Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 2.
Author: Alan Moore.
Artist: Kevin O'Neill.
Genre: Graphic novel, fiction, adventure, fantasy, alternate history, alien fiction.
Publication Date: 2002-2003.
Summary: The beleaguered London of 1898 has barely had time to assess the injuries of recent conflagrations in its lower class districts when a new threat arrives, falling from the upper atmosphere in gargantuan metal cylinders that leading scientists claim have travelled from the planet Mars! Once again a call goes out through the channels of British Military Intelligence to an improbable group of champions: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin, Dr. Henry Jekyll, Mr. Edward Hyde and Miss Mina Murray are those champions, and they must rise to the occasion of their country's dire need, risking life and limb and disregarding all sense of personal propriety. But will even their best efforts be enough against a threat so horrible that it nearly defies description, and a betrayal so treacherous it that it simply defies belief? The New Traveller's Almanac takes the reader on a fantastic journey all over the world, visiting the canon of many well-known fantasy and horror classics,
My rating: 8/10.
♥ "Just for a moment, then. I had thought it your custom to repel companionship?"
"Huhn. It's just the darkies, opium-sots and snickering lunatics that I can't stand. You're all right."
"I fear that you are somewhat harsh about out fellows, Mr. Hyde. What makes you think me any better?"
"Call me Edward. I don't know. Frankly, it confuses me and makes me furious with you. Sometimes I think I should just rape you and behead you. But a voice in me still fiercer than my own tells me if I did that, I must next take my life. It's puzzling. Perhaps it is that I would then have killed the only living thing that did not fear me. D'you think that's it?"
"Y-you would be quite mistaken, sir. I fear you very much."
"Perhaps. Perhaps you do. But not like all the others. I believe you do not hate me. I believe you have perhaps met someone worse than me. Would that be right?"
"I thought as much. Miss Murray, though I am a beast, do not think that I am stupid. I know that I am hideous and hateful. I am not loved, nor ever hope to be. Nor am I fool enough to think that what I feel for you is love. But in this world, alone, I do not hate you... and lone in this world, you do not hate me. I... I would be grateful if you left me now. Go quickly, woman. Go before I break you jaw."
♥ "I must confess, I admire the British people's bravery. With horror at their doorstep, they seem unconcerned."
"Huh. Hardly unconcerned. More blinkered, I'd have said. Pretending everything's tickety-boo, Nemo. It's the great British pastime."
"Our driver's is a coward, I know that much. Refusing to go near that slug-pit..."
"On the contrary. Hearing him speak to you, I did not think his cowardly."
"Holmes said Samson was a Mahdi veteran, and that we should remain optimistic, as we did then. Actually, the Mahdi revolt's a perfect example of England's complancency. We warred on a culture we didn't understand... And we were massacred."
♥ "Hurrh. Well, hurry up. I want to kill more slugs. Otherwise I might as well be off somewhere taking it easy, like Quatermain."
"Patience. There will be enough killing soon. As for Quatermain, he is travelling with Miss Murray. I doubt very much that anything is easy."
♥ "Collapse the bridge? With all those innocent lives? Ohhh, Nemo!"
"Do not mock me, horror. The Thames is London's moat now, and whatever measures are necessary to contain our problem south of the river, those measures will be taken."
"Huh. Goodbye South London, then."
"Possibly. If we are fortunate, there are no more cannisters to come. Those creatures already here can only destroy so much. As for the population, hopefully they can escape in time. If not, it is hardly a major strategic loss. They are only..."
♥ "I... I don't know what to say. Mina, I'm too old for you. I..."
"Be quiet. When I was sixteen, I worshipped you. I'd read in bed, by candlelight, and imagine you. Somewhere tropical, with flies and lilies..."
"I-I've tried not to imagine you. It felt wrong."
"Allan, you are dead, while I am divorced, disgraced and disregarded by the world. Could anything make us more wrong, do you suppose?"
♥ "Your appetite is quite considerable. Dr Jekyll would only pick at his food. I note we have not seen the doctor recently."
"Gronff. No... Jekyll's a weakling. All these Mars men about, he might get me killed."
"Huh. Strikes me you're more likely to do that yourself."
"Yes. Yes, you're quite right. But at least that will be when I I say so. I wouldn't give Jekyll the satisfaction."
"Sounds to me like you don't care for the feller much."
"Indeed. Especially considering it was his genius that gave you independent life."
"His genius? What, Jekyll? Hur hur hurrr. Jekyll's a flinching little Presbyterian spinster frightened by his own erections. He's probably doomed us both."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean by... Hrronch... By separating us in the first place, all because he wanted to be pure. ****ing idiot."
"He was a doctor, wasn't he? I should've thought he'd not have many sins to purge."
"Exactly! Exactly! First sensible thing you've said. Should I tell you what they were, eh? These evils he was so desperate to get rid of? Well, he'd once stolen a book. More borrowed and never returned, but still... Oh, and he played with himself, sometimes while he thought about other men. That's about it. Anyway, what the silly bastard did, he thought if he quarantined all these bad parts, what was left would be a ****ing angel. Huh-huh."
"Hang on. If you're this cahp's sins, how did you end up so bloody big?"
"Good point. Chlop. That'f a very goob poimp. I mean, when I started out, good God, I was practically a ****ing dwarf. Jekyll, on the other hand, a great big strapping fellow. Since then, though, my growth's been unrestricted, while he's wasted away to nothing. Obvious, really. Without me, you see, Jekyll has no drives... And without him, I have no restraints."
♥ It is in nearby Oxford, though, that middle England's mysteries take on a darker hue. It was here, on the River Thames's banks somewhere between Godstow and Folly Bridge in 1865 that the presumed abduction of a little girl took place, plunging the Nation's newspapers into a morbid speculative frenzy and immersing Oxford in a pall of fearful gloom unrivalled till the much more frequent child addictions, rapes and murders of the twentieth century. The girl in question, sensitively known as "Miss A. L." to the contemporary press so as to spare the feelings of her relatives, had last been seen at play upon the riverbanks, where she was being minded by an elder sister. To her subsequent unending guilt and shame, the older girl drifted off to sleep, lulled by the warm and pleasant afternoon, awakening soon after to discover her young sister gone.
During the next four months, the riverbank and its surrounding area were searched with an increasing sense of hopelessness by the police and members of the public. Finally, in mid-October when the abductee's despairing family had begun funeral arrangements for their missing child, the girl was found alive, discovered soaking wet and barely conscious, suffering from exposure in the very meadow she had vanished from the previous summer. Questioned after her recovery, the girl recounted how she'd fallen down a puzzling "hole" that she'd found in the riverbank, only to find herself in a disorienting realm where many laws of physics, even laws of logic, were entirely different from those laws in our world. Miss A. L. was most astonished to learn that some months had passed since she had vanished, having up until that point believed that her adventures had taken place during a single timeless afternoon.
Although the child recovered, there were two less happily-concluded sequels to her exploits, the first taking place in 1871 when Miss A. L. was once more taken into the bewildering territory that she had discovered, this time during the occasion of a family visit to the Deanery of Christ Church College, Oxford. If we are to believe Miss A.L.'s account, the mirror set above the mantel in the Deanery began displaying properties not utterly dissimilar from those of the peculiar hole she'd stumbled into six years previous, allowing her to pass once more into the contra-rational underworld that she'd described. This time, although the time spent in the other world seemed to the child much longer in duration, little more than seven minutes had elapsed before she re-emerged from the strange portal flickering above the mantelpiece, which closed not long thereafter. However, in this instance there were complications. The child's hair-parting was now worn on the other side, and on examination it appeared that the positions of the organs in her body had been quite reversed. Apparently in consequence of this, Miss A. L. could no longer keep down or digest her normal food, and in late November of that year was weakened unto death by this disorder.
There was still, however, one more tragedy to come. In the five years that followed Miss A. L.'s demise, there was much shocked and disapproving talk in Oxford of the possibility that the original "hole" that claimed the luckless child might still be yawning open somewhere on the river's banks, waiting to waylay some other hapless infant. Finally, it was resolved by a committee of the town's professionals that this strange, fatal aperture should be located and explored, with the intention of then sealing it forever to protect the area's young. An Oxford clergyman named Dr. Eric Bellman led the group, accompanied by an assortment of locals including a banker, a lawyer, various shop-keepers (a butcher, and a lacemaker, Miss Beever, the expedition's only female member) and a shoeshine vendor who, while from the working classes, had some military experience and was thus considered useful to the team.
It was in April, 1876, that Bellman's group located the peculiar hole, perhaps a mile from Godstow, where the small girl had initially vanished from our world of rationality almost eleven years before. The "hole," described by Bellman in his notes and in the ink-and-pencil drawings of Miss Bever, was a "darkly luminescent disk some five feet in diameter. It leads not down into the earth as one might readily suppose, but is a type of well-like space in which, much further down, it would seem various objects float suspended." Bellman further notes that this bewildering aperture seemed to sometimes vanish for irregular periods of time, then reappear for stretches just as random and as unpredictable. On April 23rd, all roped together in the style of mountaineers, the party made their long-prepared descent into the chasm. Three hours after the commencement of the expedition, the strange portal vanished, leaving an unnaturally clean-cut end of rope that Bellman's group had fastened to a nearby cedar as an anchor. The explorers were not seen again for seven months, all save for one who was not seen again at all.
In October of that same year, most of Bellman's group were discovered semi-conscious, soaking wet and suffering from exposure in the same place that the missing child had been discovered, more than a decade before. All of them were hopelessly insane. One of them, more horribly, had suffered an incomprehensible metamorphosis, so that he seemed to be almost a photographic nature, relative to his previous appearance. His skin was now an eerie, unreflective black, while his formerly black hair and even the black fabric of his waistcoat had been turned a ghastly white. (Like Miss A. L., this individual could no longer digest our world's food, and died within a week of his return.) It seemed the group had kept a journal of their travels, but upon inspection this turned out to have been written in the form of cryptic nonsense poetry. Only infrequent references within this text suggest that the group had visited the same world as the twice-transported child, such as the mention of a form of local fauna called a "jub-jub" that is mentioned in both the accounts of Miss A. L. and Eric Bellman's hopelessly deranged adventures.
♥ However, it is not until we come to Newcastle that the extent of the vast subterranean honeycomb that lies beneath our surface world becomes apparent. It was in Newcastle, in 1871, that an intended rescue mission into one of the proverbially coal-bearing area's many mines (exact location classified) stumbled upon a vast and otherworldly subterranean culture called the Vril-ya. Tall and winged, with red skin and black eyes, the Vril-ya are a socially enlightened race of great longevity. According to reports, they can heal wounds or cure an illness with the mere touch of their lips... quite literally "kissing it better"... and they have artificial servants, cleverly constructed from machinery, attending to their every whim. One puzzling margin-note appended to the documents relating to the Vril-ya is a comment on their language. In the Vril-ya tongue, words with the prefix Na denote all that is "bad" or antithetical to joy and wholesomeness. Thus "Narnia" is a Vril-ya word denoting sin, or evil. This word is underlined in our source-documents, and a hand-written note refers the reader to an apple-tree currently being grown as a government project at Kew Gardens. Other than an obvious misspelling of the Vril-ya word as "Narnia?" scrawled in nearby, we have no clue as to the relevance, if any, of these cryptic jottings.
♥ Christian, it will be remembered, had arrived in our world during the 1670s, claiming to come from a more perfect and, it seems, symbolic realm. According to the tireless journeyman's own words, he had been travelling from a city named Destruction when he came across a town founded upon material desires and worldly commerce that was called Vanity Fair. Becoming lost amongst its bawdy, brothel-haunted streets, Christian turned down an alleyway from which, he stepped into the streets of London in the year of 1678, seemingly unable to return to his beloved shining country, and thus forced into a disagreeable alliance with the sorcerer Prospero, whose magic, diabolically, inspired though it might have been, provided Christrian's strongest chance of finding his way home. Whether this came to pass or not may be discovered in our final passage from the notes of Prospero, written upon the voyage's last day before the rented trawler turned once more for home.
"Christian has gone, and frightful mystery descends upon our storm-flung craft. It was at first light when I came upon him stood beside the rail and gazing out across the foam-crown'd breakers. When I asked if he did spy The Blazing World, he answered that he did and though he knew not if it be a part of his misplaced, beloved country he did think that it may be in some means a companion to that glorious Land. Thus saying, he began to climb across the rail as if to fling himself into the towering waves, so that I sought to stay him, whereupon a fearful marvel dud occur. Christian walked off from us, over the wave-tops, with his bundle-staff across his shoulder, seeming from his gait as if he strolled upon some level path and not the raging billows spread about him. Below decks, my brute sent up a monstrous howl of fear and anguish, and even my sprite seemed to dark nervously about the upper mast. Some way off from our craft, Christian turned back his head and waved before continuing away, at last to vanish in the dazzle from the waters, where the sun had broken through the fleece of cloud above, and since that time we have seen none of him. Good pilgrim, fare thee well upon thy bless'd and flint-strewn way and think thee well alike on one thou once thought foe. Mayhap we'll meet again come that glad day when for thy realm I quit these fields of woe."
♥ Less graspable is Neverreachhereland, an achingly lovely landscape possibly connected with the metaphysical domains encountered in our own United Kingdom, that can't be visited but only fleetingly perceived in certain objects, such as infants' paintings, or one's own name in a childish hand carved on an ancient desk.
♥ Along the Belgian birder are the forests of Ardennes, with their enchanted castles, four of which reared proud above the trees until 1913. North, the castle of the murderer Bluebeard stood, while further south was the retreat of the deformed French noble called "The Beast." Eastwards lie two demolished fortresses, one home an an inbred Royal family cursed by cataleptic fits, with lovely Princess Rosamund as the most famous sufferer. The other fort, Carabas Castle, had been previously called Ogre Castle until the ogre was provoked into transforming to a mouse and promptly eaten by a talking feline dressed in striking footwear. Near these ruins stands a broken fountain, picked clean of the gold and alabaster once adorning it, alleged to have been made by Merlin for the great knight Tristan. Called the Fountain of Love, with a nearby dried up stream known as the River of Love, both sites were destroyed along with the four castles by the shellfire of the Great War.
♥ Or perhaps a trip to Nuremberg might be in order. Here, in Presidential antechambers, is a curious wardrobe granting access to the otherworldly "Kingdom of the Dolls." It was from this strange realm, or areas adjacent, that an apple pip was taken and used to grow the privately-kept tree within Kew Gardens mentioned in our last installment. Whether this tree will provide wood for a similar wardrobe is as yet uncertain.
♥ "We visited the ruins by daylight, A. insisting that we take revolvers, though I told him these would be no use at all, and that we'd best take sharpened walking-canes instead. The castle was a husk, its rotting halls, once sumptuous, now the retreat of bats, ancestral portraits made anonymous by guano. In the crypt the stone sarcophagi were all in disarray, but empty. What was I expecting? Did I fear (or hope?) that He'd still be alive, or that His cold-fleshed concubines would still reside here, and have news of Him? He's dead. He died out on the ice, that dreadful, beautiful old man. He only pours like fog beneath the door-frame in your dreams, you stupid woman."
♥ Slightly further north (although apparently maintaining strong diplomatic connections with Meipe, above) is Maina, home of the irrepressibly creative Articole tribe whose most famous writer, Routchko, published the monumental, almost seventeen-thousand-page-long Why I Cannot Write.
♥ "When I was a boy an eldritch book informed me I'd inherited the Innsmouth Look.
I'd gills and wide-spaced eyes, you see, and I frolicked at the bottom of the deep blue sea (He frolicked at the bottom of the deep blue sea).
I went into the ocean depths most willingly, and now I am a tentacled monstrosity (He went into the ocean depths most willingly, and now he is a tentacled monstrosity)."
♥ The only other isle of note within the Caribbean is, bewilderingly, the isle belonging to the Milanese Duke and occultist Prospero, which we have already located between Italy and Africa. The sorcerer himself, asked how one island could exist in two remote locations at the same time, would only reply ambiguously, "In mine eye do all places coexist, may be at once in Tartary or France, just as we may the Seraphim enlist and bid them on a single pin-head dance."
♥ Forty years earlier, his father had made similar remarks concerning the adjacent warring lands of Farghestan and the old Christian kingdom of Orsenna: "If these people have got so much respect for God, then why are they always bloody showing him up in public? I had respect for our Mum, but if I'd gone and massacred half the kids next door she'd have been mortified. She'd never have set foot past our front step again."
♥ "Some distance further west I saw the mountain Waiting Wife, said to have once been a young woman watching for her husband gone away to war, turned finally to stone by all that waiting. I wondered idly if she had been petrified by her own tears, then headed south, passing the towering scaffold-city of Isaura with its pulleys and its buckets, raised above the thousand wells of its deep-buried lake, where the religion is divided between those who think divinity resides in the well-depths and those who think divinity, in fact, is in the ever-rising buckets."
♥ "We next went east, passing the half-constructed city Thekla, where the builders, who are using the star-spattered heavens as their blueprint, are apparently delaying the completion of their city so as to further put off the start of its destruction."
♥ As for our own adventures, after leaving Toyland, we struck north and shortly blundered into yet more sense-defying circumstances, coming on a strange and mournful figure crouched before a deer-hide wigwam howling penitently. Nearby was the body of another person (an American, we later learned) in modern arctic clothing, who'd been partly torn to pieces, as if by some form of animal. The wild-eyed, bearded fellow, we discovered, was the same witch-doctor that our friends had warned us of, though he seemed far too stricken by remorse to do us harm. He wore, as his magician's robe, a fresh-flayed reindeer hide reversed so that the skin was outermost, its bloody red by now turned almost black, lined by the fur inside that stuck out in a trim around the garment's edge. The beast's head formed a cowl, the antlers jutting there above his lined, grey-bearded face. He told us between moans of anguish that he was the "sha-man" of the North Pole, charged at the mid-winter solstice with delivering the gift of cheer to all the homes on Earth, his disembodied soul darting around the globe born by his flying spirit animals while all the time his body lies here in his wigwam, raving mad and stained with vomit from the mind-affecting spotted mushrooms that he must take to achieve his trance. Apparently, this Christmas past, his trance was interrupted by two rash Americans who represented the same phosphate-drink concern the polar bears had told us of. This breach of the magician's most important yearly ritual was met by the witch-doctor's fierce invisible familiars, or "little helpers" as he called them, who had torn one of the representatives into the shreds we saw a short way off. The other fled, but only after reassuring the frantically-apologizing witch-man that his actions did not constitute a reason to break off their hoped-for future business dealings.
~~The New Traveller's Almanac.