The six issues of The Tempest will be the final volume in the twenty-year saga of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Described by the publishers as “a celebration of everything comics were, are and could be“, it’s also going to be, according to Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, the final comics work for both of these truly extraordinary gentlemen.
Unsurprisingly, the first issue sold out pretty much immediately on release from co-publishers Knockabout and Top Shelf. And so far, the critical response has been glowing praise as you’d expect.
(Mina, Orlando, and Emma journey on to who knows what as we play spot the reference in The Tempest #1)
My response to The Tempest is remarkably similar to every single new bit of LOEG since The Black Dossier. It’s far too easy to get caught up in a literary game of ‘spot the references’ and lose sight of the actual narrative at work. But, when you let the story take you in without concerning yourself too much with the extras (that’s something for subsequent readings) it’s yet again, a damn fine comic, although perhaps not yet as rewarding as either The Black Dossier or Century, my personal favourites.
The best way to read LOEG is to simply not care about the extras. Read the thing as a straight narrative first, let yourself enjoy the League stories for what they are, two excellent practitioners having great fun with great characters. Once you do that, the extras can come in on subsequent readings, adding delicacies to the good, hearty fare of the main story. And so it is with The Tempest.
(The old Jimmy Bond becomes the new M, head of MI-5 and on the hunt for the League in The Tempest #1)
The Tempest is a faster read than previous League comics, and there’s a real sense of both Moore and O’Neill working looser than before, with both narrative and artwork feeling more open, less dense than in previous League tales. There are simply fewer words, seemingly fewer incidental details, with O’Neill’s art frequently eschewing the tight grid layout of the earlier works. It’s also pretty obvious that both Moore and O’Neill were having a blast here, something of the giddiness of children (or teachers) just before breaking up for the summer hols, that sort of thing.
You can certainly still play the spot the pop culture reference of course. Some, like the cover homage to Classics Illustrated or the Beatles Yellow Submarine stuff are very obvious, others far, far harder. But it’s not so overwhelming this time around.
There is a sense, with the loss of that density of prior volumes, that there’s something missing in this first issue of The Tempest. It just seems to feel that bit too slight, that bit too fast. But, given that it’s just a first part of the six issue finale, and that rereads of the comic continue to entertain and add to the details missed first time round, I’m going to keep a very open mind here. After all, I really didn’t like The Black Dossier when I first read that, and it’s now one of my favourite of Moore’s works, so I’m perfectly prepared to believe my opinion on The Tempest will alter with both subsequent issues and re-reading.
(The Seven Stars comic from the back of The Tempest #1 – seemingly unimportant, but you know it’s going to play an important part in things.)
As for what’s inside this issue, it all, sort of, picks up from the end of Century, and continues with the unrelenting darkness of that series. The League has long dissolved, Alan Quartermain is still dead, leaving Mina Murray, Orlando and the ex head of MI-5, a rejuvenated Emma Night to soldier on, although as of yet, we’re not sure in pursuit of what.
The end of Century left everyone lost and without any obvious purpose. Their link to Prospero and The Blazing World is uncertain, and the events of Century were essentially one terrible series of disasters and personal tragedy. Orlando asks Mina early on here “so where do we go from here?” – frankly, neither they nor the reader are quite sure by the end of the issue.
Similarly, the inclusion of the British super-team, the Seven Stars, both in the main narrative and in the reproduction of the comic referenced in that main story, doesn’t seem to have any obvious place as yet in The Tempest. But, you can be sure there’s a plan in place and all the unconnected things are going to be pulled together in time.
The one definite solid plot thread comes with the return of Jimmy Bond, once the Empire’s premier spy and total bastard, now a frail, decrepit, wheelchair-bound old man. Following Emma Night’s abdication as M, he’s now the new M, head of MI-5 and, with his small army of J-series agents, is in pursuit of the remains of the League. We’ve seen the whole J-series thing before, but the idea of the original Jimmy Bond being so effective that MI-5 drafted in a whole team of J-agents to take his place is a particularly fun spin on Bond in the League universe. Even moreso here when you get to see just who appears as one of the reserve J-agents.
As usual in LOEG comics, there are plentiful extras, including a letters page, a ridiculously silly ads page (all cheques going to a certain Harry Edwards of St Trinian’s infamy), and two very fitting tributes to those we’ve lost. The inside cover is a tribute to Leo Baxendale, spotlighting his various battles for the rights to his characters, something we’re getting each issue with a different screwed over genius. And there’s the inclusion of Mick Anglo’s Captain Universe in the Seven Stars team – a nice touch, with Anglo’s character used with full permission and compensation after the years of complex legal messes over Marvelman/Miracleman.
The Tempest issue 1 proved enjoyable but slight on that first reading, but with each reread, just as with the best of previous LOEG volumes, it gets better and better. As a finale, it may not be able to top the highpoints of The Black Dossier, but past experiences have taught me that it’s best not to write off Moore and O’Neill. After all, these two extraordinary gents are masters at what they do. I’m hopeful by the end of The Tempest, they’ll have given their League a fitting sendoff.
You could argue that the entire League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen series is actually an exploration of Mina Murray and the weight of immortality on her shoulders. But, as we discovered with the death of Quartermain, and given the events in this first issue, Mina may well discover that immortality really isn’t a forever thing.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest No.1. Writer: Alan Moore. Artist: Kevin O’Neill. Colorist: Ben Dimagmaliw. Letterer: Todd Klein. Publisher: Knockabout (UK), Top Shelf (USA).