So my before-bed reading for, oh the past week or two has been Alan Moore and Kevin Neill's deliciously odd The Black Dossier, their latest book in the League series. (You thought that the story was over just because some members were dead? Hardly: book three is starting sometime this year.)
The Black Dossier is, essentially, the Alan Moore equivalent of DC's Secret Files and Origins books. That is, while it's structured as a graphic novel, it really doesn't stand up terribly well on its own -- the point is providing background for the series. Oh, it has its own little story to tell and messages to pass on (the concluding soliloquy is particularly thought-provoking), but if you haven't read the previous two stories it's simply going to be head-scratchingly confusing.
The plot of the book is quite straightforward. It's set in 1958, sixty years after the end of the last story. A rather familiar bescarfed young woman and her handsome young man Allan are chasing down The Black Dossier, the secret history of the League. They are, meanwhile, being hunted by England's intelligence community. That's -- well, really, that's about it. Plot isn't the point here.
The *point* is the dossier itself, which is interleaved throughout. It's a bundle of assorted papers, collected over the past 400-some years, outlining the origins and development of this strange group, from its original constitution by Queen Gloriana of England in the 16th century through the modern day. Much is concerned with the doings of "The Murray Group" (the League of the previous two stories), but there's lots more besides. (These papers are mostly text, BTW, not comics, which is why the book takes a while to read.)
It becomes quickly clear that the underlying premise of the series -- that this is the world where everything in Victorian literature is true -- generalizes to the rest of world history. From the replacement of Queen Elizabeth with the half-fairy Gloriana to the scenario of 1958 (which has just recently overthrown the Party from 1984), the book is preposterously chock-a-block with literary references. I'm fairly sure that I've missed a huge amount in the "modern day" segments, simply because I don't know mid-20th century literature well enough.
The real joy of the book is Alan Moore emulating a zillion different styles in the Dossier itself. From the comic-strip biography of sometime League member Orlando, to the first act of the lost Shakespeare play Faerie's Fortunes Founded, to the nearly incomprehensible beat-era novelette "The Crazy Wide Forever", Moore is having *way* too much fun here. The prize of the book (and really, worth the price all by itself) is the short story "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss", by the Rt. Hon. Bertram Wooster, in which Bertie Wooster manages to be the protagonist of a Lovecraftian horror story while having not the slightest idea what is going on. ("He told me about friends of his who come from Yuggoth, which I would imagine is some town in Massachusetts, or perhaps an outpost like Rhode Island since he specified it was 'beyond the rim'.")
I usually resist buying comics in hardcover, since it is usually extra money for no good reason. But in this case, it's well worth it -- I don't even know if they're going to try to make a softcover version, because it would be hard to do it justice. The production values are excellent for the price, ranging from the old-fashioned sewn-in bookmark (and the bizarre sewn-in official pornographic comic from the Party years) to the different papers for the various chapters of the Dossier, to the spiffy 3-D glasses that go with the final chapter. (Which, it should be noted, features some of the best red-and-green 3D work I've ever seen.)
Is it worth buying? That's kind of a matter of taste. As a novel unto itself, it's a trifle: a very simple adventure romp with a thin story. But as an exercise in world-building, and a chance to watch Alan Moore playing with structure and idea and style, it's great stuff. And if you've read the previous League stories, and want to understand the context better, this is the place to go...