League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the first publication of America’s Best Comics, an inprint of WildStorm set up in 1999 to handle a series of books by writer Alan Moore. The six-issue mini-series, illustrated by Kevin O’Neill, united various Victorian pulp characters in a slightly steampunk England, which had been modified by these characters’ presence and technology. In addition to 24-page comics stories, each issue also featured a four-page chapter of illustrated prose, plus ads remixing real Victorian ads.
One such ad caused issue #5 to be pulped and reprinted. The ad in question was reportedly an actual Victorian ad for a douche, said be be made by Marvel Co. in New York. The ad repeatedly called the product a “marvel.” After the issue was printed with the ad, DC Comics decided the ad was inappropriate because it mocked rival Marvel Comics (located in New York). To be sure, American comics readers would have made this connection, but it would have been unlikely to cause a major scandal, buried among the issue’s many Victorian and Victorian-esque ads. Nonetheless, DC ordered the issue pulped and reprinted.
It was one of a handful of incidents (including the later censorship of a Cobweb story in Tomorrow Stories) that led to tension between Moore and DC. In the 1980s, Moore had sworn never to work for DC Comics again. While artists were already working on Moore’s titles for WildStorm, DC purchased that company. Moore was promised that WildStorm would act as a firewall, so that Moore wouldn’t have to deal with DC, which wouldn’t influence his books.
The six-issue mini-series became a critical darling, and a second six-issue mini-series was launched in 2002. By the time it was completed, in late 2003, a movie had been released, loosely adapting the League concept and starring Sean Connery. The film took liberties with the story and was not well-received.
This movie actually became another source of contention between Moore and the corporations to which his work was tied. Writers Larry Cohen and Martin Poll filed a lawsuit against 20th Century-Fox, makers of the film, alleging that the movie had plagiarized their screenplay called Cast of Characters, which they had pitched to Fox in the 1990s. The lawsuit alleged that Fox had generated the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic as a smokescreen, in order to claim the movie was based on something other than the Cast of Characters screenplay. This resulted in Alan Moore being deposed and grilled, as if he wasn’t a successful comics writer, about whether he had gotten the idea for the series from Fox executives, whom he didn’t know. In fact, the movie adaptation had used characters (such as Tom Sawyer) who were part of Cast of Characters but not Moore’s League, and it’s possible that someone at Fox, remembering Cast of Characters, let some of its ideas seep into the League adaptation (perhaps accounting for some of the liberties the film took with the story). Fox settled the lawsuit, which Moore said felt like an admission of guilt and prevented Moore, who had been accused of things as part of the suit, from exonerating himself. This incident was key in Moore further distancing himself from Hollywood adaptations of his work.
In another incident, a press conference for the adaptation of Moore’s V for Vendetta, published by DC Comics, stated that Moore had liked the movie’s screenplay. Moore, who had distanced himself from film adaptations of his work, demanded this statement be retracted in a venue of equal status. Unsatisfied with a quiet online retraction, Moore sought to disentangle himself from DC Comics.
The next League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic to be published was the 2007 original graphic novel, subtitled The Black Dossier. It covered a great swath of history, brilliantly imitating different past creators’ styles, although it was less of a satisfying single narrative. The graphic novel was intended as an interlude, between the second League book and the third.
It would be the last new League work to be published by America’s Best Comics, for which Moore had otherwise already concluded his work. Most of that work was owned by WildStorm, which in turn was owned by DC. But while DC retained certain rights to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, including the print rights to the first two mini-series and The Black Dossier, as well as certain licensing rights (as evidenced by the League movie), Moore and O’Neill retained the rights to produce more material, and they chose to do so at Top Shelf Productions in the U.S. and Knockabout Comics in the U.K.
The third League book, subtitled Century, was published in as three 80-page graphic novellas in 2009, 2011, and 2012, respectively. Each graphic novella was primarily set in a different era, spanning most of the 20th century. For the second and third volumes, set in 1969 and 2009, Moore created analogs of characters who were not yet in the public domain.
Two interludes followed. The first, titled Nemo: Heart of Ice and published in 2013, followed Nemo’s daughter and was set in 1925. The second, titled Nemo: The Roses of Berlin, will be set in 1941 and is meant to be published in 2014. Moore has said that a fourth League book will follow.