Every month NNE is inviting guest contributors to send us their materialized brainwaves for our Fun and Feature section. This month we give you the brilliance of Mirthe Marianne Apollonia Geerlings. Mirthe just finished her B.A. in English literature in Amsterdam and is curating her first exhibition this year. Mirthe is also a massive nerd for comic books. For her contribution this month she sent her most recent comic analysis, to give you a short introduction to comic-geekiness.
Here’s contribution number three: Lifted over the Masses: Intertextuality in The League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The adventures of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen take place in an alternate world where Emile Zola’s Nana can be brutally mauled by an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr Hyde. By intertwining figures from literary fiction and rendering them into the superhero comics, Alan Moore built on the premise of both genres: recognition and intertextuality.
Volume one of the series exposes well known characters, such as Allan Quatermain and Mina Harker as superheroes. Their extraordinary powers lie mostly in their individuality: few of the league have actual superhuman abilities, but all of them are outcasts from regular society. Goldman points out how this division is visualized through the League’s ascension over gazing masses into the London skies: it liberalizes their “rise above the mundane.” Moreover, it emphasizes the text’s superiority from mainstream comic books. The superhero relies on the public’s familiarity with them – that is why new heroes are introduced through known characters and publications.
Recognizing the persona aids to embedding it into the (collective) cultural consciousness. In Volume One of The League this recognition is also crucial to plot, as “Moore incorporates moments of recognition into the narrative.” (Included in the crowd are Dickens’ Artful Dodger and his band of boys. One may wonder whether this implies that Moore’s creation thus triumphs Dickens’s Oliver Twist.) The text thus does two things that modernist texts do too: it both relies on the readers’ recognition of intertextual references, and it points beyond itself. When Wilhelmina Murray sighs she “had heard better” of Quatermain, the reader is invited to remember King Solomon’s Mines, but we are also made aware that the author remembers it too. Goldman offers that this does more than merely writing itself into “the elite side” of culture. It elevates the author into the modernist notion of star author, of literary celebrity.
By taking the traditional American superhero paradigm across time and space into the heyday of the British Empire, Moore played with early modern notions, such as the rise and recognition of the individual over the masses. At first glance the idea of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen may seem far fetched. The reason behind its success is a mundane one: through Moore’s literary cavorite the reader can imagine himself lifted over the masses.
by Mirthe Marianne Apollonia Geerlings