Sunday, 30 March 2014

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin review

“Don’t look surprised. You’re my daughter. And sometimes . . . Sometimes I am sentimental.”
While waiting for Nemo: Roses of Berlin to be published, I took the time to reread the excellent first entry in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sub-series focusing on Janni Dakkar, daughter of the original Captain Nemo. Nemo: Heart of Ice is as excellent, if not slightly better, with each subsequent read. It was my third time reading it since it was originally released about a year ago. There is so much to love and enjoy about that comic but what really throws it over the top for me is the works on which the main plot is based: a combination of influences mixing together Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and H. P. Lovecraft to name only the most well-known and obvious sources. I also really liked personal and deeply emotional journey that Janni goes though. The horrors she experiences in Antarctica had such an impact on her that she’s returned from her travels a new person, completely changed by the experience. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for the follow-up.

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin is the second in a planned trilogy of comics focusing on Janni Dakkar, the Captain Nemo of the early 20th Century. It’s a continuation of the comic and the prose story found in the first volume, the story of the marriage of Janni and Broad Arrow Jack’s daughter, Hira, and a French pilot Armand Robur. The year in 1941 and the Nautilus has just raided a German shipping vessel and they find out that Janni’s daughter and her son-in-law have been captured and our being held in Berlin. The kidnapping was done in order to lure Janni and Jack in Berlin so that German’s remaining Twillight Heroes could carry out their order to kill them. The comic is about the two-man rescue operation and the secrets that Janni and Jack uncover while in the city.

Like all the other League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories, this one is filled with various references to other works of fiction in several mediums. The time and place at which the story occurs allowed for inspiration of sources which we haven’t witnessed much in the series so far such as the films of German Expressionists. One character in particular resembles the robot Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Moore also has the clever idea to use Charlie Chaplin’s Hynkel, from The Great Dictator, as a substitute for Hitler. As always, Jess Nevins’ annotations are indispensable for the serious League fan. At least, those who care to know every single reference made in the text. To be honest, I catch on to about a quarter and even that is generous for some of the most reference heavy volumes such as The Black Dossier. Part of the enjoyment of reading the annotations is that I get to see how many of them I got correct. I don’t get all of them right, and that’s fine, but it adds an additional layer of depth to the work that I rather appreciate even if I probably don’t enjoy it nearly as much as other fans of the series. One of the best things about the annotations this time around is the translation for all of the German dialogue. There was more than what I would have liked but O’Neil really rises to the challenge to carry the narrative weight on the all-German pages.

In each volume since the trade paperback of the first mini-series, a prose story has been included with each one of the stories. They haven’t all had the same degree of success but the ones included in these last two stories are particularly enjoyable. Perhaps it’s because their focus is more closely related to the story being told in comic form though The Black Dossier also had plenty of prose directly related to the story being told in that particular volume. There reason they’re good is that they’re well written. Moore writes as journalist Hildy Johnson and her trips to Lincoln Island where she first recounts the story of Hira and Armand’s wedding and in this latest story, she comes out of retirement to visit Janni while she and her family celebrate her 70th birthday. Moore used the text portions to chronicle the events happening between each issues of Century and he does the same thing here. He also takes the time to provide additional information on the other characters, drop a few more references (such as the Nautilus battling Godzilla during the late fifties) and giving us a big tease for the next volume. The only thing I don’t like about the prose is just how few drawings O’Neil does. There are some really awesome things he could be adding to the mix and I wish he could do more.

I really like these comics. Not only are they a great continuation of one of my favourite comics by Alan Moore, they’re really great stories on their own. It’s also great that Kevin O’Neil continues to provide the art as he’s as he’s an integral part of why I love the series. It’s become impossible for me to disassociate the characters in this series with their original versions (be they found in novels or other media). There is a nice connection to the core League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series but they present stories and adventures that are detached from what occurred in the main series. The events of Century and the Nemo stories take place concurrently when you look at the larger continuity but when you take a closer look you can see how the stories weave around one another.

More than the others, the Nemo volumes feel and look like important comics. I don’t just say this because of how the comic looks and feel like European comics. Each of the volumes is a slim hardcover and contain 50 or so pages. It’s not just a comic, it’s a work of art, its presentation makes it look important and the story and art inside back that up. The only advertisements you’ll see here are those created by the Moore, O’Neil and the rest of the creative team. Though they’re not as experimental and dense as Black Dossier, Moore and O’Neil have found what I think is the ideal format for their series with the Nemo volumes.

There is a pretty strong continuation from Nemo: Heart of Ice. It’s very nice especially when you stop and consider the less than satisfying flow of the three 80-page issue of Century. This strong sense of continuity has been less effective over the last few League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories but Moore and O’Neil have both regain their footing. Once again, Janni survives a gruelling experience and she’s changed because of it. In Heart of Ice she struggled with her father’s legacy but in The Roses of Berlin, it’s her past accomplishments that came back to haunt her. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen started out as a Victorian superhero comic but it’s since expanded to bed a universe in which all fictional characters coexist and the creators have used this as the setting for some fantastic stories. It’s difficult to express just how appreciative I am that Moore and O’Neil have gone and created two very personal, emotionally driven stories in a series that has steadily grown in size and scope since it first appeared back in 1999. It might only be 56 page long but Nemo: The Roses of Berlin is clearly one of the stand-out comics of 2014 and I expect the next instalment will be just as good.

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