Happy Halloween! On this night that's kooky, spooky, and altogether ooky, let's while away the time after gathering candy and before our visit to the stomach ward of the local hospital by checking in on our old Halloweeny pal, Mister P. G. Wodehouse. It's been one year to the day since
My take on LoEG: BD? (Sorry, not callin' it LXG, no how, no way!) Well, I liked it, liked it a lot, enough to name it #20 on my Fun Fifty of 2007. I liked Moore's take on James Bond (probably a version closer to a real-life 007 than any movie version), its clever reimagining of my favorite map in the world...
...and the thrill-ride that takes Mina Harker and Allan Quatermain from grey and dreary Post-Orwell Britain to a literally eye-popping fantasyland beyond the realm of imagination. Like the earlier LoEG volumes, it rewards re-reading for its variety of prose, denseness of ideas, and the whirlwind parade of guest stars from literature, film, comics and popular culture. As always, you can't tell the players without a scorecard, so Jess Nevins's annotations for Black Dossier are, as always, especially usefulaltho' much of the fun is in figuring out references on your own. The thrill and delight in recognizing one of them gives a "Where's Waldo?" feel to the book but doesn't overwhelm the plot. (I myself was delighted to see the comic The Winged Avenger on a newsstand in the book)
The reason I most enjoyed Black Dossier, however, is that Moore and O'Neill weren't content to just produce another comic book sequelBlack Dossier truly goes one step beyond the originals by presenting us with a history of the League's world in titular secret documents: a lost Shakespeare play (on yellowing paper illustrated with period woodcuts), a pastiche of 1950s British picture-comics telling the life history of League member Orlando (from the Virginia Woolf novel), picture postcards between the original cast members, a not-suitable-for-little-stuffed-bulls Tijuana Diary, an excerpt from a Kerouac-styled Beat novel of the League's universe (that one's sadly pretty unreadable). Each of these pieces, and the many more that accompany them, are presented in a specific visual design style that emulates the originals that they're parodying or referencing, giving us the feeling that we're not looking at a hardcover graphic novel, but actually a scrapbookthe true Black Dossier. The original two LoEG books may have celebrated the great characters of literature and pop culture, but Black Dossier goes one step further and celebrates the medium and the art of storytelling, publishing, and visual entertainment as much as it does its protagonists. Moore would have even gone one further and added the element of sound to the mix if the book had contained the original planned flexi-disc.
But what's this got to do with A Wodehouse a Week, you muse? One of Moore's segments is the four-page Wodehouse pastiche "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss," written by "The Rt. Hon. Bertram Wooster." Like Scream for Jeeves, it's a blending of the light-hearted comedy of P. G. Wodehouse and the chilling dread of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu (or, as Bertie mishears them "Cool Lulu") horrors, set at Aunt Dahlia's familiar old manse Brinkley Court.
Moore has the general narration style and character voices of Wodehouse down pretty pat, right to the traditional Bertie story-opening:
Friendship can be a rather sticky wicket now and then, as when one's anxious to assure one's chums that one does not regard them as a hideous embarrassment, when one actually does. Old hands amongst you will have no doubt guessed ahead that the source of my discomfort was that same Augustus, he of the Fink-Nottles, whom I've previously lamented in these pages.He even throws in running Bertie jokes and references:
'...That man has been a font of knowledge when it comes to folk traditions from rural America, which I believe that I may write a piece on for Milady's Boudoir.'Trouble is, Moore has the style down, but not the patterns. Take a quick peek at this first two-page spreaddon't pay attention to the words itself, but look at the length of the paragraphs:
This was a weekly periodical, intended for the sensitively reared. Of which my Aunt was proprietor. I looked her in the eye and said 'Tish-tosh,' which I am not afraid to state that I had intended as a cut.
...and now grab a gander at a randomly chosen couple pages from a real book by The Master himself:
Moore's prose is dense, with long, deep, descriptive paragraphs and virtually no dialogue; Wodehouse's is short, sharp, and peppy, featuring short paragraphs and fast-alternating lines of dialogue. I've said before that Wodehouse's books sometimes read like plays (he himself commented that he was writing musical theatre without the music) because the back-and-forth conversation frequently monopolizes the page for so many lines that it becomes a dialogue. I'm not familiar with Lovecraft's literary styleis Moore specifically copying the pacing and paragraph construction of Lovecraft here? If so, that's very clever, but as a Wodehouse pastiche, it rings oddly because you never see a true Wodehouse book that's mostly narration and very little dialogue.
The League shows up in the middle of the Jeevesian do to put things right:
They were a dashing crew, I must say, even if they did appear to have a girl in charge of them, a pretty little thing called Min, with steely eels and a thick muffler around her neck despite it being then the stifling height of summer. With her was a wiry gentleman around her age, whom she called Allan, and another person, called Orlando Something, who despite his deep voice and deportment looked to me the very spit of Gussie's fatuous fiancée, the appalling Madeline Bassett o the limpid eyes and weeping-spasms.Despite departing snappy dialogue for eldritch description, Moore's got a pretty good handle on Bertie's narrative voice, and there's some spot-on bits that not only had me nodding my head in their approximation of authentic Wodehouse, they made me giggle:
My aunt and all her pals were twitching and convulsing on the clipped grass, foaming at their mouths and jabbering in tongues, with not a stitch of clothing on between the lot of them. I'd feared that Morris dancing might result from all this folk tradition lark. But naturism really was the limit.Of course, poor Gussie Fink-Nottle gets the worst of it, as usual:
'...If what I have heard of this abominable creatures is correct, Mr. Fink-Nottle's most essential self is at this moment being carried to the place called Yuggoth that they mentioned, possibly some other planet or dimension, in the confines of a copper cylinder. Put simply, sir, I fear they have removed his brain and left him here like a boiled egg that's had its top sliced off.'That last bit, by the way, is the only piece of "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss" that rang truly false with me. Sure, one might suppose that faced with the ultimate evil incarnate, even Jeeves might be shaken enough to drop his usual unflappable decorum. But you know, I'd prefer Jeeves to be the unshakeable, the unsinkable, the non-plussed supermind he is in the Wodehouse books. Here's a counterargument to a shaken and stirred Jeeves from a real Wodehouse (Aunts Aren't Gentlemen):
'Oh bother, have they really? Do you know, I thought that I was feeling muzzy.'
Gussie sat up slowly in the armchair, lifting one hand gingerly to feel around inside his open and demonstratably deserted cranium. His goldfish eyes gazed up imploringly towards my manservant. 'I say, you couldn't fix my lid back so that it wouldn't show, Jeeves, could you? If Miss Basset saw me like this I should never heard an end to it.'
Wearing a look of incredulity that bordered on the insolent, and muttering about a tube of glue he thought he might have, Jeeves led the pair of us back to the house past what survived of Auntie's soiree.
'Jeeves,' I said, when I had returned to the Wooster G.H.Q., 'I'm afraid I have bad news.'Now that's the real Jeeves. But Alan Moore's version ain't bad, and the general conceptalthough done previously by P. H. Cannonmakes a spiffing excursion into Moore and O'Neill's heavily-celebrity-populated world. I've always thought Jeeves was among history's most Extraordinary Gentlemen...now we have proof.
'Indeed, sir? I am sorry to hear that.'
One of his eyebrows had risen about an eighth of an inch, and I know he was deeply stirred, because I had rarely seen him raise an eyebrow more than a sixteenth of an inch.
I may have waited a year to review Moore's Wodehouse pastiche, but you reap the spooky benefits of my delay! How's that? Because The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier just came out in paperback this week at your local comic store, and will be in stock early next week at Amazon and other fine bookstores around the country. (Just click on the link to your right to pick up a copy!) It's the perfect adventure into the world of spies, spaceships, and spooks, capped off with a spectacular (if over-the-top nonsensical) 3D end section. Like it or love it, you have to admit Moore's not resting on his laurels he's given us something new and dramatic that expands the scope of the original League novels. May he continue to surprise, outrage, and entertain us.
A Wodehouse a Week Index.