With the release of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, writer Alan Moore continues his one man mission to make comics full of sex and violence into extraordinarily boring lectures about classic literature and the importance thereof. It wasn't always like this, of course; Moore's earlier work demonstrated not only a command of the comic medium unparalleled in his contemporaries but also an intelligence, wit and pop-cultural awareness that made books like Watchmen, From Hell and V For Vendetta into enjoyable genre works that made you think. Hell, even the first two series of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were fun enough in their way. But all of those books had the one thing that Black Dossier lacks: An interesting plot.
Don't get me wrong; there are a lot of things to enjoy about the 208-page secret history of Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill's super-team of fictional (and, more importantly, copyright-free) icons. But almost all of those things are to do with how impressive the pastiche-recreations of past comics, novels and illustrated-fiction pulp are ("Why, this On The Road parody is almost as unreadable as the real thing!"), or the technical novelty of a book made up of so many different forms and formats of storytelling (including, but not limited to, a Tijuana Bible written in the Newspeak language of Orwell's 1984 and 3D section, as well as maps, diagrams and recreations of the 1950s British comics that Moore was raised on) as opposed to the story such devices are in service of. Reading the book, one is distracted by, dazzled by, and ultimately pummeled over the head into submission by, the gimmickry of the book as it attempts to disguise the fact that there's very little of actual substance in the whole thing; characters are cyphers beyond whatever their historical importance may be, and plot development has been replaced by in-jokes and yet another damn reference to a book that you've heard good things about but have no desire to actually read any time soon.
The plot of the book, such as it is, centers around League members Alan Quartermain and Mina Harkness stealing the British government's files on the League and then escaping to their multi-dimensional headquarters, with that (remarkably easy) escape being broken up by portions of the files themselves. As is becoming Moore's way in the wake of his self-consciously "controversial" self-styled porn book Lost Girls, there's also some poorly written sex and embarrassing innuendo to attempt to spice things up, but like Lost Girls, it's the kind of sex-writing that makes you wonder if Moore has ever actually had sex, it's so unreal and awkward. While O'Neill's art is impressive throughout - as is the book's design and presentation, with different sections being presented on different paper stock making the patchwork nature more convincing - the lack of heart or emotional center renders everything else fairly moot. It's as if Moore was, in the end, much more interested in the source material he was ripping off instead of writing something that was of any interest on its own. In the end, The Black Dossier is a failure, but a well-executed one; a book that's easy to admire, but impossible to love.