The main “superheroes” of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen include Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll/Edward Hyde, Hawley Griffin and Mina Murray. I put quotes around the word superheroes since the question must be asked if the aforementioned characters are actually superheroes. Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, and Mina Murray do not have super powers but this does not mean they are not super heroes. Batman doesn’t have super powers and an archetypical superhero. Allan Quartermain and Captain Nemo are the literary grandfathers to Batman. Allan Quartermain and Captain Nemo are men of adventure that belong to the world of pulp fiction that preceded comic books. Can pulp fiction heroes be superheroes? Both types of fiction are similar. The main difference would be that comic books went a step farther and emphasized more incredible and futuristic elements due to the ability of comic books, as a visual medium, to awe young readers with incredible pictures.
By putting all these fantastic characters in a more fantastic world than they originally existed in, Alan Moore has clearly made the pulp and/or sci-fi heroes into super heroes. Alan Moore has done the opposite of the dictum of H.G. Wells, the original creator of the Invisible Man. The Invisible Man is a member of the league. H.G. Wells stated that you could write about Martians or invisible men but not invisible Martians. Comic books go in the opposite direction and if Martians are interesting then an invisible Martian like DC’s Martian Manhunter is even more interesting. Superheroes are the baroque version of science fiction and that’s one of the reasons I love my comic books!
There is no comic book within a comic book since these heroes were from books not comic books. On the other hand, Alan Moore has created a universe were all fictional literary characters imaginable coexist in a single universe. Every character in the series is from a literary piece and half the fun of reading the comic book is figuring out what work of fiction the character is from. There is also an atlas of this world in textual form that is incredibly intricate and takes universe building to another level! I suspect compiling the atlas probably took Moore more time to write than writing all the other reboots together.
There is also not a superior level of characterization in Moore’s material compared to the source material since the original material were great works of literature rather than obscure comic book universes. Moore does take the original source material into a darker realm as he does in other reboots. Mr. Hyde beats the Invisible Man and then sexually assaults the Invisible Man, finally killing him! The Invisible Man had betrayed Earth to the Martians and, worse in the eyes of Hyde, hurt Mina Murray. Hyde also eats a Martian in front of the other Martians for fun and the purposes of psychological warfare. For some reason this version of events was never shown in the movie of the same name.
I do want to mention that the movie and the comic book are very different both in plot and tone. The movie is very typical, feel good, sell popcorn, movie fare. The comic book is dense with literary references and much darker than the movie. The characters in the comic book are much more fleshed out and less heroic and more human than the same characters in the movie.
Mina Murray is a person weak physically but strong of will and mind who wins the affection of Mr. Hyde, the love of Quartermain and the respect of Nemo in a way that is believable. This character was written out of the movie altogether! The only comic book character that is even vaguely similar to Mina Murray is Spiderman’s aunt May, another character whose will allows her to surpass her physical frailty. Quartermain, in contrast to the portrayal by Sean Connery in the moview, is portrayed as an old broken man that has been in the deepest slums of India smoking opium and is only saved by the strong will of Mina Murray.
The “do the ends justify the ends” question is explored again by Moore. Germ warfare is used to destroy the invading H.G. Wells style Martians. Moore rightly assumes that characters of the Victorian age would find such behavior shocking and immoral. This is before WWI and WW II desensitized us as a species to such behavior, unfortunately. Because of the strong characterization and incredible universe building, I would rank this reboot number two of the five reboots this series will examine.
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