The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest #1
Alan Moore (writer), Kevin O’Neill (artist), Ben Dimagmaliw (colorist), Todd Klein (letterer)
Knockabout Comics (U.K.) & Top Shelf Comics (U.S.)
July 11, 2018
With the six-issue mini-series The Tempest, writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill are planning to put an end not only to their ambitious, controversial League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series that they began in 1999, but also—according to American publisher Top Shelf Comics’ promotional material—their careers in general. Given Moore’s outsized reputation as one of the most influential writers in comics, his fruitful collaboration with O’Neill, and the Shakespearean reference in the title, it is a bit disappointing that this comic doesn’t feel particularly ambitious yet.
Shortly after the events of Century, Mina Murray and Orlando bring former head of MI5, Emma Night, to the Pool of Fire, granting her renewed youth and immortality. Unfortunately, the new head of MI5 is also seeking the pool, and he and his team of super-spies have it out for the new trio. Meanwhile, two Golden Age British superheroes are trying to locate a member of their old team—The Seven Stars—in order to stave off a dystopian future.
Moore and O’Neill don’t feel like they’re treading new ground or going out with a bang, but rather playing to whoever’s left in the room. If you have problems with this series because of its exploitation (while there’s thankfully no rape in this comic, there is a shot of a woman who has just been brutalized), its ironic racism (Kevin O’Neill draws a picture of himself as a stereotype of indigenous Americans on the first page), or its tendencies to let its literary references overtake the story, this comic isn’t going to change your mind.
But if you’re one of those people still in the room, I do think the comic has its charms. There are a few easy-to-spot references this time around (hi, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Austin Powers!), but I also got something of a correction to my complaint about the creators giving so much page time to Hugo Hercules—an obscure character readers were unlikely to know—in the last Nemo volume. A big chunk of this book follows the adventures of now-obscure British superheroes—Satin Astro, Marsman, Electro Girl, etc.—but in this case Moore and O’Neill are well-aware that the audience is going to need a crash course. The characters all have names and general introductions to what they do, and the backup storyline shows us these characters in their prime. (It’s also a very nice touch that the sections with the superheroes and the spy comics are in black-and-white in a reference to old British comics.) Rather than trying to trick us with an obscure reference, Moore and O’Neill are interested in using this platform and appropriation of the characters to continue their decades-long fight for creators’ rights. The only text section in this comic is a brief introduction under the heading “Cheated Champions of Your Childhood” that serves as a profile of Leo Baxendale, a British cartoonist who saw his fight for the rights of his characters end in a paltry out-of-court settlement.
Furthermore, I really, really like the idea of a certain super-spy and his adaptive clones essentially being the final boss of this series. Using/parodying this franchise again also gave us a scene where a derivative character played by Woody Allen gets shot in the head. Who doesn’t enjoy that? Also, my finding the comic a bit slight may have more to do with returning to the mini-series format than anything else. This is the first time Moore and O’Neill have put out standard-sized floppies since Volume II, which ended in November 2003.
Tempest is unlikely to draw in new readers and may still occasionally frustrate old ones who’d like to see the series become more progressive. (While the last LoEG series featured a Sikh woman as the lead, this comic basically goes the Star Wars sequel route and adds two more brunette white ladies and a bald white guy as the main characters.) That being said, Moore’s comics have a tendency to improve as they go, and I’m interested to see where this stormy sea will lead us as this comic begins its end.