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Comic Review: Century 1969 by Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill and Todd Klein

It's been three years since the last League instalment from the high priest of comics himself, Alan Moore, and finally the much teased Paint it Black chapter has arrived. Century 1969, the second part of the time-spanning Volume 3, is an appropriate farewell to Victoriana, with eye-splatting colour and psychedelic trips assaulting our immortal trio as they return to a swinging London.

As with Century 1910, this latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen adventure will have you cracking open your Black Dossier and re-reading past exploits in order to spot more of the dots to connect and hidden clues to decipher, as well as the usual blink and you'll miss it cultural nods: from the Weatherfield Wives to a certain boy wizard.

The enormous time leap from a more conservative era is truly shocking, and the book willingly embraces the sexual revolution of the sixties: Century 1969 is a veritable penis-palooza!

Totally groovy.

It is 1969, and our beloved Britannia is in full Mod gear; her skirt ripples upwards in an explosion of music, showing her panties and crotch to the world as her nipples are similarly highlighted in all their erect glory. While Century 1910 was sombre toned and gritty coloured, harking back to the very first League volume, 1969 fully embraces the erotic nature previously seen in the Black Dossier and Volume 2.

The lasting impression is that of a comic packed with male genitalia, yet on further reflection the instances are few and far between, particularly in comparison to the extensive female nudity and almost mandatory hard nipple shots. But these are phenomena the comic reader is perhaps more used to: an exposed penis on the other hand seems genuinely shocking. As ever with Moore, it is increasingly hard to tell where the line is between exploitation and erotic art. This isn't so much sexualisation, but rather eroticism.

Do be warned though, that like the last chapter there is a depiction of sexual assault within the story.

Even my dresses aren't quite that short!

Putting to one side Mina's ever visible upskirt panties, this is one hell of a trip. A thoroughly modern Mina Harker, along with her constant companion Alan Quatermain and occasional partner Orlando, are back in the British capital to hunt down the death avoiding Oliver Haddo. Combining dark magic now with 60s devil music and hallucinogenic drugs, the haphazard investigations take a backseat to the fracturing dynamics of the trio. Immortality is taking its toll, with Mina struggling to deal with her age in this rebellious decade, while her lovers seem oblivious to her turmoil.

While Mina flounders with her grasp of the hip new vocabulary and less conservative environment, she is perhaps channeling Moore's own distaste for the more contemporary period. As pop culture squeezes itself in to the decade, the fictional world of the League becomes less literary and more, well, more pop. But where old culture fades away, devoured by a bloated and obscene pop monster, occultism and experimental drugs step forward like never before - the latter with blinding colour, the former with sinister shadows. And as the spectacular Sixties pass by, our heroes are left in a washed out nihilistic birth-pit of punk.

Mina Harker going clubbing - whatever next?!

The chapter title, Paint it Black, points heavily to the inspiration for the well known music group featured in the story, as well as referencing the grief coloured Nautilus as it appeared at the end of 1910 and briefly at the beginning of 1969. Despite the heavy prominence of the ship in the pre-released promo images, Janni and her crew feature very little in this episode: a surprise perhaps for those who began their League following with Volume 3, but entirely par for the course.

The greatest triumph of the League series are the huge story gaps throughout; the missing arcs and character development, sometimes alluded to in the backup features, require the reader to accept new ideas at face value. An overwhelming desire to know more about the histories of the characters, and the universe of fiction that has been built, is surely a fine sign of a critical success. Moore has said before that he'd like to do at least one more volume, and perhaps some mini-stories set in various time periods throughout his world: with a rich timeline and cast to choose from, any future League story is awaited with anxious glee.

Mina being quite naughty. Ahem!

To say too much is to spoil the surprises and fun of spying the hidden references, but suffice to say that Century 1969 is well worth the (low) cost. The book is an explosion of colour and new styles, with an entire sequence set on an eye-melting astral plane being a particular highlight.

The book pulses with sex and sexuality, bare skin and desire tumbling through the pages and infusing everything with an erotic edge. The relationship of the three is the exception: panels show two at a time together in bed, but never together in bed.

Alan Moore, you tease.

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