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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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CIRCUS OF HELL
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Featuring comics by
Alan Moore, fanboy favorite since his stint on SWAMP THING and his ground-breaking work on WATCHMEN, landed his own imprint: America's Best Comics (and don't miss the irony here: Moore's British). He had vowed never to work with DC Comics again, but fortunately for the readers out there the purchase of ABC owner WildStorm by DC Comics did not threaten Moore's willingness to work on the titles he had started.
Moore writes every book under the ABC imprint, the titles of which include TOP TEN, TOM STRONG, TOMORROW STORIES, PROMETHEA, and arguably the best of them all, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.
Despite being plagued by scheduling problems, I constantly looked forward to the next issue of this six-issue miniseries. The combination of legendary characters, Moore's writing, and Kevin O'Neill's (MARSHALL LAW, NEMESIS) unique artwork and eye for action, ranks it amongst the best books to hit the comic shops in recent years. The story takes place near the end of the Nineteenth Century, and features the heroes of legendary Victorian authors like Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jules Verne. Yet, like any smart writer, he doesn't mess with those characters' continuities (hear that you Marvel and DC bastards? How many times can you rewrite the same universe?).
Mina Murray, now the ex-wife of Jonathan Harker from DRACULA, is the de facto leader of the group. She accepts a commission from the British government to gather some of Britain's greatest heroes to investigate the activities of a mysterious Chinaman and recover a strange element called Cavorite that possesses the power of antigravity. She constantly wears a scarf around her neck, presumably to cover the scars of Dracula's bite, and retains the power of hypnosis.
She locates Captain Nemo (of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA) and his submarine, and tracks down the drug-addicted Alan Quartermain in Egypt. He reluctantly accompanies them to Paris, where they find monstrous Edward Hyde (and his mild-mannered "normal" self, Dr. Henry Jekyll). Lastly, they recruit Peter Griffin (The Invisible Man), who has been spending his time raping the young students of an all-girls school. The students had been convinced he was a holy spirit impregnating him.
The team's contact is a Mr. Bond, who works for a "Mister M." The team assumes this to be Mycroft Holmes (aka Sherlock Holmes), but by the end of the series they discover otherwise. The villain through the first four issues is none other than Dr. Fu Manchu, the mystical Chinese arch-villain who plans to use the Cavorite to power massive machines of destruction to lay waste to London.The storyline carries the feel of the Victorian era and the high adventure of the fiction of that time. Moore handles the characters very well, playing off their individual strengths and personalities against one another at times. We get a real sense of relunctance on the characters' parts to aid the country that has, in many cases, scorned them, with Ms. Murray making a good negotiator and buffer between the almost-criminal members and the loyal Quartermain.
The comics also contain authentic advertisements from Victorian newspapers, all hand-picked by Kevin O'Neill. The editorials and responses to readers' letters are also written in a "gentlemanly" fashion that makes for some good laughs. Another unusual move is to turn the cover of issue six into a synopsis of the previous five issues. In six panels captioned by rhyming verse, Moore quickly catches the reader up to speed so there's no need to go back and read the first five issues to recall what's happening (especially since the fifth issue was largely devoted to revealing the true identity of Mr. M and his history and motivations). A side effect (intentional or unintentional, I haven't figured out which) of the story is the rekindling of interest in these classic heroes. Moore makes a point of making the characters match their roots, and with luck several readers will hit their libraries and bookstores to find the original works in which these characters appeared. Comics spurring an interest in reading? Who'd have thought that was possible! - That's sarcasm, y'all.
The book ends with a blatant opening for a sequel series, which is presumably in the works but probably won't appear for quite some time. I look forward to it, but I definitely won't be holding my breath. I give this series five Rabid Fanboys, and hope you'll do yourself the favor of picking up the collected graphic novel when it's published.