While I think that From Hell and Watchmen (and, to a lesser extent, V for Vendetta – it’s rougher around the edges in terms of tone and style, and its inconsistencies can be a bit jarring) are amazing, rich and exciting works, I have a lot of fondness for some of the comics that are sometimes considered ‘minor Moore’. In many ways, the Moore titles that I’ve enjoyed most are Top 10 and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
On paper, Top 10 especially didn’t sound like my cup of tea. I’m not that much into superheroes, so the idea of a whole city of superheroes didn’t exactly appeal to me. Except, of course, if everyone has superpowers, they’re no longer variations on the Nietzschean übermensch. There’s something very humane to the shlubs of Neopolis, where every Joe Shmoe wears a cape and blue-collar shapeshifters rub shoulders with telepaths heading for a boring day at the office.
It’s the characters of Top 10, together with its Where’s Waldo? appeal (there’s riches of funny little allusions and throwaway gags on every single page, the little iMac-bot building a snowman being one of my favourites), that make the series come to life. And while much of it is ‘just good fun’ (as if that were in some way less important than deep, large volumes about serial killers and our fascination with evil), there are vignettes in there that are surprisingly touching, such as the aftermath of a teleporter accident in volume 2.
I also enjoyed Promethea, although less so. In it, Moore started to go off on his post-structuralist New Age tangent. And he started to become too infatuated with his cleverness and wealth of erudition, I sometimes feel. The effect is, at least to me, that some of Promethea reads less like a good story with fascinating themes and hidden depths (which it starts out as) and more like an educational comic on magic, tarot, religion and myth with a lot of input from Peter “Prospero’s Books” Greenaway.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was more in the vein of Top 10, and accordingly I enjoyed it more than Promethea. Again, the characters made it into more than it seemed to be at first (which was a witty, exciting pastiche of Victorian ‘superheroes’ and monsters, deconstructing the cultural politics of the era) – especially the Invisible Man and Mr Hyde turned out to be quite disturbing and brilliantly ambivalent in their depiction.
More than that, though, Moore told a rollicking tale in his League books, perfectly complemented by Kevin O’Neill’s art: the mock-Victorian counterpart to the ’50s sci-fi world of Top 10. It’s ironic that the god-awful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film is so much less cinematic and exciting than the book… In the first two volumes of the League’s adventures, Moore managed an almost perfect balance between cleverness and erudition on the one side and fun on the other.
Next: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier.