For regular readers of this series, which began as a sort of Victorian-era Justice League teaming the likes of Mina Harker, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jeckyll and Captain Nemo before spanning centuries to incorporate scores of other characters from fiction, film and television, part of the fun is spotting all the cameos and figuring out who certain characters (sometimes remaining nameless due to copyright regulations) are supposed to be. If you count yourself in that category, then you may wish to read no further until you've perused the book yourself, because I'm going to reveal some of the spy characters populating the latest volume. But I'm not planning to spoil any plot details.
Century: 2009, the final part of the "Century Trilogy," takes place (obviously) in 2009. In keeping with the modern Bond films, M (the nomenclature is a fixture of the series) is now a woman. In a rather delightful twist, however, we soon piece together that this elegant older woman is Emma Peel! (She even keeps a framed photo of Steed on her desk.) Em (get it?) has grown disillusioned over the years with the original James Bond (Moore's supposed take on the literary 007, whose character actually bears no resemblance to Ian Fleming's creation, even if artist Kevin O'Neill nails the physical appearance), but because of his notoriety it's suited her to continue to employ "increasingly younger stand-ins" who carry on his name and number. These stand-ins, codenamed J1 through J6, of course bear the respective likenesses of Sean Connery (the version of 007 seen in the last volume), Roger Moore (perhaps supposed to be Simon Templar himself recruited to fill the shoes of James Bond?), Timothy Dalton (in the weakest likeness), Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig (in the best likeness). Later in the story, Emma comes to the rescue in a Rolls Royce along with appropriately aged companions Tara King and Purdey! (This version of Purdey is a clever amalgamation of Purdey and Joanna Lumley's Absolutely Fabulous character Patsy.) In what reads as a very nice sort of epilogue to The Avengers, Emma explains that they're all very loyal to each other, adding, "I suppose it's that we all used to be in love with the same man." Soon enough Cathy Gale is also in the picture, but this version of Cathy also owes something to another famous Honor Blackman spy character: she "has some experience as a flight instructress" as well as some lesbian tendencies! Lesser spy cameos in the book (I mean lesser in that they don't have speaking roles) include Spooks' Harry and Ruth, 24's President David Palmer and Burn Notice's Michael Westen (by reference, anyway) and, in a particularly amusing single-panel appearance, The Prisoner himself, Number 6.
Moore is clearly fond of The Avengers, so he treats them pretty well. As I said above, the portrayal of the ladies of The Avengers is really quite moving, making this comic a must-buy for fans of that series on the eve of Steed and Emma's official return to comics in Boom!'s upcoming Steed and Mrs. Peel series. As he made abundantly clear in Black Dossier, however, Moore has no love whatsoever for James Bond, and therefore treats him rather ruthlessly. (I have to say, I was disappointed that someone who's clearly so well read and such a lover of classic adventure fiction as Moore would rely on preconceived notions about Fleming's Bond based more on trendy, ill-informed lit-crit and some of the early movie appearances than the actual novels themselves. Among the myriad slanders he levied against 007, he made the character a habitual woman-beater. Had he read Fleming's short story "The Hildebrand Rarity," Moore would know that Fleming's Bond disdains such men.) The original Bond, now in his 90s, is subjected to one final insult... but nothing so bad as in Black Dossier. In fact, I was quite amused to see a nonagenarian "Sir James" wheelchair-bound and breathing through an oxygen tank (thanks to "cirrhosis, emphysema and syphilis..." all in all a much fairer portrayal of the original Book Bond!), but still looked after by a comely nurse nonetheless.
In this volume, Moore's misdirected outrage is mainly reserved for Harry Potter. Poor Harry is portrayed as something much worse than 007, and jabs at J.K. Rowling about "sloppily-defined magical principles" like "a child's idea of how [things] work" take on a definite pot-kettle quality coming from the creator of this very universe we're reading about, equally brilliant and equally flawed—especially when it comes to sloppily-defined principles. (See: the "Blazing World" in Black Dossier, a haven for fictional characters within an entire universe populated exclusively by fictional characters!) Despite these jabs, however, the jeers at Harry Potter's expense seem a bit more good-natured than those directed at James Bond. Alan Moore's primary problem with both of them, it seems, is that they're too modern for his liking, and therefore part of a declining culture that's "fallen apart... by becoming irrelevant."
I love Alan Moore's writing. He's produced some of the greatest literary works of our modern declining culture, among them Watchmen, V For Vendetta and even the aforementioned Black Dossier, every bit as brilliant as it is flawed and the true masterpiece of the League series. But he's become a grumpy old man. (Okay; perhaps he was always a grumpy old man.) His recent outrage at the idea of DC producing new comics without Moore's involvement about the characters he created in Watchmen seemed more than a little hypocritical coming from a man who's made a career out of appropriating other authors' characters (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Lost Girls) and putting them in predicaments that almost certainly would have appalled those authors! And if he truly believes that Harry Potter represents the nadir of Western Civilization, then I suspect he's either suffering from a bout of jealousy or else he really does believe that culture of the past will always remain infinitely superior to culture of the present day. And if that's the case, then I'm not sure it's culture that's fallen apart by becoming irrelevant... or the author himself. I think there's a tendency among cultural historians and particularly pop culture historians (especially those who write blogs about it, speaking of pots and kettles) to elevate the past at the expense of the present. I'm as guilty of it as anyone; I admit that I, too, would generally prefer a spy film or TV show from the Sixties to one from this decade. However... that doesn't mean that I completely close my mind to the idea that a great one could come along again at any moment. (See: Homeland. Or Casino Royale.) I don't think anyone should ever do that. Because when you close your mind that much, that's when culture truly falls apart. Not when a woman with a ridiculously fertile imagination creates a magical world that resonates so much with an entire generation of children that her books succeed in luring them away from their consoles and back into bookstores for the first time in ages.
But I digress. Am I reading too much into this comic book? Perhaps; perhaps not. Moore's writing encourages such obsessive analysis. But at the end of the day, whatever the author's agenda, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009 still rates among the most entertaining comics I've read this year. And despite his thinly coded complaints about the state of popular culture, I believe that entertainment is still Moore's primary goal with this series. Here, he succeeds admirably, and I would recommend this book (indeed, the whole Century trilogy) to any spy fans (especially Avengers fans) or fans of classic literature and popular culture in general.