League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century - 1969 sees Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's Britannic literary superteam in Love Generation London, where Aleister Crowley analogue Oliver Haddo conspires with Terner Purple, a thinly veiled reference to Mick Jagger's role in the rock-and-roll drama Performance.
In other words, Moore's back to his labyrinthine "all fiction in one universe" scavenger hunt that will enthrall some readers and see others quizzically yearning for the expository bluntness of the Sean Connery movie.
The second installment of Moore and O'Neill's Century trilogy whisks the team away to the London of 1969, where space cadets loaded on Tadukic Acid Diethylamide rub shoulders with gangsters and the occult underground. This volume's iteration of the League is the most pared down we've seen yet — there's the undying ménage à trois of Orlando, Allan Quartermain, and Mina Harker, and even that's disintegrating.
Immortal boredom and sexual malaise is fracturing the group, which is thrust into spur-of-the-moment investigation of Haddo. Across town, the titular gunman from Get Carter has his own reasons for seeking out the diabolist. And throughout it all, Kevin O'Neill does a tremendous job of making it look like Wavy Gravy's fever dream.
Chapter 2: Paint It Black is nestled firmly between its setting's free-love proclivities and the career trajectory of a post-Lost Girls Alan Moore, so there's nudity a-go-go in this volume. Breasts and sundry waggling genitalia are guaranteed almost every other page, including a horrifying eyeball erection that makes its appearance during the book's trippy astral plane sequence. But even more legion than the crotch shots are the comics' many winks and nods to narratives of the 1960s, many of which will go over your head without io9 contributor Jess Nevins' trusty annotations — just check out Alan Moore's version of "Sympathy for the Devil."
In the first two volumes of League — the Cavorite escapade and Martian invasion — the public-domain protagonists were classic characters of speculative fiction. You may not have recognized Rupert the Bear amongst Dr. Moreau's freakshow menagerie, but not knowing this didn't derail the narrative for you. Since The Black Dossier, Moore hasn't stopped holding the reader's hand, he's plunging it into a vat of sulfuric acid — you accept your head getting lighter or get the hell out of there.
This isn't a bad thing, mind you. I'm kind of in awe of Moore's attempts to cram all of fiction into one collective universe, and it's a pleasure to learn something along the way — for example, The Black Dossier's tale of the French counter-League taught me who the Nyctalope was. And it's fun when you do catch a reference — Moore manages to tuck in nods to the Rutles, The Wire, and one of J.K. Rowling's wand-wielding nasties. But despite the author's affinity for fictional bands, my search for one of Spinal Tap's earlier incarnations was sadly fruitless.
In the end, The Black Dossier is a good litmus test if you'll enjoy 1969 — in both books, Moore's world-building supersedes the League's exploits. The League's always been a dysfunctional bunch with a string of qualified victories to their name, but in 1969 they're at the zenith of barely getting the job done. Indeed, the League is secondary to the setting in this volume, and if you can live with Quartermain not firing his elephant gun, there's a lot to dig here.