by Jess Nevins
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 2008, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill published the third volume in their League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, The Black Dossier. Unlike earlier versions which were originally published as serials following the exploits of the entire league, first against Professor Moriarty and Fu Manchu, and then against Martian invaders, the third volume is set many years alter, in the 1950s and follows Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain as they attempt to get the Black Dossier, a government journal of their exploits, and escape the remains of Big Brother's post-war government. With the release of a League book, which is filled with references, both obvious and esoteric, to popular culture, one can also look forward to Jess Nevins's most recent book of annotations, Impossible Territories.
Nevins began annotating The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with the first volume and Heroes and Monsters, following the second volume with The Burning World. In Impossible Territories, he takes the same detailed approach to The Black Dossier. Prior to appearing in book form, many of these annotations appeared on Nevins's website, allowing readers to comment on their accuracy, or possibly add references that Nevins initially missed. However, even with those additions, the range of allusions in the Black Dossier and that Nevins was able to define are simply incredible. At times, although still rarely, Nevins offers additional comments and corrections to his suppositions offered by Black Dossier illustrator Kevin O'Neill.
In addition to O'Neill's interjections, Impossible Territories includes a wonderful, although too brief, introduction by Alan Moore. Moore's imprimatur on Nevins's work is especially significant given various ownership issues Moore has had with his creations. Moore refers to some of these issues in his introduction. Moore goes into more depth on this and other issues in the lengthy interview with Nevins that closes out Impossible Territories.
There are two annoyances with the manner in which Impossible Territories is structured. The first is that in order to note where the allusions occur in The Black Dossier, Nevins refers to their location by page number and frame. Unfortunately, The Black Dossier, itself, does not contain page numbers. This is slight helped by the fact that the graphic novel portion of the book is interspersed with textual based sections. Where these occur, Nevins refers to page one of that section by name, allowing the reader to work backwards or forwards to figure out where the graphic annotations are referring to.
The other is that often Nevins refers to something with the promise that he will explain it at greater detail later in Impossible Territories. This cross referencing is understandable if seen through the assumption that the reader has not yet read The Black Dossier and therefore doesn't want plot spoilers. However, there is a good possibility (probability?) that all readers of Impossible Territories have already read The Black Dossier and are using Nevins's reference to flesh out the details of Moore and O'Neill's complex and literary world.
Impossible Territories is an indispensable work for any fan of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It makes the apparently random and inconsequential references in The Black Dossier's text and illustrations come to life and add further dimensions to the story, as well as provide pointers to the popular literature of the mid-twentieth century, stories which were once popular, but have fallen by the wayside as new styles of fiction and other media gain the ascendancy. Furthermore, Nevins details these allusions with wit and erudition.
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