Saturday, 2 March 2013

Nemo: Heart of Ice review

Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series is some of my favourite work by Moore. It’s also one of the best comics of the last ten years. The series had been marked by a less than conventional publication history, beginning as a two mini-series followed by a hardcover graphic novel and, after that, a third series published in annual 80 page instalments. Moore and O’Neil told the story of the League from the end of the 19th Century to the first decade of the 21st Century. Having apparently nowhere else to go, they decided to tell one-off stories focusing on single characters and events from the long history of the League. Nemo: Heart of Ice, is the first of these one-shot stories. It is a story focusing on Janni Dakkar, daughter of Captain Nemo (from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea). I have to say, I enjoyed it a great deal.

The story focuses on Janni and how she deals with her father’s legacy. The story takes place in 1925, fifteen years after reluctantly accepting the mantle of Captain Nemo. For the last fifteen years she has followed in his footsteps, all the while improving on some of his inventions, adding new members to her crew and transforming the island which her father, and now she, calls home. She acts as if she’s her father’s successor, she acts as if she knew the man but it’s all a lie. She knows of his accomplishments, she knows of his inventions, she knows his crew and loved ones but she doesn’t really know him at all. She’s haunted by this and by choosing to undergo his most disastrous expedition, she hopes to put her father’s memory to rest by succeeding where he father could not. She decides to go on this adventure all the while ignoring the needs and desires of her faithful crew.

She’s going on this expedition for herself. Her crew doesn’t wish to go, they’re pirates. All they want to do is take what they need, as well as what they want, and live a relatively peaceful life when they’re not stealing and pillaging. However, in part because they’re faithful to Janni, but also because they feel an obligation to her father, they follow Janni to the ends of the Earth. Along the way some of them will willingly give her their lives and their souls hoping she will be able to find what she so desperately wants.

The story isn’t about the expedition and whether or not it will be a success. The story is more personal than that, it’s the story of Janni and how she deals with her father’s overbearing influence on everything she does. The difficulties of the physical journey through Antarctica parallel the difficulties of her more personally journey taking place within herself. At the beginning of the book she’s constantly asking herself if her father had done this and will she be able to do it better. Towards the end, she stops nearly all mentions of her father. It’s not about him anymore. Her journey to Antarctica has be transformative.
Janni and her crew attacking a port in New York.

In the end, Janni comes to an important realization that the time of great adventurers and super scientists is over. By pursuing that same path and attempting to reach the same heights will only resolve in unnecessary trauma, pain and suffering. Instead, this new generation of adventurers and scientists should concentrate on forging/creating a new path no matter how unimportant and banal it may seem. What’s sad about Janni’s growth as a person is its cyclical nature. Fifteen years before the events of Nemo: Heart of Ice, Janni was refusing to follow in her father’s footsteps. Having always felt rejected by her father for being a girl, she wanted to be her own person. Due to the events in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 she gave in to her father’s wishes and became Nemo, Pirate Queen for a decade in a have. After years of unnecessary struggles, she can once again be, simply, Janni.

Kevin O’Neil’s art excels with this type of story. His work had lost something important in Century. The tone was very different and the panels where too small and there weren’t enough fantastic and otherworldly things for him to draw. O’Neil is very, very good at drawing otherworldly things and Moore gives him dozens of opportunities to draw such things in this book. It’s some of his best art in many years and I hope Moore continues to write League stories which allow O’Neil to impress me such as he did here.

Nemo: Heart of Ice, is a bit of a throwback to the earlier stories of the League. It’s an adventure story with familiar literary characters and settings based on a few classic stories. This time Moore is influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and H. P. Lovecraft. Unlike with Black Dossier and Century, Moore seems focused on telling the story more than he is on cramming in as many references and literary allusions as possible. No need to worry, there are still plenty of that sort of things for those who really like it. It just doesn’t get in the way of the actual story and it’s quite nice. In short, Nemo: Heart of Ice, is the story of an adventure, of the anger of an African Queen who’s belongings were stolen, it’s about sons and daughters dealing with the accomplishments of their parents, it’s about super science and lighting guns, giant penguins, aliens, lost and hidden cities and most of all it’s about personal growth. This newest story in the League saga revitalises my enthusiasm for the series and the stories still to come. I look forward to the next instalment by Moore and O’Neil. 

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