Heroes Never Rust #45 by Sean Ironman
Now that the team has come together, the mission can begin. As Captain Nemo puts it, “An enemy of Britain has stolen its one sample of cavorite, the key to the mastery of the air.” The more I re-read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the more I think about Alan Moore’s other works. Moore wrote Watchmen, a comic that asks the question, if we put our trust and power into superheroes to save us, who’s there to keep them in check? In V for Vendetta, Moore’s story follows an anarchist who fights against a repressive Britain. In his best work (at least in my opinion), Miracleman, Moore follows a superhero who slowly separates himself from society, from humanity, and comes to be thought of as a god. There seems to always be an anti-establishment thing going on in Moore’s work. In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the heroes work for the British government. But I still think Moore is fighting against the establishment.
The so-called villain, “The Doctor,” has stolen the cavorite (a metal introduced in The War of the Worlds), which will help create airships that can drop bombs on England. But we never see this. Not once, at least as of yet, has the heroes seen the Doctor, or has the reader been given a scene with The Doctor, or even a henchmen running off with the cavorite. Campion Bond, a government stooge tells the league and they go off. There have been no threats, no attacks. The league is trusting the British government, and I fear they will regret it.
The idea of the foreigner, of the outsider, being less than a white male British citizen is staying with the comic series. To blend in, the Invisible Man puts on the whitest makeup. Take a look on page two, at Mina’s waist, it’s pencil thin , being held tight by a corset. Captain Nemo, the foreigner, must stay on the ship, even though he seems to be the most capable member of the team. In talking to Dr. Jekyll about Mina, Quartermain lets on that he believes something “ghastly happened to her last year.” Then says she divorced her husband. How ghastly.
They are a team pretending to fit in with the British government, but they can’t. Nemo. Mina. The Invisible Man. All outcasts. Quartermain is a product of a past time, no longer fitting in with the current society. Dr. Jekyll is the closest to a regular British citizen, except for underneath his gentleman-exterior, he becomes a hulking beast.
Where do these heroes search for the bad guy? In the Chinese district. Of course, the “real” British citizens couldn’t have anything to do with it. Go to the foreigners.
I shouldn’t be too hard on them, though. In the end, they do find an airship, with a cartoonish offensive Chinese drawing on it. Mina and Quartermain (along with the Invisible Man) sneak in. Well, not so much sneak in. They lie and tell a Chinese man that they have no place to sleep so the man lets the couple in. `
At the end, we’re given a splash page of men working on a giant airship with guns much larger than a man. It seems to spell doom for the league, and for Britain. Ending each issue, Moore gives up a little paragraph that speaks directly to the reader and sets up the next issue. This issue ends with a box with a green dragon wrapped around it. “Tremble, dearest Reader, at the horrid spectacle of Johnny Chinaman, armed with the mighty weapons of our new Electric Age and bent on turning them against our island home!” Johnny Chinaman. Of course, we aren’t meant to take this seriously. I don’t need Moore’s past work to tell me that. He’s setting us up for when he pulls the rug out from under us, for when the league must turn against Campion Bond, the status quo.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.