The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill (America's Best, 2007)

Black Dossier has been a long time coming. Plagued by copyright squabbles and endlessly delayed in publication, fans of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at times despaired of ever seeing the book in print.

Well, it's finally out -- and it wasn't worth the wait.

Far from the 1890s, in which the first two League adventures were set, Black Dossier takes place in 1958. A pair of World Wars has passed, as well as the Big Brother era set forth in George Orwell's classic 1984. Former Dracula's bride Wilhelmina Murray, now a blonde but still youthful, and adventurer Allan Quatermain, rejuvenated and posing as his own son, are the only remainders of the previous (but not original) League.

But where earlier volumes focused on adventure and conflict, Black Dossier involves simply a book about League history. Mina and Allan want to read it, even though it's largely about them, and certain forces in the British government want to stop them from doing so. That's pretty much it.

Oh sure, I'll give the book credit for incorporating a young James Bond, Emma Peel (nee Night) and Bulldog Drummond among the forces arrayed against them. But, while the literary references that punctuate these books have been a delightful puzzle in the past, many of them in this volume are so obscure as to be tedious.

It's well documented that creator Alan Moore spent much of the creative period for this book in a slap-fight with DC, which owns the America's Best imprint under which the League books to date have been published. And it seems to me Moore -- who has since severed all ties to DC and has promised future League books to Top Shelf -- basically just tossed a bunch of ideas into the Cuisinart to produce this mess.

Artwork by Kevin O'Neill, on the other hand, is as professionally handled as ever, and DC outdid itself in its presentation, which includes a heavier stock of paper for certain sections, a Tijuana Bible insert and fancy 3-D glasses for use in the bewildering conclusion. Sadly, Moore let his readers down. It remains to be seen if he can woo them back with promised future volumes.

review by
Tom Knapp

15 December 2007

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