Notes on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #6

by Jess Nevins and divers hands

(The image above is © copyright 2000 America's Best Comics. The text here, except where otherwise credited, is © copyright 2002 Jess Nevins, and may not be duplicated, in part or in whole, without my permission.)

(Additions and corrections are of course appreciated; post here or send them to me at

(Most recent updates: 10 March 2002. Updates in blue)

Cover. Steven Flanagan corrects my original comment and says

This is a fairly standard British comic cover of the early 20th century. Denis Gifford's "Discovering Comics" shows a 1901 issue of "Century Big Budget" which uses exactly this format.  The use of rhymed couplets continued in the "Rupert Bear" strip in the Daily Express at least until the 1980s.

On the strapline, "Tab" is a northern English slang phrase meaning "cigarette".

He is of course correct. The image to the right is of Little Sparks, a comic of the 1920s which, as you can see, uses the same format.

Inside Front Cover. Groups like the “Young Helpers League” were quite common in Victorian England, when charitable groups finally began to address the ills of English society. The League still exists in England today, albeit under different names, such as “Dr. Barnardo’s."

Page 1. Panel 1.  “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” is a very old nursery rhyme. Some modern readers will also know of the parody, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which reads “Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How I wonder where you’re at! Up above the world you fly, Like a teatray in the sky.”

Several people, Owen Erasmus among them, pointed out that "twinkle, twinkle, little star" is still a very common nursery rhyme, especially in the U.K., and that my experience, that the parody is better known than the original, is not the usual one.

Giles Anderson adds:

Moriarty's rendition of 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' and Lewis Carroll's use of the rhyme.  Like Carroll (or Charles Dodgson of Christ Church College, Oxford) Moriarty was also a professor of Mathematics ( as Holmes comments in "The Final Problem").
Panel 2. The Sergeant’s uniform, like that of all of the men on Moriarty’s aircraft, is chock full o’ Masonic symbolism. I don’t profess to understand any of it, but I’m sure it’s meaningful.

tphile, among others, wrote in to identify some of the symbolism. He said, "The symbols are the tools of the Masonry trade. The Compass, The Ruler/Right angle, the plumbob and the all seeing eye of the craftsman."

Terence Chua points out that

The All-Seeing Eye in the pyramid is an old Masonic symbol.

The compass and mitre is probably the most publicly seen symbol of the Masons - being the instruments the Creator used to circumscribe the boundaries of the universe.

The noose around the neck is part of the Initiation to the First Degree of masonry, although in the ritual proper the rope hangs down behind him. The full ritual can be found in Appendix Three of Stephen Knight's expose The Brotherhood (Granada Publishing, 1983 ISBN 0 586 05983 0).

I feel compelled to note that the Eye atop the pyramid is, perhaps-not-coincidentally, also on the back of the U.S. one dollar bill. responds with a post that I knew was eventually coming when I wrote the preceding:
This is indeed absolutely no coincidence. Many of the driver of the American Revolution were Free Masons, masonic terms and symbols were common. The influence of Masons remained strong and public until the anti-Mason movements of the 1830s and 1840s. In the last 200 yeas the Masons have slowly lost their hermetic aspects, but much of the symbolism remains. As a peripheral note, the early Church of the Latter Day Saints not only used much of Free Masoners' symbolism (although many Church members don't recognise the Masonic symbols on the walls of their buildings), but he first church of the CotLDS was a Masonic hall.
"The Day of Be-With-Us" The “day of be-with-us” is an occult phrase for the Apocalypse, or the end of time. If it has a specific provenance I don’t know of it.

Page 3. Panel 3. The aged thief is apparently the Artful Dodger, from Dickens’ Oliver Twist, grown old and become like Fagin, his former mentor in thievery. The boys with him would seem to be his attempt to emulate Fagin and bring together his own group of child thieves. Mags Halliday adds that "we have to assume that the Dodger has made his way back from Australia, where he was sent at the end of Oliver Twist." Paul Wilson convinced me that my original impulse was right, and that “Mitchell” and Watts” are from the British soap opera Eastenders, with the pair being Grant Mitchell and “Dirty Den” Watts. Steven Flanagan notes that Grant Mitchell was bald, like the "Mitchell" here, and that "at different times, Den Watts and Grant Mitchell were both landlords of the `Queen Victoria' public house in Walford, which makes their appearance here appropriate." Giles Woodrow notes that the Eastenders actually live and work in the East End, which is what is being bombed here.

The Dodger, despite his age, has lost none of his wits. When confronted with a new and horrible concept--air war--he immediately struck upon the same answer that Londoners did during the Blitz in World War Two: head for underground (and Underground) tunnels.

Page 4. Panels 1-2. As mentioned in the annotations to issue # 5 of League, the balloon is from Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon.

Page 5. Panels 3. Ian Wildman and M. Davis point out what I should have gotten originally: that the kneeling woman is probably Kâramanéh, the lovely slave of The Insidious Doctor and Dr. Petrie's future wife. Kieran Cowan wonders if it could be Fu Manchu's daughter. And now Geoffrey Tolle has pointed out the objection to this theory, which I also should have gotten: that this woman is Asian, while Kâramanéh was Egyptian, and that therefore this woman is probably Fah Lo Suee, Fu Manchu's daughter.

Pages 6-7.  A wonderful spectacle, to be sure, but I don’t think it this is referring to any one work, unless it’s one of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels that I haven’t read. This is just Moore having fun with The Insidious Doctor, rather than putting in an Easter Egg. Steven Costa sees a possible reference to the H.G. Wells story "The War in the Air," and provides some quotes from it:

If the Germans had three hundred airships all together in the world; the score of Asiatic fleets flying east and west and south must have numbered several thousand.  Moreover the Asiatics had a real fighting flying-machine, the Niais as they were called, a light but quite efficient weapon, infinitely superior to the German drachenflieger.  Like that, it was a one-man machine, but it was built very lightly of steel and cane and chemical silk, with a transverse engine, and a flapping sidewing.  The aeronaut carried a gun firing explosive bullets loaded with oxygen, and in addition, and true to the best tradition of Japan, a sword...  The wings of these flyers had bat-like hooks forward, by which they were to cling to their antagonist's gas-chambers while boarding him...

The Japanese and Chinese have joined in.  That's the great fact.  That's the supreme fact.  They've pounced into our little quarrels.... The Yellow Peril was a perilafter all!  They've got thousands of airships... And now Asia is at us all, and on the top of us all....  It's mania.  China on the top....

The Asiatic airship was also fish-shaped, but not so much on the lines of a cod or goby as of a ray or sole...

It was not in their airships, but, as I have said, in their flying-machines proper, that the strength of the Asiatics lay. Next only to the Butteridge machine, these were certainly the most efficient heavier-than-air fliers that had ever appeared. They were the invention of a Japanese artist, and they differed in type extremely from the box-kite quality of the German drachenflieger.  They had curiously curved, flexible side wings, more like BENT butterfly's wings than anything else, and made of a substance  like celluloid and of brightly painted silk, and they had a long humming-bird tail.  At the forward corner of the wings were hooks, rather like the claws of a bat, by which the machine could catch and hang and tear at the walls of an airship's gas-chamber.

Alan Trewartha adds:
The air-attack scene in #6, contains a vehicle from "Nemesis the Warlock" drawn by Kevin O'Neill (and Bryan Talbot, and others...). It's the one with nose "flukes" and what looks like a grille underneath.

Nemesis was a 2000AD regular written by Pat Mills. Nemesis ship was a living creature -- sorry i don't recall the name of the species.

One series of Nemesis that was drawn by O'Neill (and Talbot together I think) was somewhat steampunk in genre, with an alien race that modelled themselves on their studies of earth in the victorian or "gothic" era -- with an "ion duke" and so on. (There's an image of it here)

David Leggatt notes that "Nemesis' sentient vehicle was 'Bull Blitzspear.'"

Taina Evans adds:

I wonder whether Moore is aware of the Adventures of Blake and Mortimer, a French series by Edgar P. Jacobs? One tale, told in two volumes, translated as the Secret of the "Swordfish"- Le secret de l'Espadon - has a very similar scene - and even very similar colours in a specific panel depicting an aerial attack (although the style is hugely different). The story revolves around a "Yellow Peril" (country unlocated, but Asian), who invade the rest of the world - aerially bombing, among others, London. Bllake is a member of MI5- Mortimer, an Professor and Archeologist.  The head of the Yellow Peril of course has Fu Manchu moustaches, as I remember....
Page 7. Panel 4. Geoffrey Tolle notes that Mina's question, "Can London survive this?" "was a line often echoed by the English during the aerial aerial bombardments of London in WWII and speculated upon during WWI."

Page 8. Panel 3. Jekyll’s comment, “Do you know, I was once taller than he was?” is a reference to Hyde’s original, diminuitive and ape-like stature in Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde.

Page 11. Panel 1. Peter Briggs comments that

Some of those guys just seem a bit too well defined to be random extras, although it's anyone's guess who they could be.  Maybe the guy with the mutton chops could be Private Henry Hook from Rorke's Drift (real character!), and the guy getting his throat cut Daniel Dravot from Man Who Would Be King?  (That guy immediately to his right looks VERY familiar, but I can't place him.)
Page 12. Panel 4. Dale Hicks, among others, sees this sequence as evidence of Mina having some vampiric abilities, in this case hypnotism. Given the fact that she does not display hypnotism or any other vampiric abilities at other times when they'd be useful, I think this is reading more into the text than is actually there.

Page 14. Panel 2. Mina’s comment that Nemo’s automatic harpoon gun is “inhuman” and “unsporting” does reflect something of the tenor of the times, when the sorts of mass slaughter of natives that the British were engaging in and would later engage in in Africa and elsewhere was seen, back home, as horrific and barbaric. (Hand to hand combat was so much more manly, don’t you know) The American Civil War and the Crimean War, the two first truly modern wars, brought about carnage like what we see here, which was nearly unheard of in the 19th century. Mina’s particular revulsion, though, seems to be to the gun itself, which is somewhat curious, as the Maxim gun, the first real machine gun, had been around since 1884 and was adopted for use by the British army in 1889, seeing its first use against the enemy in 1893. In 1898 the Maxim gun, the "devil's paintbrush," was in large part responsible for the horrific slaughter at the Battle of Omdurman, in the Sudan, where the British killed 11,000 Dervishes and lost only 59 men. But I suppose Mina would not have seen the Maxim (or the Hotchkiss or Lewis or any of the other knock-offs) in action and so would not be familiar with the mass destruction a machine gun could cause.

Nemo finally gets some payback for the Mutiny. His glee here should, I think, put paid to the notion that he’s actually Sherlock Holmes.

Page 16. Panel 2. Rodolfo Filho says

Does anybody else think Mina is looking like Winona Ryder in Dracula?

I think it's one more evidence of Mina's vampiric powers: she's too smart to think she could reason Moriarty to drop his plans without any "special help".

Vampiric powers would also explain why she was put in charge of this group. I doubt any of the men in the League would take as much abuse from her as they did.

Moore himself dismissed the idea of Mina being a vampire.

Panel 3. There’s no textual support in Dracula for Mina being seen as a lesbian; her close friendship with Lucy was typical of many Victorian women. Too, “lesbian” was not, I think, a common term in 1898–certainly not one used for abuse. Mike Schiffer points out that the Oxford English Dictionary has a citation for "lesbian" from a medical dictionary in 1890, but I think that it'd hardly be common enough to be a term of abuse, or one that Mina would even recognize. Lea Hernandez points out that Moriarty's "referring to her as a lesbian, I think, probably had to do with that she'd not be leading a group of -men- unless she was "manly" herself."

Dr. Rainer Nagel closes up the issue of the use of the word "lesbian" with the following:

I re-checked the entries on "Lesbian" in various dictionaries.

The OED indeed notes 1890 as the first use of the word, but as a attributive adjective; it was not until 1925 that the word was used as a noun, referring to women.

There are entries for other meanings of "Lesbian", but they refer to the island of Lesbos, not to women as such. I append the relevant section from the OED at the end of this mail.

Most slang dictionaries date the term to the late 19th century; the most thorough one is Partidge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English:

"Lesbian. A woman sexually devoted to women: coll. (-1896) >, ca. 1930, S.E. Ex the Sapphic legend. Not in the Oxford dictionaries by 1937 (1st ed. of this Dict.)., the term reached the SOD in the mid-1940s."

"-1896" means that the term was not recorded before 1896 (which is not quite true, as the OED shows). "S.E." stands for Standard English. This means that either Moriarty has a quite thorough knowledge of medicine and psychology (and even then he would precede the use of the word as a noun by some thirty years), or that, quite simply, we have an anachronism here.

There is no indication in any dictionary that "Lesbian" was used as a standard term for strong women, or something to that effect. And I strongly doubt that we're talking about the 17th-century meaning here (and most certainly not about the wine)...

The Random House Dictionary (Special Second Edition, 1996) has the following to offer:

"adj. 1. of or pertaining to Lesbos. 2. (suaully l.c.) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of female homosexuality. 3. (usually l.c.) erotic; sensual. - n. an inhabitant of Lesbos. 5. (usually l.c.) a female homosexual."

[l.c. = lower case]

This doesn't help us either, since I strongly believe that in this situation Moriarty would describe Murray as erotic or sensual. - Couldn't it be that the "scandal" everyone is alluding that would have been an actual lesbianism (btw, that term was coined 1870) on Harker's part, which became known to some circles (among others, Moriarty) and led to her divorce?

This still wouldn't solve the problem of the anachronism, but it would be a possibility.

Page 17. Panel 5. If Holmes did speak of Quatermain as a weakling, it was probably due to Quatermain’s drug addiction–which is rather the pot calling the kettle black. David Goldfarb expresses doubt that Holmes would ever "express so ungracious an opinion." Ronald Byrd adds:
Keep in mind that in his very first appearance, Holmes slandered Dupin as "a very inferior fellow" and Lecoq as "a miserable bungler."  In fact, he denigrated Dupin for the habit of deducing his associate's thoughts via observation, the very thing that HE did to Watson time and again.  One would hope that Dupin's role as liaison between the League and the govt (and, hence, Moriarty) has no basis in resentment of this heckling which Watson rather thoughtlessly immortalized in "A Study in Scarlet."
Colin Rankine notes that perhaps Holmes--if he did say this--was of the opinion that he, Holmes, could handle his drug addiction while Quatermain could not, and that made Quatermain a "weakling" and Holmes...not.

Page 18. Panel 5. Cory Panshin said that "Moriarty falling into the sky *could* be a reference to George McDonald's "The Light Princess" -- but more likely to H.P. Lovecraft's "The Other Gods."  Same idea either way."

Page 23. Panel 1. More Easter Eggs. I drew a blank on this panel originally, only naming the character on the far left as Tom Brown (of Tom Brown's Schooldays), but a few people chimed in with the right people, including (be still my heart!) Alan Moore himself (via an intermediary, blessings be upon you!). The character on the far right, with the reddish nose and crumpled hat, is Ally Sloper, F.O.M. (Friend of Man). Sloper (his name comes from the "practice of dodging the rent collector by sloping down the alley") was created by Charles Ross and Marie Duval, first appearing in the pages of Judy in 1867 and appearing regularly from 1884 through 1914 in Ally Sloper's Half-Holiday. To quote one source on him:

Whether selling rotten oysters on Brighton beach, duelling with Boulanger, enlightening magistrates on a point of law, or holding forth on the Freedom of the Individual whilst snuffing a heckler like a farthing dip, Ally always came out on top...the embodiment of cheerful insolence and unabashed self-interest, Ally Sloper was the first in a long line of rogues as heroes in the comics....
Moore also identified the two characters on the far left as "Weary Willy" and "Tired Tim." Weary Willy and Tired Tim were the first regular characters to emerge in British comics in the 1890s. They were created in 1896 by Tom Browne and were based on a pair of tramps he'd spotted on the Thames Embankment. They appeared in Illustrated Chips from 1896 through the early 1920s (I think).

Panel 2. The broken walking stick on the wall is Moriarty’s, according to Alan Moore.

Panel 3. Working from the left:
The bust is of Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Baron von Münchhausen (1720-1797). Baron Münchhausen is best known for his extraordinarily tall tales. A collection of his tales first appeared in 1781-3, under the title Vademecum fur Lustige Leute  (Manual for Merry People), but Münchhausen was made into the epitome of the European tall tale teller with the 1785 Baron Munchhausen's Narrative of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia. Interesting that MI5 should have a bust of a notorious braggart and teller of lies in its headquarters. Ed Toschach responds to this last sentence by saying "I think it might be possible in this world where all tall tales are real events that Münchhausen was telling the truth and -- based on his accomplishments -- was a former member of the League."
the mustached man is Dick Donovan, last seen in issue #2 of League.
the balloon is the Victoria, of course, from Verne's Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863), as mentioned in the notes to issue #5. Moore originally intended to have the balloon be from Around the World in 80 Days, but Fogg had no balloon in the book--that was David Niven, in the movie--and so plans were changed.
the man is Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock Holmes’ smarter brother.
I didn't catch this originally, but I should have. The box on the right, dated 1657, is the box that Cyrano de Bergerac used to fly to the moon in his Histoire comique, par Monsieur de Cyrano Bergerac, contenant les états et empires de la lune (1657).
Pat Healy adds that

Mycroft Holmes replies to Mina's sympathetic comment in re the "late" Sherlock with a terse "Mm." before changing the subject.  In "The Adventure of the Empty House,"  Sherlock tells Watson that Mycroft was the only one who knew Sherlock did not die at Reichenbach Falls.  Here, Mycroft would surely know that there was, indeed, no "tragic loss" at all.
Panel 4. That strange thing in the middle is the “Huge Hunter,” a steam-powered android (non-sentient) which was used to draw a cart. Its first appearance came in Edward S. Ellis’ “The Huge Hunter, or, the Steam Man of the Prairies” (Beadle's American Novel #45). For a summary of the plot, go to my Victoriana site and look at the “Johnny Brainerd” entry.

I was all set to identify the bathysphere on the right as being from Wells' "In the Abyss" (1896) when I was told that "the diving ball is without meaning" to Alan Moore.

Peter Briggs adds that

The character of PC 49 (from his collar insignia), might be Police Constable Archibald Berkeley Willoughby, from the eponymous British radio serial and "PC 49" films (Adventures of PC 49, 1949; A Case for PC 49, 1951).  Tenuous, and temporally anachronistic (like the "EastEnders" characters!)
Panel 5. The winged woman in the glass bottle is one of the Cottingley faeries. A. Conan Doyle, later in his life, took refuge in various eccentric spiritual beliefs, including “spirit photography.” In 1917 two young Yorkshirewomen, from Cottingley, played a practical joke and pretended to have photographed five faeries. (Carl Fink corrects my original post and notes that the girls didn't tamper with the phots, they'd posed next to cutouts) Doyle, heartbroken over the death of his son in WW1 and willing to believe in almost anything, was taken in by this hoax, as were a good many other people. (For another good summary of the Cottingley hoax, check out Chris Willis’ essay)

Page 24. Enter the Martians....

Steven Flanagan notes that "the gentleman picking at his feet wears the traditional costume of John Bull, symbol of England." M. Davis notes that the scene seems familiar, from a painting, but that he can't place it. It seems familiar to me, too.

Giles Woodrow notes that the purple mushrooms are "a reference to an HG Wells short story, "The Purple Pinaeum," about a psychedelic episode."

Rodolfo Filho sees a resemblance between this panel and Van Gogh's "Starry Night."


As far as I can tell all the ads are genuine, Victorian-era adverts.

Simeon Davies points out that "In your...annotations for The league of extraordinary gentlemen #6, you have neglected to mention an advertisment on the bottom right of the last advert page for "medicated throaght bandages", a reference to mina murrays bandage."

Victor deciphers the final Secret Code Message:  "In light of your unending failure to figure out one fugging infantile riddle, Mr. Moore and Mr. O'Neill loathe you fanny headed tool tugging dim fux to death."

Letters Page

Heath Graham points out that the “Accidental Hysterectomy” In Brief Answer is a reference to the notorious “Marvel `Whirling Spray’ Syringe” ad excised out of the original issue #5 of League.

Steven Flanagan adds this:

The Answers in Brief section ("Boyish Cameraderie') mentions "deep bonds of friendship... for a burly Rastafarian at three in the morning on Clapham Common".  This refers to the former Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Ron Davies, who, in 1998, reported to the police that he had been robbed by a burly Rastafarian.  What Davies didn't tell them was that he had first picked the man up while cruising on Clapham Common.  When it emerged that Davies had lied to the police and the House of Commons, he was forced to resign (this wasn't just homophobia: the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is openly gay, and the Minister for Agriculture was outed shortly after the Davies incident, but remains in office.  It was the deception that was unacceptable).
Nick Ford contributes this:
Purely in the interests of completeness, to add to "Boyish Camaraderie" #2, the practice of which they have never heard described is the game "Biscuit" - I've never met anyone who's played it, but it seems to originate from the RAF (Royal Air Force). The rules (gulp) are simple - the competitors (resolutely male, it must be said), stand around a biscuit and practice the sin of Onan (for want of a suitably Victorian description). The objective is to "coat the biscuit" and the last person to do so......has to eat it!!
Ivan Kristofferson adds that "here in Sweden, we have a variant on the `biscuit game'. It's called `wanking a bun', but apart from the kind of pastry involved, the rules are the same."

Back Cover

Robur, as mentioned in the notes to League #2, is the inventor and later megalomaniacal “Emperor of the Air” from Jules Verne’s Robur the Conqueror (1886) and Master of the World (1904). “Luftkapitan Mors,” also mentioned in the notes to League #2, is the domino-masked Robin Hood of the Air from the 1908-1911 German series of dime novels, Der Luftpirat und Sein Lenkbares Luftschiff (“the Pirate of the Air and his Navigable Airship”).

It is fitting that the two correspond, as they were the foremost (but by no means only) air captains of the late Victorian/early Edwardian periods. It might be objected that Mors, a do-gooder and noble hero, should have little to do with Robur, who after all turns into a madman in Master of the World. But in 1898, when League is set, Robur is presumably still hiding out in his Great Eyrie in the North Carolina Appalachians, and before he’s become the complete nutter of Master of the World.

Ronald Byrd notes that "Robur's remark to Mors about `the Sikh' (i.e. Nemo) suggests that all three men, all of them the designers and masters of highly advanced war vessels, share some common past; the fact that all three men hail from different nations only highlights the potential significance of this remark."

More information on Mors can be found on my Captain Mors site.

Go way, way back to issue #1

Go way back to issue #2

Go back to issue #3

Go back to issue #4

Go back to issue #5

Enjoy some lagniappe with the League hardcover

Tide yourself over with the Game of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Marvel at the images from the French version of League

Thanks to: Giles Anderson; Adrian Brown; Peter Briggs; Ronald Byrd; Jonathan Carter; Terence Chua; Steven Costa; Kieran Cowan; Simeon Davies; M. Davis; Owen Erasmus; Taina Evans; Rodolfo S. Filho; Carl Fink, for sarky corrections; Steven Flanagan, for various and sundry corrections; Rev. Terry Fleming; Nick Ford; David Goldfarb; Heath Graham, for pointing out the letter joke; Steve Green; Pat Healy; Dale Hicks; karfan, for getting me going on the bathysphere; tphile; Mags Halliday; Lea Hernandez; Dale Hicks; Stephen Johnston; Ivan Kristofferson; David Leggatt; Alan Moore (!!!!); Gérard Morvan; Dr. Rainer Nagel; Gabriel Neeb; Andrew Ness; Michael Norwitz, as usual; Cory Panshin (!); tphile; Colin Rankine; Mike Schiffer;; Scott@StompTokyo.Com; Geoffrey Tolle; Ed Toschach; Alan Trewartha; Victor; Ian Wildman; Paul Wilson, for convincing me I was right about the “Eastenders” reference; Giles Woodrow.


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