Since our early years in the educational system, we as students have been taught to look beyond an author’s words for additional meanings in text. The lesson has been hammered in over and over– don’t judge a book by its cover, there’s more than meets the eye, don’t always take things at “face-value”. All of these phrases highlight the fact that we as humans are always looking for hidden meanings and alternative ways to view our lives. For those of us who enjoy delving into literature to unravel its subtle innuendos and allusions, Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the perfect piece to analyze.
Now, seeing as Moore’s “book” is actually a comic, some may be quick to write it off as mere entertainment, assuming that the equivalent of an adult picture book couldn’t possibly have any depth. These critics, however, would be greatly mistaken.
Take, for example, the following panel, within which our heroes Miss Murray, Mr. Quartermain, and Monsieur Dupin confront the infuriated Mr. Hyde:
Now, though one could easily be distracted by the action of this scene, a few smaller details provide the perfect example of Moore’s subtlety and love of allusions.
Besides the obvious shout-out to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Moore alludes to the infamous battle between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla with the unobtrusive electrical box on the wall, which has the name “Edison” inscribed with curling letters. Right below Edison’s name, “Teslaton” is either inscribed or scratched in, depending how one wishes to view it. The letters seem less elegant than Edison’s, so it is up to the reader to decide. Did Moore place the rival inventors’ names side by side to create a sense of unity between the two? Or is he merely highlighting their animosity by making Edison’s name more appealing than Tesla’s?
Besides alluding to the rival inventors of current, Moore also uses his comic to bring up unsettling questions regarding the inequality of the sexes. In his witty commentary at the bottom of the page, the author mentions that the upcoming panels may offend his female readers, who are “of a more delicate sensibility.” Is Moore writing with blatant sexism to highlight how prevalent this attitude was in the late 19th century? Or is he being controversial simply to get a rise out of his audience? A slight to women would obviously rub some readers the wrong way, especially those who were not gifted in recognizing satire. Also, the fact that this snarky comment is placed right next to a defenseless heroine dressed in prostitute’s clothing cannot be a complete accident. Throughout his comic, Moore is constantly portraying women, as well as many minorities, in a distinctly unfavorable light. So the question remains, is Moore a satiric genius, or just a guy who likes to rile people up? Can he be both?
These are the kinds of questions Moore’s hidden allusions and ideas bring up for the reader. The comic is not merely entertainment, but a piece of art that uses bits and pieces of history and culture to create something new altogether. While Moore’s satiric style may be offensive to some and merely ridiculous to others, no one can sensibly deny that, for a comic book, his work as an astounding amount of depth.