By Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Knockabout / Top Shelf
Time to catch up with the world of Moore and O’Neill’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and specifically the adventures of the Nemo family.
If the first Nemo book Heart Of Ice was Lovecraftian cold and monstrous with Janni Dakkar, daughter of Captain Nemo struggling to come to terms with the legacy of her father, here in Roses Of Berlin we’re in the white heat of Germanic Metropolis gone wrong, as Janni ventures into the heart of Fritz Lang’s angular (but not many-angled) world full of aberrant technology, the dream of ‘Die Mensch Maschine’ cast in dark shadow and Fascistic relief.
Here the current Nemo is secure and confident in her Captaincy, transforming her Pirate kingdom to something more politically inclined, working in partnership with her son-in-law the sky pirate Armand Robur to disrupt the Axis forces by sea and by air; the fearsome seagoing sight of the Nautilus matched by the airborne destruction of Robur’s craft The Terror (and a great excuse for O’Neill to outdo himself with incredible illustrations of the airborne superiority of The Terror).
It’s 1941 League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen style, the world is at war, and Chaplin’s Great Dictator Adenoid Hynkel is the man terrorizing Europe and more immediately for Janni and her love Broad Arrow Jack, the man luring them into a trap in the heart of the Reich, the metropolis of Berlin, following the downing of Robur’s ‘Terror’ and the capture of both Robur and their young daughter Hira.
(How’s that for confident and decisive?)
The entire book is a document of Janni and Jack’s trip to the heart of Berlin, a nightmare featuring all the fantastical and fictional characters of the time; Dr Mabuse, the world of Rotwang’s mechanical automatons, Dr. Caligari’s hypnotised sleeptroopers and more, all leading her to a showdown with an old, familiar enemy and a terrible loss.
Yes, as you may expect, we’re on a romp through the literary and now cinematic history of the era, and a knowledge of basic German, or a glance at Jess Nevins’ notes for a translation may prove useful here. And indeed, as you’ll see from the panel below, not only useful but giving you the odd chuckle here and there as well.
(“…and then we’ll see whether the people still think I look ridiculous.” In the League’s world Hynkel is real, and Chaplin’s Great Dictator would be classed as a merciless comedic attack on the ridiculousness of the man.)
As with Heart Of Ice, these literal and cinematic references are lower in the mix, indeed the entire story is lower in the mix, Moore’s words taking a decidedly secondary storytelling position at times to O’Neill’s artwork. It happened in Heart Of Ice, but here whole pages go by with minimal input from Moore, O’Neill doing all the heavy narrative lifting, and doing it with typical beautifully grotesque fashion. He’s especially effective at creating the feel of this Berlin, all steampunk nightmare visions and red XXs, Hynkel’s version of the swastika plastering every building, incredible vistas, fantastical machines, all just this side of unbelievable, a futuristic past done just right..
This is a very fast, rather slight League story, same as the first Nemo book, but it’s not really one that will stand up very well in isolation. Far simpler to just accept it as a second part, and read both, whether fast and simple as a steampunk romp with O’Neill’s exquisite artwork stealing the show or second time around slower with extensive cross referencing through Internet and Josh Nevins’ typically illuminating notes. (Interestingly, the notes for these Nemo books are far shorter than previous volumes, another indication of the relative brevity of the more modern era works.)
I have something of a troubled relationship with the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I explained it here. It can perhaps be best summed up thus: Vols 1 & 2 loved, Black Dossier and Century misunderstood on first reading, where I felt the increasingly dominant sense of needing to catch every cleverly integrated literal reference overwhelmed the story on that first read, but appreciated so much on subsequent re-reads where I concerned myself less with catching every literary reference and simply enjoyed it for what I did get from it. Then the Black Dossier became, and still is, my favourite League volume.
Thus the return to the relative simplicity of storytelling of these Nemo volumes produces something that I would have loved far more back with those first two volumes, something I would have enjoyed just after the disappointment of the first read of the Black Dossier. Thing is, I’m not at that point, I’m now at the point where I look at the Black Dossier, and to a much lesser extent Century as the absolute high points of the League adventures. Thus, this return to simplicity, although very enjoyable in and of itself is actually something less than I was hoping for from Moore and O’Neill.
As with Heart Of Ice, Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin is a damn fine read, a delight of weird alt-fiction, with two veteran creators proving that they’re on fine, fine form, and O’Neill in particular doing some of the best work of his career.
Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin is co-published by Knockabout and Top Shelf, and is available right now.
I shall leave you with some special treats, a couple of double pages from O’Neill, and a couple of images from those double pages, he really is on fine, fine form….