Written by Alan Moore,
illustrated by Kevin O'Neill
(America's Best Comics)

Three art forms from the old 20th Century have never received their due: stand up comedy, network radio, and comic books. Their status? The fluid performance technique more or less invented by Lenny Bruce and perfected by Richard Pryor was taken over by a bunch of guys named Miller and Johnson and turned into public orations about relationships and air travel. Radio simply died. And comic books became "graphic novels."

But at least comics now have legitimacy, and writers such as British comic vet Alan Moore, who wouldn't otherwise fit his vision into any conventional art forms, can thrive. The prolific Moore, who wrote V for Vendetta and the masterpiece Watchmen, has finally completed the six comic cycle The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which he started in 1998. It's an elaborate, rococo tale set in the Victorian era.

A young woman named Wilhelmina Murray, the kind of no-nonsense lady Shaw wrote plays about, is summoned by the government to perform the task of rounding up a team of men from around the world: Captain Nemo, explorer Allan Quatermain (the first Indiana Jones), Dr. Jekyll (whose Hyde is a huge gorilla of a monster), and Hawley Griffin, the Invisible Man. Once joined together, the contentious lot take on Fu Manchu and Professor Moriarty as missiles rain down on London's decrepit East End.

The best stand up comics teach us about the real world. Radio created invisible dramas out of thin air. And graphic novels create new worlds you can lose yourself in. Most of the time we feel like scent bars at the bottom of the urinal of life; Graphic novels offer succor. Often more successfully than movies or novels, graphic novels conjure up intricate social and cultural structures wherein heroic actions are performed and delicate psychological states are studied. Moore is a master of all that. If, in the end, League is inevitably less grand than Watchmen, the reader has the pleasure of knowing that there will be further adventures with this league of men and one extraordinary woman.