Books: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Our modern idea of the cape, cowl & tights superhero is often traced back to the 1938 debut of Superman. There were plenty of “superheroes” before then, of course, but we didn’t recognize them as such: Zorro, Gilgamesh, Hercules, etc. But clever, clever Alan Moore has rounded up a bunch of these pre-Superman fictitious heroes and given them their own comic book entitled The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; the first six issues of said series (which constitute a complete story) have now been compiled into a trade paperback, which I read over the weekend.

And what a great read it was. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen begins in 1898 (one century prior to the comic book’s publication), and the “heroes” are taken from the literature of the time: the swashbuckling Allan Quatermain, the mysterious Mina Murry, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin, and both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (If some of those names fail to ring a bell, don’t worry: half the fun of the story is discovering who each person is as the tale progresses.) The five are recruited by Campion Bond, agent of English Intelligence and emissary of a cryptic figure known as “M”, who has assembled the team to save Britain from a threat as dangerous as it is enigmatic. And so begins a series of adventures which brings the team into contact with Auguste Dupin, Fu Manchu, and a host of other characters throughout the Europe of the late nineteenth century.

The wonderful thing about the heroes in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is that few of them are heroes, and most don’t even qualify as “gentlemen”. Quatermain is an opium fiend; Mr. Hyde is a (literal) monster; Hawley Griffin is, frankly, an asshole. They act not for love of England (Nemo, in fact, loathes the Empire and all it stands for), but for private motives and personal gain. In other words, the characters in the comic books are every bit as complex and interesting as the literary figures they are based on. Furthermore, the story told in the first six issues is what would have been called a “ripping good yarn” at the time, full of humor, drama, and more twists than the Thames river.

I have quite a few graphic novels and trade paperbacks on my bookshelf, but most date back to the era when I was an avid comic book reader: The Dark Knight Returns, Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunter and the like. In the last ten years I have picked up a few more, but it’s been rare to find one as good as the Silver Age classics (although a few have qualified, such as Kingdom Come and the Astro City compilations). And none that i have acquired in recent memory have risen to the level of The Watchmen and V For Vendetta, my two favorites. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, however, now joins their ranks, giving Alan Moore a hat trick as he sweeps my top three. If you are a comics fan — or even if you once were and want to re-experience the thrill you used to feel when reading a first-rate series — this is one to pick up.

Postscript 1: Quick! If you’re gonna read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, do so now, before the movie comes out and fucks it up!

Postscript 2: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is only one of a number of new series that Moore is writing for America’s Best Comics, and I have read the trade paperbacks for a few of the others. Although none were as marvelous as League, I would still recommend Tom Strong, which is something of a homage to the golden age of Superman. I wasn’t gaga over either Top Ten or Promethea, though.


I broke down and got one of those Razor Scooters. I waited a little while before buying one because I wanted to make sure that the whole scooter thing wasn’t going to turn out to be just a passing fad or something, but I finally couldn’t wait any longer. Ya gotta strike while the iron is in the fire, you know? Anyhow, I rode it to work today — man, it’s totally sweet. I loved the way it felt when the wind was blowing through my goatee. I didn’t see anyone else was riding one, which is cool because I hate it when things like this get all popular and shit, where everyone is doing it. But it looks like I’m still ahead of the curve.

Also, the other day I bought this decal that was like the, whattayacallit, Christian fish thing, the Jesus Fish or whatever, except this one had legs and it said “Darwin” on it! I’d tell you where I bought it but I don’t want, like, everyone to rush out and get one.


Our cat, Edgar, is a full-on plastiophage: shrink wrap, Ziploc bags, bubble paper, shower curtains — if it’s plastic, he’ll eat it. Grocery bags fear him. Coke bottles tremble in his presence. When we put strips of double-sided tape on the back of our couch to deter the kitties from scratching it, he immediately pulled it off and wolfed it down. Per annium, Edgar consumes more petroleum than an SUV.

The thought of this stuff navigating his digestive tract makes me wonder if we should consult a vet about this. On the other hand, having each of his feces individually wrapped in cellophane makes cleaning the little box quite a bit easier, so I guess I’ll let it slide for now.


Amazing Patriot Act 2! Click Here!

(By the way, here’s an excerpt from the aforementioned First American, a letter that Benjamin Franklin wrote to Pennsylvania Governor Robert Norris:

How odious it must be to a sensible manly people, to find him who ought to be their father and protector, taking advantage of public calamity and distress, and their tenderness for their bleeding country, to force down their throats laws of imposition, abhorrent to common justice and common reason! Why will [he] make himself the hateful instrument of reducing a free people to the abject state of vassalage; of depriving us of those liberties which have given reputation to our country throughout the world?

Feel free to cut and paste that into your email to the White House concerning the Patriot Act II legislation.)

Books: The First American

When strangers on the street approach and demand that I list my heroes, I can usually only cough up Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and The Guy Who Got Into The Guinness Book Of World Records By Eating a Bicycle before I start to founder and resort to fictitious characters like The Powerpuff Girls and God. But thanks to The First Amercian, I can now tack one more name onto the litany: Good Ol’ Benjamin Franklin.

The First American is a book about Franklin, but it’s also a book about the creation of the United States — indeed, it would be impossible to write one story without telling the other. Franklin was born in 1706, at the moment in history when the first fissures of discontent were beginning to appear between Britain and her New World colony; he died in 1790, shortly after the Constitution of the United States had been ratified. Franklin almost seems like the physical embodiment of the revolutionary spirit, the very incarnation of America’s evolution. Had Franklin not existed, historians would have had to invent him as a literary device.

But Benjamin Franklin was very much a flesh-and-blood human being, and his world apart from politics was as fascinating as his role as statesman. Author H. W. Brands covers all aspects of Franklin’s life: his siring of an illegitimate son (who later went on to give Franklin an illegitimate grandson), his rise prominence through his work with electricity, his assorted occupations (printer, postmaster, diplomats) and inventions (the lightening rod, bifocals, daylight savings time), all the way up to the various medical afflictions that plagued him over the last years of his life. All this serves to portray Franklin as a human rather than simply a mythical figure. The Queen recently started reading the acclaimed biography John Adams, but soon gave up, complaining that author spent so much time lauding the man that she never felt like she got to know him. This is not a flaw that The First Amercian shares.

In the epilogue, Brands points out the the title of the book has a double meaning. Franklin was the “First American” chronologically, because he was perhaps the first person in a position of power to recognize that the United States would eventually have to break it’s bonds with the Old World. But he was also the “first” in the sense of being “the first among equals,” a man committed to egalitarianism despite his extraordinary gifts. Franklin was the prototypical Amercian writ large: intelligent (though sometimes too clever for his own good), proud (sometimes to the point of arrogance), steadfast (sometimes to the point of stubbornness), convivial (sometimes to the point of carnality), and, above all, protean enough to take everything fate handed him and maintain a sense of humor.

I’ve always had an affinity for Bennie F., because, of all the forefathers, he always struck me as the most accessible to an everyday shmoe like me: Washington seems too militant and noble, Jefferson seems entirely too smart, John Adams seems a bit too politician-ie, etc. But in Benjamin Franklin we have a man who not only served as midwife to the nation, but also wrote folksy almanacs, coined (and often stole) clever sayings, and was always willing to admit his character flaws even while urging others to overcome their own. Franklin may have been a great thinker and unparalleled diplomat, but he was also America’s first “guy”. That’s someone I’m happy to cite as a hero.


Sometimes I have what I believe to be a moderately humorous idea, but when I actually write it down it turns out to be a bit funnier than I anticipated.

And then, other times …

See, Saddam is, like, totally dead, right? But the Iraqi leadership doesn’t want people to know that. So it’s just like that 80’s movie, you know, about the two guys and the corpse? So — hah hah! — if I take the poster from that flick and PhotoShop Saddam’;s face onto it, ho boy, that’s gonna be a ri-ot!

Yeah, some thing are funnier in theory …

Update: Ha! Proof positive that no joke is so flaccid that someone won’t claim it as their own. Oh well, you know what they say: getting ripped off by a Live Journal User is the highest form of flattery. And his version looks better than mine, so more power to ‘im.

Update: Upon closer inspection I realize that I have been ripped off by a Xanga User, which is only the eleventh highest form of flattery. I guess I won’t be mentioning this on my resume after all.

Update: Dear Lord! I traced the “plagerized” image back to its source, and found it posted here three days ago! I suppose this could be construed as evidence that my “joke” was unoriginal in addition to falling flat, but I’m sticking to my “rip off artists / time travel” theory all the same.

Update: Thievery!!!

Common Courtesy

The light switches to “Walk” and I step off the curb. A third of the way across the street, however, I catch some rapid movement out of the corner of my eye and, upon turning my head, see a large, SUVish vehicle bearing down on me at a speed best described as “worrisome”. As I quicken my pace and prepare to leap out of the way, the man behind the wheel (Jackie Chan, from the looks of him) notices the red light, slams on his brakes, and manages to arrest his behemoth a foot or so from my left hip.

Somewhat shaken I continue crossing, but glance backwards just in time to see the driver lean out his window, gesticulate at me furiously, and yell “YOU’RE WELCOME!!”