In Part I of “Where’s Our Moon Over Soho in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” I talked about The League and three major characters in its story line and some length about how their relationship in a world of dangerous wonder. In the second and final part of this article, I am going to move from a shared literary universe of immortal literary love into a critique of its erosion.
As Wilhelmina Murray says at the end of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, “life is a bitch and then you don’t die.” This is where the cynical nature of Alan Moore’s human characterizations come into play again.
It’s no coincidence that Century’s segments are divided into three time periods: 1910, 1969, and 2009. The plot is that the League, and in particular Allan Quatermain, Wilhelmina Murray, and Orlando are trying to stop the dark magician Oliver Haddo, an antagonist taken from W. Somerset Maugham’s novel The Magician and a caricature of the occultist Aleister Crowley, from creating a Moonchild – or Antichrist – upon orders from Prospero and the Blazing World. They have had many similar missions from the Blazing World before but, unfortunately, this is one that they fail. We see the triad at the turn of the twentieth century with a new League and a Jack the Ripper subplot barely reminiscent of From Hell amidst the rise of Nemo’s successor and daughter Janni Dakkar: the new Nemo.
But what really gets to me is reading between the lines of the relationship between Allan, Wilhelmina, and Orlando. It seems as though before this timeline, Allan and Wilhelmina were a primary couple that Orlando joined into from time to time, or more often than not. However, you can begin to see that immortal relationships, like mortal ones, wax and wane in terms of energy. Wilhelmina still has Allan sleeping with her in their bed, and Orlando as well, but Orlando’s continuous sex changes are physiologically painful and uncomfortable. In addition, we see that Orlando is different as a man than they are as a woman. They get more aggressive, boastful and downright mean at times: in a way that makes Allan’s occasionally possessive or placatory behaviour look minor by comparison.
It is interesting to note that between Volume II and onward Wilhelmina has obviously embraced her bisexuality much further and perhaps more openly than would have been allowed back in the Victorian period in which she had been born. And this is before The Black Dossier, where we see that Allan and Wilhelmina are obviously in a better place with Orlando in 1958. It seems as though they are still figuring things out.
However, I think 1969 is emblematic of how I felt about the series at this point. During this time period, Wilhelmina has grown far more distant from Allan and Orlando. In fact, she has been doing her own thing posing as a masked hero and engaging in intergalactic missions while Allan and Orlando have, until 1969, enacted The Story of O BDSM dynamic together. Wilhelmina is now beginning to feel the passage of time and the fear of meaninglessness in an eternal life. She tries to fit into every time period she lives through while maintaining her mission of stopping Oliver Haddo and his Moon Child.
Wilhelmina tends to get a little more distant from Allan as well at times, along with Orlando and there is always a power dynamic issue as she is the leader of their group and also in a relationship with them. She has to compartmentalize and their personal relationship tends to bleed through into their professional one and not always in a positive manner. This becomes more pronounced when it becomes just the three of them in 1969 and they simply don’t understand that she is trying to figure out stuff about her life at this time. And sometimes, when Wilhelmina wants space Allan ends up on his own, or more often than not at this point with Orlando: whose more masculine or intersex transitional body at times doesn’t bother Allan’s sexuality anymore: if Allan ever really was heterosexual.
Wilhelmina and the other two aren’t particularly communicating anymore due to their time apart: to the point where Wilhelmina seduces another woman for more information on the Moon Child without the knowledge of the other two, and not wanting to join them in bed anymore.
1969 is more drug-saturated and colourful but many of the references get lost on me. These are not Victorian or even turn of the century or middle of the century literary allusions anymore. It’s confusing and I think Alan Moore designed it to be so. You can see that even before Wilhelmina suffers a nervous breakdown from drug-use, an astral battle with Haddo, getting violated by one Tom Marvello Riddle – yes, that’s right, that Riddle – that she is headed for an existential crisis: getting lost in the illusion and conflict that is the world and almost forgetting herself. That is the price for immortality on an Earth more fantastical than ours, but still possessing real world consequences. She ends up getting taken to a sanitarium for about forty years.
Without Wilhelmina, Allan essentially falls apart. He ends up getting addicted to heroin in the 1980s and Orlando, getting sick of him and not being able to find Wilhelmina, leaves him in his own urine and excrement: a broken man. The romance is over. Real world problems, mental issues, and time still affect immortals. It’s heartbreaking as the acid trip ends and the wonder turns into shit. Because that’s the problem: there is never a happily ever after. The story just continues and when it can’t end in death because of immortality, it just ends in cycles of increasing banality and mediocrity instead. This is why endings are important: as when they happen the pain stops and perhaps new can be made, with good memories being the ultimate reward. Eternal life, if taken in that context, can turn all existence into a living hell.
2009 is where I was done with the series to be honest. There has been a fair bit written by others about the issues involved with this segment of Century. You can read elsewhere about how Alan Moore’s attempts to create an alternate literary world based on the entertainment and media of that time fell flat, how it was a thinly veiled and practically malicious jab at contemporary children’s literature such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and others, or a polemic about how our world’s imagination has degenerated and affected the world of League. 2009 seems, even now, like such an arbitrary year compared to the other timelines: as though Moore had written during that time and the third segment came out much later in 2012. There are a lot of give and take moments in 2009, but I think it’s safe to say that as the conclusion for Century it left a lot to be desired for me.
And remember what I said about happy endings. Orlando comes back from decades of war, completely traumatized after killing all of their allies and a village they were in. And they only decide to continue their previous search for Wilhelmina and Allan when Prospero contacts them and demands that they do so and stop “shirking” their duties. Allan continues to be a heroin-addicted mess that now wants nothing to do with the League or anyone from that time. And Orlando only finds Wilhelmina in the sanitarium after offering a figure in British Intelligence the secret to immortality. It’s heartbreaking when you see what all the characters used to be and what they have been reduced to immortal and outside of the eternity of the Blazing World.
In the end, the Antichrist turns out to be a failure even for his creator: a grotesque and borderline illiterate and drug-fogged Harry Potter. It just feels so small and petty considering the storylines we had been introduced to before. But I don’t think I was actually genuinely angry at Century until Allan Quatermain came back into the picture. Allan, dealing with the prospect of an eternity of drug addiction and self-loathing, almost commits suicide. But, he can’t. Something in him won’t let him die. Even after rebuffing Wilhelmina and Orlando’s attempts to get him back for the mission, he ends up coming back and shooting the Antichrist. Unfortunately, the Antichrist can regenerate and…. well…..
There is no pleasant way to say this. The Harry Potter Antichrist pulls out his penis and uses it to shoot a lightning bolt at Allan Quatermain: killing him.
I’m not going to lie. I was pissed. As if the bad fanfiction weren’t bad enough, attempting to be a clever meta-commentary and failing, Allan Quatermain – after everything he has done and went through – gets killed in such a cheap and disrespectful way. It felt as though Moore wasn’t even taking this seriously anymore, if he had been to begin with. To his credit, Moore does portray Wilhelmina as utterly losing it and Orlando as getting insanely vicious with that death. And after Mary Poppins…. as God sweeps Harry Potter away as a chalk drawing and reveals that Prospero knew that all these horrible things would happen to the League, yet another master using them, Wilhelmina does not abandon Allan’s body for a second. Her emotions and her love are real and she begs him not to die and tells him as he does that he is her hero.
Then they end up burying Allan in his false grave in Africa as what seems to be a middle-finger at the ending of the League film while Orlando deals with her grief, this time without the violent outlet, by hitting on one of their new female companions as the League now seems to have become mostly female with Allan’s death.
“Where’s Our Moon Over Soho” was a song that Allan sang to Wilhelmina in 1910 to promise her that he would always love her and be there for her. She was utterly betrayed when he reneged on it in 2009 and in a lot of ways I feel like that was the song sung to me as a reader as the cynicism and bitterness overwhelmed what was good and wondrous in the series. I could deal with the fragmentation of the relationships, which was heartbreaking in and of itself, but I almost couldn’t forgive Alan Moore for not so much Allan’s death, but how he died and how everything had led up to that. Allan Quatermain deserved better and so did League: if that is how it ends. As it was, the series had come full circle for me: from my film experience, and back and not in a good way.
And while Moore and O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo series almost made up for what happened in Century I admit that I had to take a break from Alan Moore’s work for a long time after. This was all due to Century: or at least my reaction and disappointment towards it.
I don’t know. Perhaps I am just a sentimental fan. But I’d like to think that somewhere in the Blazing World, or somewhere else, that Orlando, Wilhelmina, and Allan – that the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – can still exist and can remain together in their polyamorous relationship while still continuing to have eternal adventures: in my mind’s eye, if nowhere else. And while we might not have Soho anymore, there is still Providence and Jerusalem.