maandag 24 november 2014

Awesome comic scenes: the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Ah, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Alan Moore's Victorian Justice League, made up from characters of famous novels. Personally I love it. But I can also understand people who don't. The stories are really not the greatest you'll find, and sometimes, especially in the third volume, Alan Moore gets... very interested in... referencing 18th century pornography. On the other hand, the endless stream of literary references are great fun for those looking to recognise stuff they know, or looking for new literature to discover. And it's an Alan Moore comic. There is no one alive who has a better grasp of the how to tell a story in this medium. The staging of a scene, the panel-to-panel flow, transitions, parallel storytelling, symbolism... Moore stories have it all. If someone tells you that comics are just stories with pictures, give them something by Alan Moore. That'll show them that comics have more in common with movies than with novels.

Here's a quiet scene from the second volume I particularly like. It's the middle of the night, and Mina Murray can't sleep, so she's wandering through the inn where the League is staying for the night. Then she runs into mister Hyde.

Click to embiggen!

There is this trope called "The Sacrificial Lion". Marvel and DC comics use it quite often these days. They take a minor hero from the 80's, or one of the many background X-Men, and have a new villain kill them to make him or her appear more threatening. It's often quite gory and violent, and I don't think many people actually like the trope. Here Alan Moore sort of uses it, but does it in a much more understated way, to much better effect.

We've seen in previous issues how horrible mister Hyde is. He's introduced as a murderer and rapist, and after he gets recruited he spends most of his time ripping villainous minions in half. So someone worse than him, who could that be? Well, you should know Mina Murray was called Mina Harker before her divorce. She was married to Jonathan Harker. So you can understand why she involuntary touches her neck in the last panel. Her scarf hides the wounds she received from count Dracula.

Funny thing is, Dracula doesn't actually appear in the League. After all, he died at the end of his own novel. But that one panel certainly shows how threatning he is. He doesn't show up and defeat Hyde, no, that would be to blasé. Instead we just get to see Mina's reaction, and have to wonder for ourselves how someone could be worse than a sadistic murderer like Hyde. Here the fun part of using your knowledge of literature to unpack the League comes into play. You know Dracula. You know he seduces people, hypnotizes them and makes them his slave. And that he turns you into a twisted, undead version of yourself. Suddenly the bloodthirst of Hyde seems more... base.

The last panel is particularly well done. It's a one-word reaction, and the big reveal of the scene. But it's not a bigger panel, or a splash page. By keeping panel the same size as the rest we stay focused on the personal. The flow of the conversation is not interrupted. But to emphasise how this is a crucial moment there is a lot of contrast between the other panels: it's much lighter than the rest. It's far less wordy. The other panels are dominated by the bulk of Hyde's body, now we only see Mina. The final touch is that hand, just lightly touching her neck. Many comics (or films or series for that matter) would've put a flashback here. Hyde says "I believe you have perhaps met someone worse than me", cut to a panel of Dracula attacking Mina, possibly all in red. Which I always find a bit lazy. Readers aren't idiots you know, they can make the connection. That little hand movement tells you everything you need to know, but it's much less intrusive. In fact, it doubles as a nice little character moment for Mina. An automatic gesture. A tick maybe, picked up from the trauma.

Understated, making you think, framed perfectly, invoking classic literature. This is the League at its best.

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