Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lovecraft and the Heart of Ice: Nemo Reviewed

Nemo: Heart of Ice
A new League of Extraordinary Gentleman story
by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
Top Shelf and Knockabout, 2013
Nemo: Heart of Ice is the latest graphic novella from Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill set in their League of Extraordinary Gentleman universe. In essence, a spin-off; unlike their previous novellas that make up the Century trilogy, this is a stand alone tale utilizing the rich setting and cribbed public domain characters and concepts that makes their League work so much fun, and without necessarily playing a specific role in the Mina Murray stories that make up most of the League mythos.

We open in 1925 with Janni Dakkar (the new Captain Nemo first powerfully introduced in Century: 1910) and her crew of pirates as they rob a mysterious and influential monarch of her treasure. Soon, via Charles Foster Kane, a group of Americans are hired to hunt down Nemo and her crew and take back what was stolen. Janni, looking to step out of her father's prodigious shadow, heads to Antarctica to succeed in exploring a region her father failed at - with her pursuers hot on her trail. As she takes a select crew into the wilds of Antarctica she is soon ambushed by her hunters and only barely manages escape. Lifting heavily from Poe and Verne's stories of the Antarctic, Moore and O'Neill's characters soon find themselves essentially inhabiting the pages of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. Nemo and what is left of her crew must find a way to survive both the murderers on her trail and the abject, ancient horrors all around her.

A key facet of Lovecraft's work is that of humans encountering beings and ideas beyond the human ability to understand, and Moore and O'Neill utilize some pretty nifty trickery to translate that sense of confusion and distemperal horror. At one point, Nemo and crew encounter horrors in an area of the Antarctic that messes with their perception of time and indeed their very memory. Moore presents panels out of sequence, flawlessly woven into dialogue so that the effect is jarring on the reader, easily translating the seemingly untranslatable.

O'Neill's art and Ben Dimagmaliw's colors are stunning throughout. From human emotion to a wonderfully playful sequence at the beginning of the Antarctic journey to the ancient, alien terror of the bulk of the novel, Moore gives them plenty to play with and they execute the broad range of necessary imagery flawlessly. And like the other League stories, the work is densely plotted in story and art, packed with the type of minutiae that keep writers like Padraig O Mealoid and Jess Nevins in business, interpreting and analyzing the never ending references and allusions and sampling. But even if you don't know the many sources that inspired Moore in this run, like with all the League stories the narrative is enough to drive the reader forward in an entertaining, dramatic and uniquely flavored bit of graphic fiction.

While not as strong as Moore and O'Neill's early League work in terms of depth of characterization and plot, it is certainly the most accessible of the new League stories, in a gorgeously designed and affordable hardcover. A new reader can easily dive into and enjoy this work, a perfect entry into Moore's fictional universe of overlapping fictional universes and a fun study in horror and survival.

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