HEROES AND MONSTERS
by Jess Nevins
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
A couple of years ago, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill published a six issue comic series with America's Best Comics entitled The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The series, which followed a nineteenth century group of heroes including Mina Murray from Dracula, H. Rider Haggard's Sir Allan Quatermain, Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, H.G. Wells's Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, gained a following and spawned a film which did not live up to the promise of the book. In addition to the obvious literary and historical tributes in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore and O'Neill included more obscure references. For the reader who wants to be in on all the jokes, Jess Nevins has provided Heroes and Monsters: The Unofficial Companion to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Nevins does an excellent job providing a page by page, frame by frame explanation of what the author and illustrator have included in the book, using the hardcover collection of the six issues as his guide. In order to provide the reader with this guide, Nevins lists the page and frame number for each entry. Unfortunately, the page numbers are not listed in the compendium of issues, which means the reader must keep careful track of the pages to which Nevins refers.
Nevins does not just stop at providing the background needed for complete enjoyment of the comic, but includes the textual story "Allan and the Sundered Veil" which appears after the illustrated portion of the book, as well as the cover illustrations and portraits of the characters provided at the end of the book. Nevins's inclusion of this material demonstrates how integral it is to Moore and O'Neal's image of what they were doing with the League.
Although billed as an "unofficial companion," the fact that Alan Moore provided the introduction and agred to a lengthy interview with Nevins, which is also included in Heroes and Monsters, provides an air of authority to the book, although it is clear that Nevins's conclusions about the allusions in the comic are his own. This is supported by the fact that throughout the book, O'Neill provided brief notes when Nevins points out unintentional homages.
While The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen provides entertaining reading on its own, taken in conjunction with Heroes and Monsters, it becomes an even more incredible book. Heroes and Monsters allows the reader to share the private jokes as well as the literary and historical allusions. Furthermore, while a reader may catch the allusions in the comic, Heroes and Monsters provides more detailed information about where the reader can follow up on the allusions.
Nevins provides an excellent resource in Heroes and Monsters, demonstrating that a "simple comic book" can be much more complex and literate than the stereotypical view of the medium. Fans of Moore and O'Neill's books will enjoy the prospect of revisiting them with this guide to the intricacies of their work.
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