Andrew: Something I noticed while looking for a reference for something else — that anarchy/heart symbol we were wondering about is the symbol of the superhero flying out of the page in the blazing world section of The Black Dossier. Checking in with Nevins’ annotations of same (reading his annotations for this book before we’ve finished would be cheating, but the old books are fair game), we find that it’s the logo of Ace Hart (a British superhero, not the dog detective), which we all should have known as he appears in Zenith Phase III.
Adam: I like that I couldn’t link it back to a specific superhero, actually. I enjoyed having the space to meditate on how and why it might fit into the kind of space O’Neil and Moore were interested in constructing rather than just see it as a dry reference. So fanwank, yes, but not without purpose. Although the name ‘Ace Hart’ would probably just have added fuel to my reverie’s fire. I imagine Moore would have fun with the symbolic charge there.
Andrew: And one point I don’t think we made before, when discussing to what extent Moore is able to comment on the culture of 2009 as opposed to earlier decades, is just how few characters from 21st century fiction actually appear here. We’ve got the odd background character who doesn’t say or do anything, but in the whole book the only character with a speaking role to have been created in the decade in which the comic is supposedly set is Malcolm Tucker, who’s just a talking head on a TV. Even the Potter characters (none of whom except Potter have more than one line) were created in the mid-1990s — and other than them, there’s not a speaking character in the comic that originated post-1976.
This is a huge change from all the other League volumes, which mixed and matched eras, obviously, but showed a real in-depth knowledge of their time’s popular culture.
“And then there are all these flies.”
Like houses, or a world, you can swat.
One of the more disturbing things about this panel is the way it represents the intrusion of a vast abject space upon conventional, ordered reality. The derelict houses and the general destitution suggest something rotting somewhere, and now it’s made visible, like discovering a giant shit beneath your duvet. You may or may not agree with Moore’s point about the world between the brickwork being sick, but he and O’Neill make it forcibly and eloquently – flies in the walls, everything infested, the wallpaper now peeled back.
Orlando and Mina’s response is spot on too. There are precious few writers in comicdom, particularly adventure comics, who care to articulate how it would actually feel to be confronted with something like this. Superman would take it in his stride, but were Spiderman to be written by someone with an ounce of human understanding, the next time Galactus appeared on the New York skyline he’d be screaming for his dead mother. Mina’s lost all words, all she can do is bellow, and rightly so. O’Neill was right to have her clutch at her head, like this in information that won’t fit in there.
I love this image. The comic shakes.
Adam: Yes, it’s about the delivery, isn’t it? Over on his Playing D&D with Pornstars blog, Zak Smith recently made the point that to reduce fiction to allegory is to miss something fundamental about storytelling: it’s not all some act of deferral, a signpost pointing towards the really important stuff that resides in another text.
“…what I mean here is the wholesale reduction of everything in the work to just a mask for some other and more easily understood drama that sets what one of my teachers used to call the “demon of allegory” loose to drain it all of its enigma and poetry and lunatic majesty.”
A good story is it’s own thing, it has an energy, an atmosphere, it does things to you. It’s for that reason that I really like this comic despite having problems with some of things it seems to be saying – because the creative team are so very good indeed at doing things to me, things that I can’t get anywhere else.
These pages are a case in point.
“And LOOK! Here’s the HEAD I said about. It’s minging, isn’t it?”
So… an underlying… not theme, exactly, but set of imagery, in this volume of League in particular, is that of the Knights Templar. They were the supposed originators of Freemasonry (which, as we have seen, is behind both Haddo’s order and the secret service in the League’s world), and they also fought Muslims in the Crusades (much as Orlando was doing when we first saw hir in this volume).
The Templars were convicted of various ‘crimes’, such as blasphemy, occultism, and buggery, most of which they almost certainly never committed (the burden of proof in the early fourteenth century being not especially high), but one crime which they were convicted of which had never before been heard of was the worship of ‘Baphomet’.
Baphomet was probably a medieval French corruption of Mohammed, but the figure, portrayed as a giant goat-man, with breasts and wings, and with the words ‘solve’ and ‘coagula’ written on his arms, has become a huge figure in modern occultism.
In particular, Aleister Crowley thought that Baphomet was “the Androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection… He is therefore Life, and Love”. The androgynous nature of Baphomet is notable here, as Crowley considered himself androgynous in the same way Baphomet is — a very masculine figure, but with breasts.
Crowley, in fact, took the name Baphomet as his motto in the OTO.
Crowley thought that Baphomet was symbolic of the magical child produced in sex magick — obviously, here, that magical child is given form in the shape of Harry Potter, Horus the conquering child with the personality of Azathoth, Lovecraft’s blind idiot god.
Crowley also said of Baphomet “his letter is ayin, the Eye” — which might explain Harry’s afflictions.
There’s also an alternative etymology of Baphomet which suggests that if you transliterate Baphomet into Hebrew, it’s an atbash cipher (swapping the first letter of the alphabet for the last, and so on) for Sophia — the goddess of wisdom, and cognate with Binah and Shekinah, the female aspect of God. So Baphomet can be said to be a reversal, or mirror, of Binah… bear that in mind as we go along.
But why am I talking here about a goat-god?
Because the original Baphomet wasn’t a goat-god at all. Rather, it was a severed, but undying, talking head. Just like Haddo is here. In fact, one of the attributions often given to the head is that it was the head of John The Baptist (beheaded, according to tradition, on September 11 of the modern calendar). And here, Haddo is very much a John The Baptist figure, the forerunner to Potter’s Antichrist.
One of the three surviving heads of John the Baptist.
Amy: The colour of the sky should probably be remarked upon here. If anyone took the trouble last time to follow Andrew’s link to Alan Moore’s review of Kenneth Grant’s Against the Light: A Nightside Narrative, then by now you should be familiar with Grant’s mysterious ‘Mauve Zone’.
The Mauve Zone is associated with the Kabbalistic Sephirah/Not Sephirah, Daath, and refers to a kind of escape hatch that leads out of the Tree of Life, the schematic used by Jewish mystics and other occultists to describe Creation. Basically we can’t conceive of what lies beyond it. Many occult scholars view the Mauve Zone with trepidation, as a way into the Anti-Tree, the much maligned Qlippoth, warning that first contact with it will only lead to madness and death, but others, notably Grant and friends, saw it as a treasure house of secret knowledge. Alan Moore’s written about this space before
It’s where all reality, fact and fiction, is ground down to the juice. And right now it’s yawning wide above London Town.
“So I’m guessing you must be some sort of legendary hero after all. Are you, like, King Arthur?”
“Um…no. No, I just borrowed his sword. B–But I did used to be Roland.”
Roland is an interesting figure because he was a real man who became a myth, which is rather like what’s going on in this scene here. Mina and Orlando are two flesh and blood women – or should I say Mina and Orlando are performing like two flesh and blood women – who are simultaneously lines on a page, part of a story, a myth engaged in a battle with another myth. Moore is well aware of this ontological wobble. It’s one of the central concerns of the League. Harry doesn’t know it, but this is how myths look *on the ground*.
Andrew: I also only just discovered this yesterday, but Robert Shea, the co-author with Robert Anton Wilson of the Illuminatus! trilogy (obviously a huge influence on this comic), wrote a prequel to Illuminatus!, set during the crusades, and dealing with the occult. I’ve no idea how connected it is to this, as I’ve not yet had a chance to read it, but I’d bet it’d shed at least some light on this comic. Its hero is also named Roland, and so he may well be one of Orlando’s earlier personas. It can be read here.
Amy: The way that eye turns Harry’s foot into a beastie! Who knew superconsciousness would be so disgusting?
Andrew: In the panel with Norton saying “Humh. Mega”, who’s the bloke with the eyebrows? It’s been bothering me since I first read this
Amy: You know what? I can’t be bothered to play spot the reference with this page. There’s some people from Little Britain, and that time travelling Japanese chap from Heroes who’s well into the apocalypse.
Amy: So of course Captain Nemo is only pretending to play the mad, nuke happy fanatic. I agree with Adam that this side of things could have been a bit more fleshed out. As it is Nemo never felt like a real threat, just a bit of shading, so dramatically speaking this scene kind of falls flat on its face. I say ‘kind of’ though, because in every other respect it’s very intriguing.
While ze looks like a reject from a Megadog rave circa 95, Mister Ishmael’s current iteration also puts one in mind of another, more interesting late nineties creation: Grant Morrison’s Nons. In case you’ve never read The Invisibles, the Nons were intended to represent a new type of human who’d given up rigid gender roles and so would be far better adapted to a post-2012 world where ‘all is one and everything is none’. In the comics the Nons are the product of LaCoste, an experimental libertine community run by the spectre of the Marquis De Sade and in many key respects probably very similar to Nemo’s own colony on Lincoln Island, which in the League books has always been a safe space for individuals who would otherwise struggle to fit into straight society. This is how Mina describes the Island in 1897:
“The shanty town, for so it proved to be when we finally reached it, was both more extensive and well built than I’d anticipated, with its buildings rising up the slopes in ladder-accessed terraces, and graceful (although sturdy) walkways of bamboo and hawser strung between them. This novel settlement was also not by any means so mean or bleak as I’d imagined, with instead bright colour and outlandish decorations everywhere, both on its house-fronts and upon its population. These I estimated to be several dozen persons of of almost as many nationalities, or which men comprised by far the greater part, although they numbered many women and some children in their ranks besides. I noticed some men walking hand in hand, both with each other or with younger boys, and so concluded Lincoln Isle to be a province founded on anarchist principles, providing haven for the deviants….. be they political or sexual by inclination…. of the world and all its countries, in a type of libertine utopia, such was exampled by Port Royal in the Caribbean and its many kindred pirate sanctuaries.”
(bobsy: there’s a Cities of the Red Night thing here too – I doubt Verne had gays on Lincoln Island, but they’re through a Burroughsian lens here.)
And now we realise, as with LaCoste, that Lincoln Isle was only intended as a temporary haven, a place where its denizens could bide their time until the world grew big enough to accommodate them. Ishmael isn’t transitioning from sex to sex, this is how ze is. Ze’s the polymorphously perverse future. The true child of Captain Nemo – Captain “No One”.
“Our African interests and this business are both smokescreens covering what we’re building on Lincoln Island. The new ship. The new Nautilus…. Which we may need sooner than anticipated if the condition of the sky is anything to go by.”
Where can you go if the world’s about to end?
In Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrodinger’s Cat trilogy, Nemo analogue Hagbard Celine creates a submarine that can travel not just underwater, but between dimensions. This is the type of submarine Nemo’s building. Fact.
(Oddly, Nemo’s the only character in this book who’s wearing anything like a contemporary haircut. He actually looks rather stylish.)
Amy: Note how the 999 on Orlando’s chest converts to a 666 when Harry backhands her – nice touch.
Andrew: The odd thing about Harry’s claim to be ‘in a book of the Bible and everything’ is that this character bears absolutely no relation to either of the two Great Beasts in Revelation (I’m assuming here that his claim is that he’s one of the Great Beasts — the Antichrist appears in more than one book of the Bible, and since Crowley claimed to be the Great Beast 666 we can assume Haddo thinks of himself as the first of the Great Beasts.)
In fact, I suspect that Moore has got himself confused between the two (evil) Great Beasts on the side of Satan and the four (good) Beasts who (according to some interpretations) represent the four Evangelists:
“And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”
Having ‘a face as a man’ but ‘full of eyes within’ sounds a lot more like the character Moore and O’Neill portray here than any of the descriptions of the Great Beasts.
I suspect Moore’s got confused about the various beasts and taken a description that applies to the wrong one, and thought it sounded good.
Amy: And Allan’s back.
With *that* gun. His gun.
This is an act of off-screen derring-do all of itself.
Andrew: And this goes back to the background/foreground thing we talked about earlier — the only way to defeat an evil that grew up off-page is to do all the preparation off-page yourself.
Amy: O’Neill lives to draw panels like the first one on page 59. An utterly revolting image if ever there was one. In fact, so revolting that I’m trying to get these pages out the way as quickly as I can so my girlfriend no longer has to put up with them on my book-stand ranking her out.
The eyes are the worst thing about it, particularly the implication, on this and on panel three, that they’re growing on Harry’s insides too – an ectopic nightmare, where no matter how many of them you blow away you know they’re always going to grow back (on this note, I don’t know if it was intentional but there’s a concertina type quality to all the mushy viscera, as though it’s about to spring back into place). The exploded ribs, like bloody spines, are horrible too.
As are penises with eyes (dig the way the three mouthed hand holding it is plotting evil!)
This is the page where Allan Quatermain proves that old myths ain’t goin’ out like that. It’s the final battle a hero has to face, isn’t it, the one with himself?
Amy: Finally Alan has Harry put away that bloody wand and reached for the real source of all that expelliarmussing. It’s juvenile, Harry’s juvenile, but it also speaks to a character who’s disenchanted with all he’s been through, all the whomping whufflepuffing, an angry kid who’s seen through his conditioning and decided to cut through the shit and get real (Grr! Potter ain’t for kids anymore!). Pissing on Quatermain is also a disdainful act and a macho one (“My fiction’s bigger than yours!”) and I have nothing against Moore going with this. People’s weird relationship with sex and with their own private parts is something barely in evidence at all in not just comics but most fiction. I can easily imagine a character with Harry’s powers doing what he does here. Why not? Last week someone probably far less fucked up than Harry smeared their poo all over our work toilet wall…. I think some people read this sort of thing and all they see is Moore going for shock value, and he is, but he’s also touching on something very real – violent people often have violent, or at least quite odd, sexualities…. But more to the point, we all have sexualities and Moore wants to talk about that! Thinking about it now, it’s probably one of the reasons why Moore’s comics seem hung up on rape, because it’s just another facet of the extreme violence that suffuses adventure stories, only one that’s normally shied away from.
Adam: Suffuses adventure stories and reality.
Andrew: You read that as urinating? I thought he was “sacrificing a male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence”, as it were…
Masturbation seems to have been the key to magic in the view of both Spare and Crowley. Crowley talked of the highest awakening being caused by sacrificing a child — “the sacrifice of oneself spiritually. And the intelligence and innocence of that male child are the perfect understanding of the Magician, his one aim, without lust of result. And male he must be, because what he sacrifices is not the material blood, but his creative power.”
(By sacrificing a child he meant sacrificing the possibility of a child, by ejaculating somewhere other than inside the vagina of a fertile woman).
Spare, meanwhile, believed that sigils should be charged at the moment of orgasm. Is Potter here inadvertantly turning Quartermain into something more powerful when he kills him, by concentrating on him as he ejaculates? It’d explain Quartermain’s ghostly presence at the end (Aslan Quartermain…)
(On a more prosaic note, Quartermain here looks exactly like he’s been shot by a Dalek).
Amy: The electric drip as Harry shakes his dick off!
“….Fucking repulsive piece of mekrob…”
I didn’t know this, I thought mekrob was Urdu for shit or something, but actually this cuss word (which kinda does mean shit) was first popularised by one E. Cartman of South Park, Colorado and it refers to his most hated food stuff.
Anyway, all this dragon slaying is a much better outlet for Orlando’s periodic bouts of psychopathy than the indiscriminate slaughter of fellow servicemen and civilians. Just keep them adventuring…. This ties in with what Allan was saying earlier in the book about the adventuring fucking them all up. Once you’ve tasted that high, the day to day must seem pretty flat.
“I could, like, sue you and shit?”
Harry’s a very well protected property.
Panel three, and again with the implication that Harry’s spilled guts will cycle around and end up back where they started. Further to what I was just saying above, it seems right that Harry should be huge and invulnerable, rather like he currently is in our world (and especially in 2009 when the films were still far from over).
And of course Mary Poppins is God.
Amy: Well, yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that….
Amy: It pays to reread back issues of the League before embarking on these posts. I had a vague recollection that Mina and co. had encountered Mary Poppins before, but – oh wow…..
Their first ‘on-screen’ meeting took place in the Blazing World sequence at the end of The Black Dossier. Check out this brief exchange between Orlando and She Who Shall Not be Named:
“Can’t stop! This current generation of children need sorting out spit-spot. Goodbye!”
And with that she takes to the air and disappears off panel.
And now we have a pretty good idea of who she was talking about and where she was going. The Blazing World exists outwith normal time, and so even though Mina’s League enter it from 1958, it actually serves as a departure point to any time zone, including 2009. Something I neglected to mention above was that I translated the dialogue from backwards-speak to conventional English, and this is relevant because there’s a reason why, from Orlando’s point of view, Mary speaks in reverse – because she moving differently through time. She’s the future interacting with the past.
Just before the team bump into Mary, Orlando tells them that Captain Nemo is currently docked in the Blazing World’s submarine pens, and now I can’t help but wonder: which Nemo? Probably Janni. But is it Janni from the 1950s league’s time zone, or…the 1920s? Will Heart of Ice, which sees Nemo head Antarcticwards, include a Black Dossier deleted scene?
Place yer bets.
Adam: If Nemo is building a sub that can move through dimensions…
Amy: Hmmm. Maybe. But they never mention having met Jack Dakkar, not as a fully grown man.
Andrew: And I must be an absolute idiot, but I never realised until I saw the drawing of her here that Mrs Baylock, the nanny in The Omen, is obviously based on Mary Poppins.
Amy: The question of who Mary Poppins actually is should be fairly easy to answer for anyone who slogged through the marathon Kabbalah lec..I mean story arc in Promethea. The clue’s in her first name…. Mary is a manifestation of the sephirah Binah, and with a little inspection it seems she embodies both of the sphere’s attributes. A nanny (read: mother) to all, she’s the bottomlessly compassionate Marie, but, stern house-frau that she is and consort to the filthiest and most ‘fallen’ of all the victorian/edwardian stock characters, the chimney sweep, she also doubles up as Babylon. Her stated concern for ‘the healthy development’ of childrens’ imagination just serves to underline this promethean connection (and Moore’s concern, if it was ever in doubt, that Harry Potter is the imaginative equivalent of poison).
Here we see her in her dark, wrathful, babylonian aspect, as evidenced by her umbrella whose normally friendly, talkative decorative parrot head, now resembling something closer to a vulture than a bird of paradise, has shed its feathers, withered and died. This is a Mary for the end times, for Revelation….
Then again, this could all be bullshit and she’s just some rock hard bit of fiction…
Andrew: I don’t think so — she quite specifically says she’s on every page of the Bible. This is Shekinah, Binah, Sophia, the Mary whose magnificat quotes Sirach, and the personification of Wisdom that Sirach writes of, a personification who is so similar to the Jesus of John’s Gospel. This is not just another fictional character — this is the Word made flesh.
Amy: One thing, and this is probably completely irrelevant – I couldn’t help noticing that the children in the Mary Poppins film are made to drink Red and Green ‘medicine’, perhaps to help them get a little closer to the Blazing World.
“Wait, do you mean we’ve averted Armageddon?”
“Of cuh-course not. The strange… and terrible… new aeon… is unavoidable… …I am not… to be.. it’s huh-harbinger. That honour falls to you”
I’d say that guarantees that Moore plans to go beyond this volume with these characters, although it also has the slightly unfortunate side-effect of making all this stuff with Potter seem like a sideshow.
Amy: See what I mean about Harry being a modern day dragon? I like Moore and dragons. Morningbright was excellent.
Adam: Lots of eyes on Morningbright too.
Amy: And we always knew that the inauguration of the glorious sci-fi future, the strange and terrible new aeon, would fall to Mina and chums. In some ways I’m surprised Haddo failed – is that how Moore ultimately understands Crowley, as a failure? – but, then again, maybe he didn’t. Maybe his plan was an arabesque within Faerie and the Blazing World’s larger design, etc.
Andrew: “I rocked the fretful baby gods to sleep” — a reference to Neil Gaiman’s short story The Problem Of Susan in which (in a story within the story) Poppins is Jesus’ Nanny. Gaiman’s story (in his book Fragile Things) with its look at childhood fantasy fiction through a very different lens, is very much essential reading for those looking to read around Century 2009, although I’d advise reading Andrew Rilstone’s essay Lipstick On My Scholar (available in his book Do Balrogs Have Wings or on his blog) as a necessary corrective.
(Amy: Like Rilstone muchly, but wasn’t entirely convinced by that. Don’t think it’s too much of a big deal to concede that Lewis probably would have been a bit of a sexist using the evidence to hand.)
Andrew: The argument isn’t so much that Lewis wasn’t sexist — he clearly was — but that he didn’t believe (as Rowling and, to a lesser extent, Pullman) have claimed, that women who wore lipstick were doomed to be damned for all eternity.
“The quarters of the world are bound unto my compass”
— in the original Mary Poppins book, Poppins and the Banks children visit various different countries using her magical compass.
“I know what the bee knows”
– P L Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, was another literary mystic, introduced to much of the Golden Dawn’s teaching by W B Yeats, before becoming a follower of Gurdjieff (who she writes about here). (Incidentally, Gurdjieff met Crowley once – “The children were there, and he said to one of the boys something about his son who he was teaching to be a devil. Gurdjieff got up and spoke to the boy, who thereupon took no further notice of Crowley. There was some talk between Crowley and Gurdjieff, who kept a sharp watch on him all the time. I got the strong impression of two magicians, the white and the black- the one strong, powerful, full of light; the other also powerful but heavy, dull and ignorant.” — according to Gurdjieff’s pupil C S Nott).
Travers later in life wrote a book, What The Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol And Story:
Our profane life is full of these hidden meanings, of clues that we are at pains to find but pass by, not knowing what to look for—or, more exactly, how to let meaning discover us…
Myth, by design, makes it clear that we are meant to be something more than our own personal history. It places us—and it is not a comfortable position—squarely between the opposing forces that keep us, and the world, in balance—the two Earth Shapers, benign and malignant, checking and disciplining each other to produce a viable whole. One has only to think of Prometheus, forethought, and Epimetheus, his unfortunate brother; or Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, the light and dark of Zoroastrianism; of the Hindu Vishnu and Shiva, preserver and destroyer; of the Navajo Water-Child, born of the rivers, and Monster-Slayer, born of fire—the cool flowing sap of one and the solar heat of the other; the angels and devils of Christianity.
The relevance to Century should be obvious.
Amy: So it makes perfect sense that Moore would play Mary as a mystical force. There’s clearly a proper context to it, and a fascinating one.
Andrew: I’d be very surprised, actually, if Moore hadn’t read this particular article from a Theosophical magazine when planning Century. The quotes from Blavatsky which she uses to parallel Poppins sound very like the speech Mary makes as she descends.
And reading that article, it reminded me of something that almost certainly has some significance — Mary Poppins is described in the books as looking “rather like a wooden Dutch doll”, and her appearance is based on this doll. Is there some connection between her and Peg and Sarah Jane?
Amy: In both the books and the film Mary Poppins takes her young charges on a daytrip inside a chalk mural drawn on the pavement outside Hyde Park, the power of imagination unlocking a whole world within the artwork. This sequence, which sees a flesh and blood person (if Harry can still technically be described that way) convert to a chalk drawing, is the exact opposite of the scene in the original text(s). Maybe it’s best understood as Mary reducing Harry’s nature to what it is, a two dimensional drawing on a page. Starving him of imagination instead of feeding him with it.
Or just plain killing him.
Andrew: OR, if we’re identifying Mary Poppins with Babalon and thus with Binah, and we want everyone to have a happy ending, then this could be a case of “solve et coagula” — dissolving Potter on the material level so he can be fixed, mentally, on the spiritual level.
(Oddly, Crowley referred to this process — going through the abyss and coming out purified — as becoming NEMO)
I keep thinking there is some kind of additional symbolism going on here — Potter suggests clay, and golems, and God creating Adam, so we have clay turning to chalk, or… something? This is the problem with analysing such a dense text, of course, one can never be sure after a while if one is finding stuff that’s been deliberately put there, or engaging in a sort of textual pareidola, like the people who think Finnegans Wake predicted John Lennon’s murder.
I don’t know… is there something there, or am I reading too much into it?
Adam: In reference to dissolving him so he can be fixed mentally, what would that look like? How would that manifest in-text? It doesn’t work for me as a possibility.
Amy: It works for me. We could simply meet Harry in some kind of ascended form later on. Remember Quentin Quire?
That reminds me, there’s some more crossover here between Morrison and Moore….
Andrew: Someone really, really needs to write a book on the parallels and differences in the use of magic in the work and thought of Moore and Morrison. And that someone is… someone with a lot more time than me.
Any PhD literature students out there looking for a thesis topic?
Amy: I’m specifically thinking about the end of Final Crisis here, where the ‘bad fiction’, Mandrakk, is finally overcome by the ‘good fiction’ of the combined DCU, rabbit superheroes and all. Morrison, like Moore, probably sees bad fictions as being composed of limiting as opposed to liberating ideas (ideas conducive to imaginative development). It’s up to the reader to decide if that’s the case here, but at the very least Moore and O’Neill are doing a good propaganda job on Mary Poppins. Personally I disagree with one of our lovely commentators on the issue of Poppins and Harry being from like universes. The magic in Poppins is wild, strange and marvellous (even a little ridiculous, like rabbit superheroes) it won’t quite fit in your head, but, well, as anyone reading these posts by now probably realises, broadly speaking I don’t think that’s the case with the magic in Potter at all.
I do, however, like to imagine that Uncle Albert lives on Diagon Alley. So much of Poppins’ London has a similar atmosphere to Potter’s, but one that makes good on all that implied secret weirdness.
Just a few thoughts about the art/art direction.
The final panel on page 66, which sees Mary perched parrot-like (but at an impossible angle) on Harry’s shoulder, is wonderful, as is the last panel on 67 where he’s washing away. The chalk eyes, like colourful runny eggs, separating from the main body and running down the drain are so imaginatively abject that I find them difficult to talk about without feeling a little queasy.
Amy: I think it has something to do with the way they retain their integrity despite this ultimate, and hopefully final, reduction. Harry couldn’t get rid of the eyes when he was alive and they’re still a problem even now that they’ve been transformed to chalk. Watching Mina and Orlando splishing through puddles of them is just plain gross.
It occurs to me that Ms. Poppins and the mysterious Smarra Haddo worships are two aspects of the same goddess (in Descent of the Gods, Haddo directly compares Smarra to both Ishtar the mother goddess and Babalon), which would explain why he’s so scared when Mary takes him away. This is *his* goddess he’s angered, the goddess for whom he believed he was initiating the apocalypse in the first place.
The apocalypse represents the drawing down of Heaven onto Earth, collapsing a primordial divide that various parties at various points in history have attempted to destroy or bridge. Haddo speaks of the ancient Greek Heroes as one of these first, ultimately doomed, attempts to fuse the material and the divine:
“If Homer is to be believed, the siege of Troy was engineered by the Greek gods and goddesses, deliberately, to cull the hero race that they themselves had sired decades before, only to see the hybrids’ human qualities collapse under the weight of their divine inheritance, producing vain and strutting homicidal monsters.”
Haddo should’ve heeded Homer’s warning. The Moonchild is a child of the Imaginal, Yesod, the first rung on the ladder to the divine, but that child needs to be properly prepared for its destiny, not abused from the word go. And who’s to say that the term Moonchild refers to an individual? The coming buddha, Maitreya, is believed by many to represent a new type of awareness which will incarnate in an entire generation. And isn’t that the point of the moonchild anyway, that ze creates a new world not just for hirself but for everyone?
And, yes, after all they’ve been through Prospero does indeed look like an ‘old bastard’ for simply abandoning Mina and Orlando. We’re very definitely being encouraged to side with the humans here, but I have a feeling that come volume four the gods will reward them very generously indeed.
Adam: As much as Poppins impressed me, I wish Moore had been a little less overwrought with his references and implications. O’Neil’s shadows, those enigmatic illuminations offered by the lightning, they don’t just suggest the end times, divine conflict, etc… they suggest mystery. In fact all that otherworldly power is at its best when it’s mysterious. Watching the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark a couple of nights ago I was forcibly reminded of this point: the power of God speaks for itself (not that I’m religious, you understand), it doesn’t need to dress itself up in a load of dialogue. Which isn’t to say that some dialogue wouldn’t have added weight to the scene and of course some much needed exposition, but I could have done without lines like “I’m on every page of the bible”.
As I said in our last post’s comments, in my view Moore biggest weakness as a writer is his tendency to over-write – when you have an artist as articulate as Kevin O’Neil at your disposal I’d say that’s something you need to be particularly careful of.
Amy: But on the other hand most of the dialogue is pretty awesome and poetic. “I’ve taken tea with earthquakes….” It’s only the bible line that clunks with me. Although I do read it in Mary Poppins’ voice.
Adam: It’s the quantity and persistent volume. Less can be more, Mr Moore.
Andrew: These are two of the Avengers girls, Purdey (from the New Avengers) and Tara King (who replaced Emma Peel).
“Christ. He smells more of smoke than I do.”
This character is a composite of Joanna Lumley’s best known roles, The secret agent ‘Purdey’ (always more of an nickname/codename than a straightforward name) from The New Avengers and Patsy, the booze guzzling, chain smoking professional hanger on from British sit-com Absolutely fabulous. Amusingly Patsy claims in various episodes of Ab Fab that she ‘can’t remember’ much of her life pre 1968, but that she has vague recollections of having been a Bond Girl – so if we move the temporal goalposts around a little bit (The New Avengers aired in 1976) Moore’s amalgamation of both characters would appear to have a tenuous precedent. Personally I enjoy the idea of Patsy as a cover for the secret agent who, it seems, never entirely gave up her day job. A kind of female Bruce Wayne, only with more fags.
Andrew: Or Patsy could be Lumley’s character in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — from 1969 — who could also be Purdey infiltrating Blofeld’s gang. Which would fit in nicely with the Honor Blackman amalgamation. Just a shame that Diana Rigg’s character in that got shot in the head and died at the end…
Amy: She was probably both!
“I suppose it’s that we all used to be in love with the same man.”
Although Steed’s relationships with his female partners were marked by sexual tensions, most fans believe his heart truly belonged to Emma Peel.
Amy: Ever since The Black Dossier, I’ve always considered it quite likely that Peel, having lost both her father and her godfather in the space of a couple of years, may have developed a fixation with older men, and that in her husband’s absence Steed became its primary focus. It explains a lot, like for instance why their relationship, according to Rigg, described an endless flirtation that went nowhere…..all the way through to Macnee’s inverse assertion that off screen they were doing it like rabbits. Personally I prefer Brian Clemens suggestion that they had a brief fling before Peel made her onscreen debut in season four, with one of them, or even both, recognising Peel’s unhealthy (in an espionage, life or death context) predilections for what they were and deciding early on that if their partnership was going to work they had to keep things strictly professional. Well… Not strictly professional, but you know what I mean.
It also positions Peel’s constantly saving Steed’s life as a kind of peculiar job based therapy.
One fascinating titbit that I picked up during all my digging around the subject was the information, entirely new to me, that in his youth Steed put paid to Etonian uber-bully, James Bond (as related by one Tim Held in his book, John Steed: An Authorized Biography). Oh, the irony, that Peel’s father substitute (if that’s what Steed was) was the man who bested her actual father’s killer…. And how perfectly suited does that make them as a pairing? I wonder if she ever found out – they must have talked about Bond, and Steed’s contempt for him surely came through from time to time. Bond’s the anti-Steed, a quintessential English gentleman who’s no gentleman at all.
Adam: That’s wonderful. Their attitudes towards women are almost diametrically opposed. Bond fucks them or beats them, depending upon his need/mood, Steed fosters long-term, ostensibly chaste relationships based on mutual respect and good humour.
Andrew: Cathy Gale (from The Avengers) and Pussy Galore (from Goldfinger), both played by Honor Blackman, are the same person, as suggested by Millennium Dome. There’s actually a tiny bit of ‘canonical’ evidence for this, as Steed refers to Gale “pussy-footing along those sun-soaked shores” and suggests she might “do a little investigating” in her last story, as a tip of the hat to the role Blackman was leaving the show for.
Amy: A huge shout out has to go to Ben Dimagmaliw for the awesomeness of his palette. We’ve talked before about how the League comics are *lit* and the transition between the sodden black murk of the last few pages and golden African twilight of this last sequence more than confirms us in this view. The earth, the mountains and the sky are merged, a field of light, a space one expands into as opposed to shrinking from. Overleaf everything felt so dense and wet – Britain closing in – but now we can breathe again. You can just feel Mina drinking it all in. Even her clothes are loose and easy, her hair tied in a loose bun – everything soft. It’s warm here. Allan’s come home.
Speaking of Mina’s clothes, I’ve just spent a good 15 mins hunting through my League comics to see if I could find where Mina’s worn this outfit before. Turns out she hasn’t. But it feels like classic Mina, doesn’t it? That grey blue is totally Pre 1910 Mina Murray, as is the red scarf, and, I suppose, the hairstyle. We’re going back in time here, aren’t we, saying goodbye to that old myth Allan Quatermain? Mina has to dress for the occasion. 1898 is finally being laid to rest.
The problem with the staggered nature of these posts and having a comments section is that sometimes our readers, able to comment on the whole text rather than twenty page installments, will make a point before we do. But this isn’t to say that we weren’t already thinking it. A case in point is the, for the most part, girl powered league we’re left with at the end of this volume. I don’t think anyone could’ve missed this really, and, yeah, I want to say a few words about it here.
Mina’s first league was dominated by the worst kind of alpha males – large groups of ridiculously garbed alpha males being commonly understood as code for ‘heroism’ – and by allowing a traditionally male space, the adventure story, to be hijacked by two women and a queer, I believe Moore, a writer who’s always been very sympathetic to feminism (if not always entirely beloved by feminists themselves), is making a particularly barbed point. In our last post I talked about the way that, throughout 2009, Mina and Orlando cooperated with and supported each other, but what I didn’t mention was the stark contrast between their and the 1898 league’s approach to adventuring. Moore understands that in terms of actually getting the job done the aggression dominated dynamic of so many superhero books would be, if anything, in real life completely useless. And it’s interesting, because in the third volume the heroes wrestle with a ‘softer’ opponent, Time, but this opponent proves more dangerous than any mad professor or martian, as though the adventure story itself began to resist its own historically qualified definition. And that’s just it, with Century I believe Moore was trying to find a way into a new type of adventure story, one that’s inclusive, indeed insists upon inclusion because it very clearly demonstrates the lethal consequences of an overabundance of testosterone; where a whole range of emotions usually absent from superhero comics are expressed, including fear and love (and specifically female rage); and where the ‘adventure’ component relies less on punching and a brand of spectacle that translates to explosions. It’s a shame Allan Quatermain needed to be sacrificed along the way, but given the nature of this new frontier and the types of pioneers who are properly equipped to explore it, it makes a lot of sense.
Adam: Yes, it’s all women on these final pages, no men at all. We’re a world away from masculine monsters of volume one. “Life’s a bitch” – does anyone think Moore didn’t choose that dialogue very carefully?
Amy: So, goodbye Allan.
Adam: Goodbye all you jungle kings and lords, all you jungle boys. All you Zulu warriors. All you great white hunters.
Amy: I guess we have to keep in mind that, except for Mina, everyone — everyone — who comprised the Victorian league is now dead. That’s got to fuck you up with or without having been in love with one of them. But for the reasons outlined above, I think this is a hopeful ending. You see, the claustrophobia I mentioned before was one of the century old Orlando/Mina/Allan love triangle’s defining features – and now that’s over. Not only that, but they’ve finally broken the streak. The Murray group has its first new member in close to one hundred years.
The League is dead……
LONG LIVE THE LEAGUE!
Join us in a few days for the final part of our League thoughts