"God, is this what it's come to?" Allan Quartermain asks as he kicks a sniveling, bleeding James Bond in the nuts. "The British adventure hero? Pathetic."
So begins The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's third entry in their series of fantastically literary (and fantastic) comics. From the get-go, it's clear what Moore thinks of 007, just as it's clear how much he continues to love classic adventure literature. Previous entries in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics detailed the exploits of a motley crew of Victorian heroes and villains in service to the British government, but Black Dossier's a bit different: This League jumps between traditional comic panels and Moore's dense prose, also throwing in some diagrams, a 3-D section, and a Tijuana Bible insert.
The schizophrenic format is justified by the plot: Set in 1958 rather than the Victorian era, Black Dossier finds ex-League members Quartermain and Mina Murray on the run from British authorities after stealing the titular dossier—a folder that collects all sorts of classified info about the origins of the League.
But as fun as Black Dossier's setting and plot are, they largely exist as a framework that enables Moore and O'Neill's exploration of the dossier itself. The scope and ambition of the dossier's documents is astonishing: Spanning time and literature from Beowulf to 1984, there's a chunk from a Kerouac-inspired beat novel, the first act of a "lost" Shakespeare play, even a passage of erotica starring Fanny Hill. By turns, Black Dossier is clever, funny, erudite, scary, and sexy; Moore's nuanced writing and O'Neill's versatile artwork are, as expected, excellent. For anyone who's enjoyed previous League entries—or is anticipating upcoming ones—Black Dossier is a blast.
Actually, if there's one drawback, that's it: While earlier League stories were exhilarating bits of high-brow adventure, Black Dossier is decidedly more scholarly and dense, appealing more to established fans of the series rather than to newcomers. But for those newcomers, at least, Black Dossier's release is as good of a reminder as any: Pick up the earlier League titles, and by the time you're done with them, you'll be as eager as the rest of us to delve into Black Dossier.