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November 19, 2007


Americans, imagine a comic that ends with a triumphant rescue by a grinning, bulge-eyed Sambo.)

Jack of Fables, the first story arc...

Jones, one of the Jones boys

This is a really interesting analysis, and I think you're dead on. What an odious little book this is.

Myself, I didn't automatically twig to the political ramifications of Alan and Mina's escape into fiction, mostly because I was just glad to have survived reading the book. But you're right, there doesn't seem to have been much attention given to how this all plays out as a story. I was (to put it mildly) seriously concerned by the apparent resolution of the Bond/Peel subplot. So the toughest, smartest and all-round kick-arsest heroine of British fiction gets gulled and presumably sexually assaulted by a vicious rapist? Fantastic!

[As you say, there's a possibility that these issues may be resolved in later volumes. But, as you also say, so what?]

In hindsight, none of this is terribly surprising. It seems to be the natural result of valorizing the fictional over the real, as Moore has been doing at least since the nineties. You end up less like Brecht--"food first, then morality"--and more like Benigni. Who cares about the Holocaust when we've got the wonderful magic of the imagination?


Not bothered by the political ramifications so much as the ethical ramifications, although I could write another post on the curious slander of the Clement Attlee Labour government--apparently Moore is so irritated by Blair that he's now weeping for Churchill? Or more likely, he was so taken by his assimilation of 1984 into postwar history that he didn't bother to think about the ramifications at all.

I could write several more posts on Black Dossier, actually, but I probably shouldn't. I'd rather hold onto those parts I still like.

Jones, one of the Jones boys

"I'd rather hold onto those parts I still like"

No, no, join me in the Two Minutes' Hate. Damn that Goldstein!

Al Ewing

If I'm allowed to look at that last Bond sequence in cold, emotionally-detached terms, it's interesting that Emma Peel ends up partnered with John Steed, an altogether classier act who Patrick McNee fleshed out as a reaction against the morally hideous Fleming Bond - Steed rarely if ever uses a gun, for example. That's my emotionless robot fanboy moment for the week.

It's notable the level of character assassination Moore does on Bond, to the extent that I'm going to have serious trouble watching a Bond movie again. To play Devil's Advocate, it could be argued that giving Bond the same unforgiving treatment as Drummond is a worthy accomplishment - the final conflict between Drummond and Bond is explicitly saying that yes, Drummond is a monster, but Bond is worse and for some reason we still love him. He gets away with his girl of choice and without a scratch because that's exactly what he has done for half a century - this hideous, violent, alcoholic rapist has been taken to the nation's bosom and granted immortality, while Peel and Steed have fallen by the wayside. While it's unpalatable to have him walking around loose at the end of the book, the fault rests with forty years of audiences as much as with Moore - I can imagine Moore frowning through his beard and saying "You never complained when Bond won before... what's changed?" From what I've read, I think the idea of which fictions we choose to keep in the world and which fictions we allow to retreat into the mishmash of Ideaspace will be a theme of the next volume.


I'm not willing to displace all responsibility for the Black Dossier's flawed ending onto the audience. Passing Allan and Mina's (and Moore's) moral evasions off as a jab at Bond's audience seems too charitable by half.

Neither am I willing to read beyond the ending of the book to criticize it like Jones does. I'm inclined to say that if Bond does press so far as to sexually assault Emma--as opposed to just killing her father and godfather, lying about it, and taking advantage of her grief--he'll end up flat on his ass and short a couple more teeth. Moore writes him at about that level of competence. But that's fan-fiction, as is Jones's more nightmarish scenario. The book we were given is troubling enough.

I have a similar reading of the Bond and Drummond fight, Al, but for me it was one more disturbing element that I couldn't quite fit into the review. After building up Drummond as a racist reactionary through the whole story, Moore suddenly makes him sympathetic and has him act as a proxy for Allan and Mina--their one halfassed effort at striking back at MI5. To make sure we don't forget the racism, Moore writes one last antisemitic slur in Drummond's final words. I thought that was an important touch--if the slur were missing, the scene would be far too forgiving of him--but it only heightens the discomfort, especially since Drummond's face turn comes just pages after the Golliwogg's heroic rescue. LoEG has always been a little too chummy with the racism of the late Victorian era--remember the sleazy rapist Arabs from volume 1?--but this is the first time it's been actively nostalgic about pining for the manly, racist heroes of our past.

And I would be perfectly happy never to read about the Blazing World or any other permutation of Ideaspace again after this volume. The Blazing World is especially nettlesome because it's so unnecessary. Moore has already created a wondrous world where every fictional character can interact: it's called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Why did he need to shrink back and retreat inside another one, a bauble within a bauble with almost no dramatic conflict and no connection to social reality?

Al Ewing

Fair point. Mina and Allan are essentially passing all responsibility over to a character who's been presented as completely divorced from reality. Whether this can be read as Moore pining for the racism of days gone by is another matter - he's never struck me as some Jim Davidson figure railing against the filthy tide of 'political correctness'. In Promethea, he made the argument that you have to own your demons and admit that they exist, and I'd think that the same could be said for society, and for the fiction that society creates.

(We're back at audience responsibility again, I'm afraid. You're right - it is overly charitable to make everything into a critique of the audience, but at the same time if we're dealing with a world of fiction, the audience is an essential part of the evolution of that fiction. Also, this is the kind of discussion that ought to be carried out over a pint instead of the internet, but I'm sure you've heard that one before.)


(Hey Marc - some time ago found I couldn't post to your site anymore so gave up trying. Before I bleed text all over your nice clean blog, let me take a test drive..)



First off, let me dispense with Mr. O'Neill - I agree with everyone's assessment that he created a spectacular artifact, so no need to belabor.

Now the story. I guess my take is between all the colliding fantasy axiis, pastiche-fetishe, characters as audience critique, parading imaginationalities, and self-satisified lecturing, Moore has kind of lost the ability to entrall me with storytelling. Probably not lost actually, more like deliberately foresaken.

For me it started with LoEG II. LoEG I succeeded for me because of the characters: Ms Murray was sharp but not omnipotent, Jeckyl not only existed but had depth, Quatermain showed flashes of believable action hero and Nemo was magnificently rendered as a man with motives apart. The villains also, a terrifying Fu Manchu and a brilliantly scheming Moriarty. All of them directly influenced the plot through _agency_ and strong motives be they ethical, malevolent, whatever.

By LoEG II, Jeckyl was gone, Nemo was reduced to blustering cheauffer, Murray to shrill commanding bitch, and Alan's only strong character moment came as sensitive 80's man. He was completely unbelievable as ever having been a man of action (never mind an object of sexual attraction). And Griffin was really the only one to have any proactive impact on the plot -- Nemo and Hyde waited while Alan and Mina fetched what Bond told them to fetch. That's your story? Robbed of agency and given motives no more inspiring than the desire not to die, that's your story. It's like the whole thing was 'how do I connect these two ingenious conceits? - the United Fictional States of Mars and fiction's anthropomorphic animals as Moreau ani-men' ... it's actually exactly like that. The only truly powerful narrative elements were about Hyde, so as a story it was all about how much you enjoyed Hyde's ugliness, which, yeah.

I had pretty much followed Nemo out the door at the end of that one. ...but heaven help me some combination of built-up Moore goodwill, positive hype, and collector completeness brought me back. I'm no Nemo.

So this time Mina is still a shrill bitch, Alan a barely-competent pussy-whipped whiner, and we have an ugly Drummond, an uglier Bond and a vapid Peel pursuing them. (a vapid Peel?? besides the sublime cat suit, Rigg's 'I know more than you and it amuses me' smirk defined the character) And all with the identical, uninspiring goal of retrieving a document for purposes of hiding it again.

Except not really. Like the Mars-Moreau express, the real goal was to use the chase to connect the fictional dots, this time in service of a Large Idea about fictional unity and collective values I guess. Is it my fault I didn't want that? I wanted a satisfying, entertaining story.

And as a story it just fails and kind of takes down its predecessors with it. How do I reconcile Mina's prim, palpable distaste with the girl's school in LoEG I, with her apparrant latter-day Fanny Hill apprencticeship? Quick survey of female characters: Murray, Hill, Orlando, Pimpernell's wife, Gloriana, the two dolls, ALL of whom are either joyously promiscuous or sexually powerful. Then Peel, who is essentially adolescent innocence in comparison. So the woman who defined sexpot spy, not any of the array of Victorians, is the only one behaving like she wouldn't slip seemlessly into a porno movie?

But that may just be an author's kinky wink. A more serious, and either inexplicably deliberate or stunningly inadvertant, inversion takes place. Bond's self-absorbed amorality, Quatermain's quaking, Drummond's thuggery,... It's almost like Moore, in his gluttonous rush to link every goddamn fiction ever, missed that HEROISM is an essential element to many of their enduring appeal. Not all fiction, certainly, but some? Somewhere?

Without heroism, of course they'd run from their violent, depressing, politically bankrupt world to some brightly-colored 3-d Sex Land. I guess if we could we would too, but short that we at least have access to something nonexistant in Mina and Alan's World of All Heroes. Heroics. Somehow that's the part that got left out of Moore's Unified Fiction Theory.

Frankly, I would have let the kid lit drop instead.

Greg Morrow

I hate to see such an insightful and erudite discussion and have no more to contribute than "me, too". Black Dossier is a deeply-flawed book.

For me, the framing story utterly fails as narrative. Allan and Mina steal the Maltese Falcon, and then they get away with it. Where are the complications, the reverses? Having to parachute out of a rocketship demonstrates the most minimal of basic competence, not the imposing of and ultimate triumph over an obstacle.

And, as noted, the spaceport scene has only metatextual justification. I expect Moore to do more work than that! If he needs to survey the fiction of post-war futurism, he needs to integrate it.

The worst failure, of course, is the ending itself. Aside from a few nifty technical uses of 3-D, the Blazing World is no more than a mashup of the Supremacy and Moore's new Lost Girls-driven fascination with erotica, and it is less than either. At least the Supremacy appreciated its own absurdity, and it didn't lecture us about leaving childish stories behind. Even Promethea, for all its epochal turgidity, has more of a ring of sincerity. Prospero's Blazing World speech feels as perfunctory and pro-forma as the narrative contrivances that brought the characters thither.

Kevin O'Neill's best work, and a showpiece for Todd Klein, and individual pieces, like the Orlando bio and the M reveal, absolutely drip with the quintessence of Moore's talent, but the book neither gels into a whole nor achieves its apparent goal, and that is purely Moore's responsibility.


Pints all around:

Jeff: I would neither call Allan "pussy-whipped" nor Mina a "bitch"--a word I hate seeing applied indiscriminately to any assertive woman (going back to the Anne Benson days!). I thought her Victorian rigidity had softened quite a bit, and most of the interaction between the two came across as warm banter between a couple that's been a couple for sixty years. And I thought Allan was pretty competent in dispatching Drummond, Emma, and Bond--the first time we've seen the man of action he used to be. Of course, Moore overplays Mina's intelligence and makes Allan look dumb by comparison, but he's been doing that since volume 1.

Also, since I'm running a serious praise-to-blame deficit, I'll say that I liked the opening sequence of the frame story a great deal. Not just for its delineation of a fascinating setting it would soon abandon, but for the way Moore flirts with replaying the opening of volume 1--Mina gets sexually assaulted AGAIN--and then changes direction with all the subtlety a brick to the face. A nice renunciation of the helpless Mina who started off the League's adventures, and a little heroic adventure for you. I like the way they stole the Dossier; I just wish the story went somewhere else from there (or really, from when they leave Greyfriars).

You're right, volume 2 was when this series started to sour: so many of the things that rankled in the Black Dossier started there, like the deformation of the plot to accompany more outlandish and showy literary references. The first couple of issues established a terrific tension, but everything went off the rails with the trip to Moreau's colony. By the sixth issue the story has ground to a halt while Moreau stands on a train platform delivering two solid pages of in-jokes, and what should have been a moment of high tension and drama--Hyde's last stand--is sapped by the incredibly awkward staging. (So the tripods can only cross at one bridge, which the British can't blow up, because they're out of artillery, except they're not, because they can lob a shell at the tripods... meanwhile three of the surviving protagonists stand around and watch the fourth exterminate himself.)

I would have dropped the kid lit, too.

Al: No, Moore is the last guy who would rail against the rising tide of political correctness. Then again, I would have once said he was the last guy who would equate Britain's postwar welfare state with Orwell's Stalinist Big Brother, and he did that--not as some political commentary, I don't think, but because the Black Dossier is more interested in making its references than thinking their ramifications through. I don't think Moore is pining for the racism of days gone by, but he seems so much more comfortable with it than he is with the sins of the fiction produced during his own lifetime. Drummond's face turn sets up a battle of two equally unpleasant alternatives, made possible only because Allan and Mina have abandoned the field.


Pints back atcha, in fact enjoying the last of my Octoberfest homebrew as we speak. Consider yourself tapped a virtual pint from the keg!

RE: the b-word, while I cannot claim a religious circumspection, I don't really toss it around cavalierly either, and in this case considered it a discriminate application. It's not her assertiveness or intelligence that earns it, but her cruel shortness towards Allan in particular (which conversely earned him the p-whipped assessment). I did review both LoEG II and BD last night, and will confess that while this attitude is not difficult to find in BD (her words parachuting from the plane stand out, but the name calling and belittling are sprinkled throughout), it is measured much more than I allowed by the extended scenes of warm banter. Is ball-buster perhaps less politically charged a term? Maybe not.

It doesn't help, I think, that her cruelty towards Allan was manifest in LoEG II, and the romance MUCH less convincingly rendered (I could find no reason other than her nakedness why either should find strong attraction in the other. I know Moore was trying to set up a 'lingering schoolgirl crush' thing, but Allan bore so little resemblance to that action hero, as she herself cruelly observes, it beggars credulity). Having reread LoEG I and II immediately before BD, that taint was still in my mouth and colored my reading I think.

In the interests of joining the half-full crowd, I will say that I too found Harry Lime/Cherry/Kamqwat simply genius, and the interplay between the school-visit revelations and the dossier notes elegant and satisfying. The Fanny Hill pastiche was the gem in the bunch, both because of its humor and because it conveyed the strongest sense of high adventure, even oblique as it was. And of course the sheer omnivorous breadth of his linkages does have a majesty of its own, story or no.

Lastly, let me say that the technical virtuousity of the 3D implementation was truly breathtaking. While the particulars of the dreamscape were all too familiar, the added punch of convincing 3D added some thrill to that nearly exhausted vision.

I feel my praise devolving again, so I'll just end observing I STILL prefer Jess Nevin's HPG Lovehouse. Pints!


The only comment I feel like pitching in at this late remove is that it was quite clear to me, even without foreknowledge of forthcoming sequelae (I really thought this would be the last of the League) that Mina and Quatermain had no intention of abandoning England and retiring forever into the Blazing World. There's too much still to do--not just cleanup after Ingsoc, but the very real and recurrent threat of the Great Old Ones. Maybe those stories would never be told, but it was clear they were still to come.

Oh, one other thing--the best 3-D, ever. Not just the portals: Nyarlathotep rendered in fragmented 3-D that refuses to align properly. Brilliant.


"Maybe those stories would never be told, but it was clear they were still to come."

That's all well and good, but in this comic--this standalone two-hundred-page graphic novel--Allan and Mina turn their backs on the real world with only the most halfassed effort at redressing some of the crimes they've uncovered. Ingsoc and the Americans are still beating and murdering people (with a strong implication that the Glamcabby is raped by the police) and our heroes, who have the goods on them, run off to have orgies in fairyland.

Forgiving the book because we know they'll have future adventures is like Jones criticizing it because he's certain Bond is going to rape Emma Peel--writing whatever outcome suits our opinion. The book we're given still ends with a retreat into fantasy and indulgence.

The line about a treaty with the Great Old Ones was just about the only part of the Blazing World sequence I could stomach, not just because of the innovative 3-D on Nyarlathotep (much more clever and well-executed than the portals, I thought), but because it implies that all is not completely perfect in the Blazing World--conflicts still happen there, dangers still happen there, stories still happen there, which means there is just the slightest chance that the sequels will be better than this.

Kevin J. Maroney

"The book we're given still ends with a retreat into fantasy and indulgence."

The book we're given ends with a respite, not a recusal. As I said, it's clear within the text of this work, this book in our hands now, that Mina and Allen aren't going to remain in the Blazing World forever. The clearest sign of that that is even as frivolous a character as Snippop Yram recognizes that there is an endless amount of work to be done.


That's a pretty slender thread to hang an argument on, Kevin. Is there any tangible indication that Allan and Mina are planning on returning to the real world? Their mission in The Black Dossier is merely the deletion of the League's record and the protection of their private retreat in the Blazing World. We're told they've been building a covert network of allies to this end since the thirties, but we aren't shown any other moves they've made against the Ingsoc government or its successor. Prospero's closing monologue rejoices in the Blazing World's insulation from the real one. And the work "Yram" refers to in her throwaway line is sorting out "this current generation of children"--i.e. baby boomers, i.e. Moore and O'Neill and their peers--which has nothing to do with Ingsoc. Although it isn't exactly out of line with the rest of the book's vilification of the postwar welfare state either.

I don't see any reason to assume this book ends with a commitment towards re-engagement except perhaps good will towards Moore and a desire to think well of his works.


On re-reading, I can only find these other additional pointers to the idea that Allen and Mina are taking a respite rather than a permanent retreat.

1. It's clear that they have left and returned to the Blazing World repeatedly.
2. Orlando refers to the Blazing World as "a hideaway".
3. Venus suggests she might be thinking of retiring.

Those three snippets taken together left me with the very strong impression that Allen and Mina and Orlando were not retiring and that this would not be their last adventure.

As I said, I came away from the work with the clear impression that they knew thy were not done with their work, despite the fact that I believed this to be the last LOEG story.

Nothing I'm citing, I realize, is probative, just indicative. But it's a strong indication. The Yram thing was just an extra pointer.


That still looks like a thin gruel--Cherry's notes speculate that the earlier searches for/trips to the Blazing World were, like Mina's covert 1930s network, preparation for their eventual desertion, and your points 2 and 3 seem to confirm that the Blazing World is a retreat for indolent superheroes.

But this is somewhat beside the point. I've never thought this would be Allan and Mina's last adventure, and that knowledge doesn't change the fact that this comic is structured, in everything from its plotting to its increasingly fantastic allusions, around a rejection of social reality and ethical responsibility in favor of imaginative isolation and personal gratification.


"Increasingly fantastic" allusions? That seems like a very odd characterization. This is, after all, a book that starts with an Aleister Crowley stand-in explaining the magical history of the world and a Boy's Own Comic details the biography of a 3000-year-old hermaphrodite warrior prince(ss).

The arc of narrative of England depicted in the book is one of rejection of the fantastic, but it keeps returning. Jacob drove the faeries out, but Prospero found them a refuge in the Blazing World. There seem to be surges and retreats in the war between mundanity and the Immateria (oops, wrong cosmos), but the history shown in the Black Dossier is one of the generation after generation of "Prospero's men" coming together to protect England.

If you don't like the term "respite", think "fortress" instead. Or perhaps "village of indominable Gauls".

It would be attributing a great deal of power to Big Brother--and even more to Harry Lime--to assume that they can succeed in driving the fantastic out of Britain, which would be the true result of "imaginative isolation". The "social reality" that Moore rejects is the colorless regulation of the Roundheads and The Party and the surveillance society; the imaginative isolation he celebrates is the one that leads to rocket ships and submarines.

That said, it is unmistakably true that Moore puts a lot of weight on the importance and even efficacy of finding a personal, isolated, refuge against the crush of the world. It's present at the end of works as diverse as Swamp Thing, From Hell, and Halo Jones. His sketch of utopia in Miracleman includes praise for those explorers of inner space who retreat from the world to map their own minds.

I see Black Dossier as celebrating both those who lead and then retire (Prospero) and those who stay engaged with the world (Mina, Allen, Orlando).


Kevin, those three people you listed last all end The Black Dossier in hiding, planning intertextual orgies while Harry Lime's boys are beating and implicitly raping that Glamcabby--and they have just taken the dossier that could expose Lime's past crimes out of his plane of existence. That's not engagement.

The "increasingly fantastic allusions" is shorthand for an argument I already made in the fifth paragraph of my original post: the allusions in Allan and Mina's framing story escalate from the mundane to the fantastic, whereas the dossier's tend to move in the opposite direction, but Moore casts his lot unequivocally on the side of Allan and Mina and the fantastic (with the arrival of his jolly hypersexed racial caricature). The rest of your comment is a complete inversion of the reading I've offered here. I'm not attributing to Wharton, O'Brien, and Lime the power to drive the fantastic out of England; Moore is clear enough about rejecting that. I'm attributing to Moore the book's appalling quietism, which says it's okay for Prospero and co. to work that same radical separation from the other side, boasting about art's power to shape the world even as he pulls up the drawbridge that connects them.

Kevin J. Maroney

My apologies; I hadn't re-read your original post before we started this subdiscussion, so I did misread your later comment. I may have more comments later.


Not a problem; the shorthand needed explication anyway.

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