In the second issue of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Tempest, our extraordinary creators continue their love letter to British comics. Both the front cover and the write-up on the inside are homages to Frank Bellamy, the British artist with a highly illustrative, painterly style that bedazzled legions of British fans on strips like Dan Dare and The Thunderbirds. The issue also includes pastiches of Sunday supplements and references to British annuals.
There are multiple threads in the comic and one is almost tempted to use point form notes to keep abreast of them. This series is closest to The Black Dossier segment of the League’s adventures, revelling in pastiche, paying homage to multiple eras and genres, all wedged together for a smorgasbord aimed towards an intelligentsia that knows its pop culture. As with Providence, Moore expects the reader to know the references through a prodigious amount of reading, research, or simply having lived through them. I found that I could follow or guess the general thrusts of the various narratives but had to rely on internet sources to explain what I couldn’t. Two of those sources are The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Wiki and Jess Nevins’ annotations for the first issue.
This issue begins right where the first one ended. Orlando and Mina and Emma are on their way to Lincoln Island in a stolen undersea craft resembling those from The Thunderbirds TV show, featuring animatronic puppets. They intend to meet the current Captain Nemo, Janni Nemo’s heir. On their way, they run into the giant Hugo Coghlan (based on the comic character Hugo Hercules) who derails them, shaking them from their craft, and delivering them to the new Prince Dakkar (Nemo).
Satin Silk and Marsman explore the world of British superheroes (watery copies of American ones as Moore repeatedly reminds us) by visiting a retired Captain Universe in the States. Their visit to a retirement home for ex-superheroes is particularly emblematic of Moore’s dark humour – the superheroes, though they have not lost their powers, have succumbed to dementia and a Captain Marvel analogue is wheeled around, only able to say ‘Zam’ repeatedly, having forgotten the first syllable of his magic word. A blubbering flabby Plastic Man restrained by gurney straps, pushed by a Woozy Winks analogue, fashions a noose out of his right arm with which to hang himself.
There is a retro story featuring The Seven Stars, the British superhero team that back in the day, Satin Silk and Marsman once belonged to. Another member, Electro-Girl, is featured on the issue’s back cover.
The main thrust of the plot involves the new head of MI-5, James Bond (or Jimmy Bond or M), now rejuvenated after bathing in The Fire of Life situated in what was once Queen Ayesha’s kingdom of Kor (back in issue one). In Moore and O’Neill’s hands, Bond remains a vile misanthropic and misogynistic character who acts egocentrically, wilfully, and destructively while looking through the old notes on Prospero’s Men, relating to the Black Dossier, which detail previous incarnations of The League. In the first issue, Bond destroyed The Fire of Life with an atomic bomb after bathing in it. Now he decides to destroy The Blazing World, the refuge of all the stories and characters and the fantastic world that Mina and Alan escape to at the end of The Black Dossier.
Moore is at his best when venting his ire creatively and sardonically against those cultural institutions that have skewed the values he cherishes. His handling of Bond and exhibition of the character’s malicious cruelty highlights all the things that are problematic with this enduring pop cultural icon/British franchise/institution/national hero. Bond’s glamour and sexiness mask a hypocritical, predatory, rapacious, sociopathic vein in our/British culture.
When Satin Silk walks through the retirement home for the demented American superheroes, she asks Captain Universe: “Who pays for their care?” His response is: “These days? Television and movie companies, mostly. These franchises might become valuable again, so they’re not really allowed to die.” When Satin tells another character that Satin has journeyed here from the future, hoping to prevent a catastrophe, the character replies: “There’s a future, other than just rebooting the 20th century forever? Wonders will never cease.” Moore’s disgust with the mainstream comics industry and its vacuous takeover of the cultural zeitgeist couldn’t be more evident. It’s pointed, yet bitterly funny.
Presumably these multiple threads will weave together in future issues. The threads involving Mina and Bond will most likely come together first. Satin Silk is here from the future so perhaps the impeding cataclysm is the one that will precipitate the dystopic futures Satin refers to. Is the destruction of the Blazing World like the Destructor in Moore’s epic novel Jerusalem? It all points towards a finale quite catastrophic and dramatic with stakes that couldn’t be greater if one tried.