Alan Moore possesses such a mythic status among English comics readers that one is cautious about saying anything negative about his books. Yet after reading The Black Dossier, my feelings are at best -- ambivalent.
I enjoyed the previous two volumes in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, and I have been waiting for the long-delayed The Black Dossier for a couple of years. I turned out not to be what I was expecting though.
As the story begins in the year 1958, and we arrive at an alternate England that has been battered by the war against Herr Hynkel's Germany. Two former members of the clandestine "Murray Group" -- Mina Murray herself, and the mysteriously rejunvenated Allan Quatermain (now posing as his own long-lost son) steal the Black Dossier, the folio containing all known intelligence on the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. They did that by outwitting a egoistic young agent known only as Jimmy, but who may turn out to be James Bond. (So I've been told.)
This main story frames the narrative, as Mina and Allan, with Black Dossier in tow, attempt to elude their pursuers. Meanwhile, Mina reads The Black Dossier -- and so do we.
The whole graphic novel feels too much like Alan Moore's project on self-indulgence. He is not even making an effort for a stronger plot to string together the disparate voices within the Black Dossier. What you have is more like a scrapbook of past LOEG members and their escapades -- all of which may hint at future LOEG stories to come. Stories within stories -– through time and space and featuring iconic characters from all genres and medium –- there's also guest star Emma Night -- who will later be known as Mrs Emma Peel from the 60s TV series, The Avengers. Alan Moore's knowledge of culture is far and wide –- in fact probably better than most of his readers. He recognises no distinction between literary and pulp fiction. All are fair fodder for his tales. And apparently, the first LOEG was founded by Queen Gloriana, led by Prospero.
My favourite tale within The Black Dossier is the story of "The Life of Orlando", who transgenders through Greco-Roman, Celtic/Fairie, Arthurian, and Lovecraftian mythos/history/stories and always coming up unscathed. I don't think Virginia Woolf ever quite imagined Orlando as such an adventurer. Alan Moore does have lots more fun with the characters than their original writers, I give him that.
In spite of all my reservation, I will admit it showcasts enough of Moore's literary virtuosity to deserve a second-look -- the man undertakes the task of writing a Shakespeare style play for his LOEG characters, he mimicks Orwellian Newspeak and throws in his eosteric Occultic interests - (ala – Promethea). Plus, Moore added some fun porn (the continuing adventures of Fanny Hill, rendered in sketches) in a Tijuana Bible insert, and The Black Dossier itself concludes with a chapter rendered in 3D art. (The graphic novel comes with a pair of 3-D visors for your viewing pleasure. One would appreciate it more if they did the porn in 3D. I'm just saying.)
It's fun, but it may not be the book to start with if you're new to comics. And if you prefer a more straightforward story line -- go check out Volume 1 and 2 instead.