Reviews – Nemo – Heart Of Ice.. it all comes back to Cthulhu…
By Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Knockabout / Top Shelf
Here in this first solo League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen tale we’re transported back to 1925 to catch up with Janni Dakkar, some 15 years after her futile attempts at escaping her legacy as Captain Nemo’s daughter in Century 1910, a folly that resulted in a brutal assault and devastating rescue by the crew of the Nautilus.
In 1910 Janni begrudgingly assumed the old man’s signature coat and his lasting legacy.
Here in 1925 both are weighing heavily on her shoulders.
Tired of plunder and mayhem, tired of merely following her father, tired of being the second Nemo. Her heart is cold, and all she wants is to accomplish something her father could not. Which is why she finds herself travelling onboard the Nautilus to cold Antarctica, the site of her father’s one failure, to have just one adventure; “a grand adventure unsullied by havoc, that surpasses the old man and lays to rest his burdensome legacy“.
Nemo: Heart Of Ice takes us deep into the Antarctic, and will take Janni Dakkar deep into the mountains of madness and force her to look inwards, to her own heart of ice… yes, it is a blindingly obvious allusion to that state of poor Jenni’s heart, although as Nemo’s daughter, captain of Nautilus, and knowing the brutal and vile treatment she suffered in Century 1910, you can understand a certain hostility and coldness.
But that wish for a grand adventure sans havoc is swiftly replaced with a race into the cold heart of the continent as the Nautilus and Jenni’s crew are pursued by a trio of science adventurers – agents of a “publisher of some influence“, hired to retrieve something very important that Janni and her crew plundered from a very old, very dangerous African Queen – “She who must be obeyed” – Ayesha of the African nation of Kor.
And here we go, straight into the problem that rather dogs any look at Moore and O’Neill’s League works. The playing of spot the literary fictional reference. You’re either nodding sagely or off to google right now aren’t you? The publisher is of course Charles Foster Kane, and you need to look to the works of Haggard for the Queen, her country and her foppish consort, as seen on page one below (and yes, that is Popeye in panel 1):
I’ve talked at length before of my initial problems with Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s fictional mythology where they set about populating this world with every possible fictional creation they could. I pretty much dissected my thoughts on the series thus far when I reviewed LOEG: Century 1969 here.
Too much literary reference spotting masking the actual story I thought. It wore on me. But extensive re-reading of the series freed me from the need to play along and suddenly I was seeing it fresh once more. And with that fresh reading The Black Dossier became a great book, far better than the first two volumes, and the Century trilogy fell just slightly beneath it after a lot of reading and re-reading.
In contrast, Nemo: Heart Of Ice is actually more of a return to the simple storytelling of the first two volumes. A far more linear thing, almost frenetic in its pacing.
The mood and the scene and the pace is pretty much set for us as soon as we go beyond that first page above, we grab the page corner, turn and flip and there in front of us is this beautiful two page spread:
It’s a definite statement of purpose, a huge moment, totally cool, very confrontational. Nemo and her crew facing down Kane and ‘She’, a standoff that sets the events of the book rapidly in motion.
From here we have a few quiet pages of introspection from Janni and planning from Kane, and then we’re straight into the rest of the book, one long chase pretty much from the moment Janni and her team step onto the ice.
Well, one long chase with plenty of little stop-offs along the way, including one dazzling piece of storytelling that Moore and O’Neill throw into the mix, bizarre, inventive, strange – a few pages where time goes wrong, and the reader and the Nautilus’ crew experience temporal madness, the story out of sync, panels out of order, a strange, unsettling for us, terrifying for those experiencing the events on the page.
I don’t really think I’m giving anything much away there – you all knew when the advance press for this one talked of an Antarctic adventure that we’d be getting into Lovecraftian territory here didn’t you?
So yes, we’re off to those Mountains Of Madness, and those many-angled ones are sharpening their whatever those things are in anticipation. As always, the weird and strange allows O’Neill to really let loose, and lets face it, since Nemesis O’Neill’s been the go-to guy for Lovecraftian angular nightmare. Quite rightly everyone involved is trying to limit the number of pages seen in the wild before publication, but just the little bits accompanying this review should certainly show you that this is perhaps O’Neill’s finest work to date.
The thing is, after spending so much time previously decrying the saga for its deliberate complication, now that I understand it and love it on my terms I actually found this return to simpler times just wasn’t as involving and inventive a read as The Black Dossier or Century. Sure, after repeated reading it may shift and alter, but right now, despite the book being enjoyable, despite the thrill of the chase throughout, despite the great O’Neill artwork, after a couple of readings it’s merely a good solid piece of weird fiction, a brilliantly crafted piece without question, and full of moments of wonder and chills but never quite breaking through to the revelations of previous volumes.
Nemo: Heart Of Ice is co-published by Knockabout and Top Shelf, and will be available from 5th March, swiftly followed by a London book launch at Gosh on 9th March.
And as a special little treat, here’s that double page spread broken down a little, just so you can take it all in… Kevin O’Neil and fine, fine whiskey…. better with age.