Kevin O’Neill was a legend.

An extraordinary gentlemen in his own right. He sadly passed away earlier this month. An artist whose unique style the Comics Code Authority attempted to ban in the mid ’80s over a Green Lantern Corps story, O’Neill was originally widely known for his collaborations with Pat Mills, co-creating Nemesis the Warlock and Marshal Law. His art was perfect for horror and satire, with lanky, angular characters often feeling a bit top heavy and strangely proportioned, fine-lined and full of action. It was a simple style, but deceptive into how much detail he could pack into a panel, how many hidden characters were littered in crowds, and how versatile he could be to change aspects of his style to fit a story. This latter skill on full display during his 20 year journey alongside Alan Moore with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, culminating in volume 4, The Tempest, from Moore, O’Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw, and Todd Klein.

The first two volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were fairly straight-forward adventure stories, featuring a kind of superhero team of literary characters brought together to stop world-ending threats from other literary pieces. Then The Black Dossier came out and things got weird. The story fractured, became non-linear, and began to incorporate various different storytelling forms rather than just comics (or the illustrated prose that served as back-up material in the first two volumes). The third volume, Century, and the Nemo standalone spin-offs dialed things back a bit, but the ambitious storytelling style returned for the final volume and it was pretty glorious.

The Tempest is a tour de force of masters working at the top of their game. Following the three survivors from the end of Century, Mina Murray, Orlando, and Emma Knight (Mrs. Emma Peel from The Avengers, with the serials filed off because of copyright) have to fight against a government turned against them by a dastardly James Bond and try to save the other lands of fiction. Along with a concurrent narrative of a superhero group, one of their number back from the future trying to prevent cataclysm. And a whole lot more.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

While at first glance the shifting styles and formats of the story—working through a variety of comics formats from standard North American pacing to black and white comic strips, the fanciful layouts of Little Nemo to a pastiche of the thrills of 2000 AD, with 3D sequences, more illustrated prose, and the types of comics you might find in a Boy’s Own style magazinemight seem chaotic, but it beautifully fits the wide breadth of sources that Moore, O’Neill, Dimagmaliw, and Klein are drawing from. It pulls together from so many different sources, you feel like you’d benefit from a guidebook, but it still succeeds to be enjoyable on a surface level. Provided, of course, you’ve been reading all of the series. This isn’t really one to dip your toe in first, as it brings together all of the disparate threads of narrative since the first volume to deliver a final hurrah.

The star throughout the story being the astounding visuals. Each sequence showcasing the versatility and imaginations of O’Neill, Dimagmaliw, and Klein. O’Neill shifts his style to fit the individual inspiration, Klein changes how he approaches the titles and lettering to mimic the format, and Dimagmaliw follows with his colours. It’s beautiful, thoughtful work ever-propelling the story forward. There’s really nothing else out there that chronicles and plays with comics history in this fashion and it makes you want to pore through it with a fine tooth comb just to see the rich celebration of the form.

I think The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an exquisite work as a whole. It started as clever literary adventure and blossomed into a once-in-a-lifetime masterwork. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Volume IV: The Tempest by Moore, O’Neill, Dimagmaliw, and Klein is the capstone to an amazing journey through literature and imagination, capturing the best of the Victorian era and building it out through pulp, comics, fable, and beyond. Leaving a fitting legacy for O’Neill that will live on.

Classic Comic Compendium: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Volume IV: The Tempest

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Volume IV: The Tempest

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Colourist: Ben Dimagmaliw
Letterer: Todd Klein
Publisher: Top Shelf & Knockabout
Welcome to the story to end all stories. Two decades of literary League lunacy have all been building to this, the most ambitious meta-comic imaginable.
After an epic twenty-year journey through the entirety of human culture-the biggest cross-continuity ‘universe’ that is conceivable-Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill conclude both their legendary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and their equally legendary comic-book careers with the series’ spectacular fourth and final volume, The Tempest. Tying up the slenderest of plot threads and allusions from the three preceding volumes, The Black Dossier, and the Nemo trilogy into a dazzling and ingenious bow, the world’s most accomplished and bad-tempered artist-writer team use their most stylistically adventurous outing yet to display the glories of the medium they are leaving; to demonstrate the excitement that attracted them to the field in the first place; and to analyse, critically and entertainingly, the reasons for their departure.
Release Date: January 7, 2020

Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!