Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill don’t want to do this anymore. They’re done with The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the comics industry as a whole, bowing out with one last hurrah in the pages of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest, a six-issue miniseries putting an end to storytelling as we know it. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest #2 (Top Shelf Productions) announces its creators’ attitude loudly on its cover: “Formerly respected funsters turned comic book cosh-boys in brutal attack on confused and elderly institution that loved them like a mother.” On the inside cover, a text piece about the life of Golden Age English cartoonist Frank Bellamy begins with a self-deprecating passage describing “Al and Kev” as “pseudo-American cockneys in a parodic travesty of the 1960s which we hadn’t really thought through and, frankly, wish we’d never started.”
These bits are played for laughs, but the interior content suggests the comments are rooted in truth. These creators have taken on this formidable task of wrapping up a story that has spanned the history of fiction, and now that they’ve caught up to modern entertainment, they decide that it’s time to burn it all to the ground. Franchises take a lot of the blame here, and with the James Bond movies playing a major role in setting up the dominance of franchise culture, the infamous secret agent is situated as the enemy of innovation and imagination in The Tempest.
There’s no shortage of innovation and imagination in O’Neill’s artwork with colorist Ben Dimagmaliw, who do impeccable work altering the visual style to channel specific periods. There’s a lot of creative excitement in these pages, and the creators have realized that if they’re going to force themselves to end this series, at least they’ll have some fun doing it. The second issue features sequences drawn to resemble to woodcut illustrations and early 20th-century newspaper comics; a paper dolls segment where readers can dress Mina Murray, Orlando, and Emma Night (an interpretation of The Avengers’ Emma Peel) in different outfits; and a scene that embraces psychedelic collage à la John Totleben’s art for the Moore-penned Swamp Thing #60.
One of the best things about new League is new annotations from Jess Nevins, who breaks down all the references in exacting detail on his personal website. Most readers aren’t going to catch the majority of these Easter eggs, and at this point, Nevins may as well be considered part of the book’s team considering how much of a role he plays in elucidating the material on the page. The first issue features loads of references to British action-adventure properties of the ’60s, an Austin Powers cameo in the middle of a James Bond reunion, and a brief trip to the psychedelic seascape of Yellow Submarine. (One of the most delightful shout-outs is a poster for Tracey Jordan’s Honky Grandma Be Trippin’ II, a shout-out to 30 Rock that recalls Alex Ross’ 2011 painting of the TV show’s cast as the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)
The references aren’t quite as obscure now that the book is set in modern times, so you get moments like a news broadcast stating that Infinite Jest’s Johnny Gentle demands to see the birth certificate of 24’s President David Palmer. The streets have billboards for Aquaman III: Dark Topo Rising (“H2 Oh!” says The New York Times) and a showdown of superhero parodies: Sparky Watts V Radioactive Man: Dawn Of A Utilities Company. The ubiquity of superheroes is a big part of this issue, and as someone who has been burned by superhero publishers and their corporate overlords on multiple occasions, Moore doesn’t go easy on the genre. The Tempest #2 has Moore addressing a pop culture machine driven by corporate engines, and this issue criticizes how companies refuse to let characters and concepts die because any one of them can be potentially revived as a franchise.
Moore and O’Neill take readers through a super-retirement home where characters like Green Hornet, Plastic Man, and Captain America (with a swastika tattooed on the back of his head) receive care for their intensifying dementia. The crass execution of this scene says a lot about how these creators feel about the treatment of past properties by money-hungry studios that don’t want to come up with new ideas, but it also creates an interesting tension for a series that is entirely about taking old concepts and blending them all together to create something new. Perhaps that’s why Moore and O’Neill have gone full-on apocalyptic for The Tempest. They’re tethered to the past, and the only way for them to break that chain is by dropping a nuclear bomb on it.