason and therefore evil.
Andrew: A third possibility — the first appearance of the fictional George Dixon was in the film The Blue Lamp, which centred on Dixon’s murder. But he then was brought back to life for the TV series. So George Dixon of Dock Green is another of the many figures in this story who are central myths of the British Empire, kept alive long after their supposed death (the Bonds, Quartermain himself). In which case this might be the memorial for the first Dixon (if he’s like Bond) or for Dixon’s first faked death (if like Quartermain).
Indeed there’s a huge thread running through the whole of Century about things and people surviving past ‘their time’ — see too Haddo trying to stay alive forever. In fact, a lot of the cameos can be interpreted this way too (Arthur Daley beating up his replacement, for example).
And of course a shot of Dixon was used to close Ashes To Ashes’ last episode — a show which has some relevance here…
But as to Freemasonry… in a lot of ways it forms the hidden connection between a lot of the characters in Century, because it’s the link between the establishment and the occult. On the one hand, you can’t get much more establishment than the freemasons — if you have Prince Philip in your organisation, then you’re pretty much as mainstream as you can get.
But then the whole edifice of ceremonial occultism — the tradition that started with the Golden Dawn and continued through Crowley and his imitators — is based on Masonic (or pseudo-Masonic) symbolism, given a fraudulent whiff of antiquity.
There were a lot of rumours during Crowley’s lifetime that he was really working for the Secret Service (rumours the old fraud was keen to encourage himself — especially as a way of excusing his First World War pro-German propaganda writings).
In real life, Aleister Crowley was, during the second world war, actually in contact with Ian Fleming about ways in which he could aid the war effort, including helping to interrogate Rudolf Hess, but the plans were blocked by Fleming’s friend Maxwell Knight. (Fleming later based Le Chiffre, in Casino Royale, partly on Crowley).
Given the appearance of the various Bonds here, along with Emma Peel (nee Knight), there is a possible implication here that Haddo’s occult group, if it is freemasonic in nature as Crowley’s was, had some role in the internecine fighting of MI6.
Amy: The statue is Brutus, founder of Troy-Novantum (London) and one of Orlando’s long line of lovers. I think I’m right in saying Orlando is gazing up at the statue as he prepares to make his way up the steps. These sorts of unsignposted but nevertheless highly significant details are why I like the League. That there’s no internal monologue, or anything further said about Orlando and Brutus’s relationship, meaning the reader has to fill in Orlando’s reaction hirself, is ace. All the best texts provoke speculation. It increases depth and heightens immersion.
Andrew: “J3” and “J6” are the Roger Moore and Daniel Craig versions of James Bond. We also see the two Miss Moneypennys.
Amy: The youngest of whom keeps the famous post-Connery pic of Craig in his ‘Hello, girls!’ shorts pinned to her workstation. With each new generation of Bonds and Moneypennies the cycle renews itself. Moore gets Craig-Bond’s voice right by opting not to employ it except for a terse “Shut up and keep walking”. Moore-Bond is as slimy and obsequious vis a vis his female superior as one would expect.
bobsy: Shut up he’s not slimy, that’s the True Bond you’re talking about. I nearly cheered when I saw such an expertly-rendered recreation of Roger’s face and syrup.
Amy: Mate, I love Moore’s Bond.
Andrew: In The Black Dossier, it was established that M in the Bond films stood for “Mother” (the code-name of the leader of the secret service in The Avengers, who was also established as being Harry Lime and Bob Cherry from the Greyfriars stories…). Here, it stands for that, but also means “Em” — as in Emma. Emma Peel, from the Avengers (who was also in The Black Dossier), has become the new Mother. The character as drawn here bears some slight resemblance both to Diana Rigg (who played Peel) and to Judi Dench (the current M in the Bond films). She has a photo of John Steed on her desk.
Amy: She also has The Black Dossier and The New Traveller’s Almanac on her desk too. Didn’t Allan and Mina steal the former?.
The ‘operative’ M’s referring to is Michael Westen, the lead character of Burn Notice, a show that centres around an ex-CIA agent whose dismissal from the agency is shrouded in mystery and who, as a result, may feel anything but loyal.
I think it’s interesting that Ms. Peel keeps a picture of the original Bond around considering how much she must hate him. Still, perhaps she likes to nurture the hate, to cherish it, to draw daily comparisons between the handsome spy in the painting and the wreck of a man that Bond is now.
Maybe she’s just expected to keep it hanging there in order to perpetuate the myth.
Andrew: We see here once again Moore’s opinion of James Bond — “Oh, you know, cirrhosis, emphysema, syphilis” — and that the various iterations of Bond do coexist in this reality (which suggests that the brief panel of the Connery Bond and Simon Templar arguing in 1969 was meant to suggest Templar being a second Bond).
“Both UNIT and our Cardiff enterprise” — UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce is an international military organisation that mostly fights aliens in Doctor Who. The Cardiff enterprise presumably refers to Torchwood.
Andrew: The Dalton, Brosnan, Connery and Lazenby Bonds make an appearance. Shame not to see any of the Bonds from Casino Royale, which first suggested that there were multiple agents using the “James Bond” code name.
Given that the Connery Bond isn’t the first, incidentally, does that mean the the wheelchair-bound syphillitic is the one played by Bob Holness?
(Adam: Being the host of legendary 80s student quizshow, Blockbusters)
bobsy: Isn’t it a myth that Holness was Orig Bond? Or is that true, and it’s just a myth he played sax on Baker Street?
Andrew: He was actually the second Bond — he played him in a 1956 version of Moonraker for South African radio. Barry Nelson was the first, for an American TV adaptation of Casino Royale also featuring Peter Lorre, but the character he played was an American CIA agent.
The Baker Street thing was a myth though, yes.
Amy: The intended victim of the blackmail docs on panel three is Joan Warralson, leader of the 1946-47 replacement league. They would’ve been used to either corral her into taking the job in the first place, or to shut her up about it once the whole thing fell apart.
Peel’s response to Orlando’s offer (“Oh God. Y-you are an absolutely terrifying young woman.”) is excellent precisely because it’s the opposite of what we’d expect her to say. A lesser writer would have Peel giddy with excitement, but Moore understands that to so casually, carelessly, throw out the offer of immortality – to offer not just immortality, in fact, but to turn the whole universe on its head – is spine chilling. The first two panels of page 20 are a locked-shot, transforming the motionless Orlando into one of the weird relics crowding out the archive. It’s as though one of them has opened its mouth and started to speak. Moore’s good at these abrupt shifts in the power dynamic – Orlando’s transformed from a desperate victim to a timeless monster in the blink of an eye, and the point is emphasised by the shark (Jaws?) prowling eternally in the background, the atmosphere suddenly soured, lethal. Eternity yawns wide and its teeth are razor sharp.
This is the dark side of Orlando’s glibness and flippancy. God, it turns out, does play dice.
Andrew: And of course in every frame of this exchange we have reminders of mortality — dead
creatures, from past adventures, stuffed and on display.
bobsy: Not Jaws – Hookjaw. No way was he ever taken intact. Must have given the taxidermy man a heart attack.
Amy: I think when his critics tackle Moore in blog post after blog post about not properly engaging with the culture he’s attacking, what many of them (and that includes us) fail to notice is the man’s fine attunement to social injustice, a modern problem he’s absolutely allowed to go at with all guns blazing. We’ve talked a lot in the past about the way that, in Moore’s writing, the human body is so close to the surface, and that includes the body politic. As we’ve observed in our prior League thoughts, the poor literally crowd out the margins of Century. Because the same problems are evident throughout all three of league’s volumes, the idea that things have slowly gotten worse is somewhat undermined, however the idea of imagination, of better ideas, as catalyst for a new world is only strengthened. The closure of Invasion Memorial Park possibly indicates a recession and an austerity hit borough council no longer able to fund its upkeep, and to double this up with a jobless, homeless Allan Quartermain over the space of one page suggests that when Moore conceives of 2009 to the present day it’s not with skinny leg jeans but poverty in mind. If Moore’s comic accurately reflects one thing, it’s this Britain, a Britain fighting a war overseas while at home everything falls apart at the seams. It starts with the public libraries and then it’s… someone you know.
Adam: The point about social justice stands, but Moore isn’t just criticising the culture of political ideas, he’s criticising the culture of creativity, which I’m not sure he’s in a position to do.
Amy: I know, but when you shift the emphasis, you realise that he might have quite a good handle on Today.
Illogical Volume: Moore is, as ever, right where it’s important to be right. I couldn’t really give a fuck if he knows which Jason Aaron comics are worth reading or what type of music “those kids today” are really listening to so long as he’s still able to write comics like this, tender tributes to our forgotten futures that also reflect everything that’s inescapably fucked up and wrong beyond the endless scroll of yr tumblr feed.
And yes, that last line is me rehearsing for the role of grumpy old man, why do you ask?
Adam: I broadly agree with that but I think it does matter. LoEG is, amongst other things, a celebration of our culture of creativity, so it saddens me that Moore doesn’t recognise the very real creativity that exists today, and instead has written a comic about how the coral reef of ideas or whatever is sick. Perhaps I’m missing some subtle nuance buried in the text – like Andrew I think there might (just might, mind you) be something in Moore’s position – but for the life of me I can’t find it.
Andrew: Now this is something I think is crucial to what’s going on in this story. Orlando takes Excalibur out of a children’s toy box.
But it’s a children’s toy box from our world!
The box says “Sir Lancelot – from the exciting TV show”, and has the ITC logo. But the thing is, Sir Lancelot was a real ITC show – starring William Russell who went on to be the first Doctor Who companion — and ITC was a real company. Surely it shouldn’t have been a TV show in the League universe, but its events should actually have happened?
Unless its presence — like that of Iain Sinclair — is leakage from our world, and that’s why it’s able to defeat the Antichrist?
Amy: Nomi Malone is the protagonist of trashy cult movie, Showgirls. I won’t bother going into the plot: there wasn’t one. Kyle Maclachlan’s turn in that piece of shit is enough to wipe Agent Dale Cooper from your mind for at least the two hours it takes to watch it.
Another one of Orlando’s conquests then.
Along with Tarzan, Lord of Greystoke.
Illogical Volume: I’m actually quite fond of David Fiore’s defence of Showgirls, a movie so resolutely baffling that I enjoy watching people sit through it for the first time more than I enjoy most movies. I’ve seen a lot of movies, but few of them have bamboozled me with such a TOTAL ASSAULT of baffling choices like Showgirls does.
You might not agree with Fiore’s interpretation of those choices, but they’ve got some resonance in the Swiftian world of Century 2009:
…Showgirls presents us with the ultimate survivor–a person who, for whatever Satan-given reason, has been granted the power to survive in ANY environment… Showgirls strips that power of all glamourous/inspirational/heartwarming qualities… Elizabeth Berkley makes good her escape in a cowgirl costume, holding a knife to the throat of the once-and-future dick who first brought her to Sin City–from a place, we later learn, that was worse than ANYTHING we see in the film itself… And she’s clearly headed back to the same dismal place. It’s called the world we live in. There’s nothing else. And no safe place to view it from.
Orlando certainly is a survivor, and as Andrew has already noted, reality is bearing down on the League in this volume…
Andrew: Had we established earlier that the fountain of youth was in Uganda? I’m wondering if this is some kind of play on “Ugandan affairs” — sex equalling vitality? Possibly reading too much into it…
Amy: Yeah, it’s been established since The Black Dossier.
Anyway… along with Nomi Malone and Spooky’s hairstyle, Stabmaster is another early to mid nineties reference (from the 1993 film CB4).
Andrew: And speaking of Ugandan affairs, we return to Rosa Coote’s, last seen in volume 1.
Amy: But with ‘Schadenfreude’ substituted for ‘Sigmund Freud’.
Andrew: “Analrapy” — well, I suppose it was too much to hope for an Alan Moore comic with *no* rape in…
Illogical Volume: That Analrapy gag is a reference to cult sitcom Arrested Development, in which Tobias Funke boasted that he was both an analyst and a therapist, which made him “the world’s first analrapist”. Of course, as even the notoriously oblivious Tobias is willing to acknowledge that it didn’t look so good written down:
It’s not hard to see Alan Moore enjoying Arrested Development, with its meticulously layered jokes and callbacks, and again it’s pertinent to the story Moore and O’Neill are telling here, what with its cast of rich buffoons and its defiantly circular storytelling structure that constantly thwarts the idea of progress or, you know, development.
Of course, the world of Century 2009 is a lot colder than the world of Arrested Development, but maybe that’s just a question of where you’re seeing it from.
Amy: One thing I find interesting about Mina’s collage is the way it teeters on the brink of expressing the ultimate truth about the League’s comic book universe. Some of the images comprising it are ontologically slippery too – if the narrator of Minions of the Moon is to be believed (on this point the text section and the comic appear to disagree), the illustrations of the golliwog and Moriarty are from a real world marmalade jar and the first volume of the league respectively. Perhaps in Mina’s dreamy, lunatic state she’s somehow adrift between realities.