Notes on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #4

(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.)

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(most recent update: 10 March 2002; updates in blue)

Cover. In much the same way that the cover to issue #3 was a reference to the covers of Classics Illustrated issues, this cover is (I believe) a reference to the covers of the Victorian-era penny dreadfuls and dime novels.

Inside Front Cover. The Table of Contents for this issue, like the series itself, has several references to Victorian-era literature, as well as containing puns and jokes using the creators' names.

The Sunday at Home was a religious magazine which was published all through the latter half of the 19th century, beginning in 1854. It was put out by the "Religious Tract Society" and billed itself as "a family magazine for Sabbath reading."

I was unable to find a specific reference for "Writing for Ruffians," "Passion is my Paintbox," "Letters we have Loved," or "Golf: The Sport of Titans;" these are, I think, simply titles written in the typically-overheated style of the penny dreadfuls and general British "boys' fiction" of the Victorian era.  "Seven Years Before The Easel" is a reference to the books of the time that described shipboard life from the point of view of a humble seamen; the archetype for this is Richard Henry Dana's TwoYears Before The Mast: A Personal Narrative Of Life At Sea (1840). "X years before the mast" described how many years one had been in service on a ship. Lawrence Watt-Evans usefully corrects me on the derivation of the phrase:

Specifically, how many years as a common seaman, rather than an officer.  Officers slept behind the mainmast, in the wardroom and cabins, while the ordinary sailors bunked in the forecastle, at the bow of the ship.  That ships back then were controlled from the stern, where the tiller was, is not coincidental.
"Scott of the Antarctic" is a reference to George Seaver's Scott of the Antarctic: A Study in Character (1940), a book about Captain Robert F. Scott's doomed expedition to the Antarctic; his first trip to the Antarctic ended about 520 miles from the South Pole, the record for the time, but his second trip, in 1912, ended in the death of all members of the Scott party, including Scott himself. Steve Lieber adds:
It was actually Roald Amundsen's successful South Pole expedition that "ate the huskies." Scott's team ate the horses...had Scott intentionally exploited huskies as a self-transporting food supply, his team might have had a shot at survival.
I can't trace an exact reference for "I Was A President Of Vice," but I'm certain that I've read a story by that title; it is undoubtedly a reference to the main confessional stories that were published in various magazines during the Late Victorian era which detailed individuals experiences in criminal activies, especially in London. The British reading audience seemingly couldn't get enough of this sort of thing; they were simultaneously repelled and titillated by it.

Page 1. Panel 1. "Mr. Mate" was the customary form of address for the first mate on a ship during the Victorian era; for one example of this, go to The Journey of an Irish Coffin Ship. (It has nothing to do with League, but I think it's an absorbing read which you should seek out at the first opportunity)

Panel 2. "Call me Ishmael" is one of the most famous opening lines in all of literature, and a sure giveaway as to the identity of the speaker: Ishmael, the narrator of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851). Ishmael was a young man during the events of Moby Dick and survived the final events of the novel, and so it's easily possible that he'd still be alive for the events of League.

The second individual, "Broad Arrow Jack," was the star of an eponymous 1866 penny dreadful written by E. Harcourt Burrage, one of most prolific penny dreadful authors of the 19th century and a man popularly known as "the boys' Charles Dickens." Broad Arrow Jack was actually John Ashleigh, a young Englishman fallen on hard times in Australia who became the notorious Robin Hood-like outlaw Broad Arrow Jack, so-called because of the arrow brand on his back, the arrow being the traditional symbol of British authority.  (The illustrations of Broad Arrow Jack in the penny dreadful show Jack parading around without a shirt on and displaying his arrow brand.) The novel ends with Jack back in England, having traveled a very long road, married to an aristocrat and living in Rockholme Castle, somewhere in England.

Henry A. Lincoln notes that Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says, of the "broad arrow," that it was traditionally the "mark used by the British Board of Ordnance, and placed on their stores;" it was originally the "cognisance of Henry, Viscount Sydney, Earl of Romney, master-general of the ordnance. (1693-1702.)"

Panel 5. Bala Menon clears up my confusion and notes that the square object with arms and legs is a statue of Nataraja. Nataraja is one of the aspects of Siva; he is the child of Siva and Siva's twin soul, Kali Ma, and is the Lord of the Dance.

Panel 6. Bala Menon also corrects my mistake here and points out that the statue Nemo is holding is of Siva, the god of destruction and male sexual energies. Bala speculates that, given the flowers and the incense, this might be Nemo's personal temple.

Page 2. Bala Menon points out that the title of this issue, "Gods of Annihilation," refers at least to Fu Manchu, who has referred to himself as "the Lord of the Fires" and "the Avatar of Destruction" on more than one occasion. The title also works with regard to Siva, Moriarty, and even Nemo.

Page 5. Panel 3. There was some disagreement on what language was being spoken here, but general agreement now seems to be that Terence Chua was correct when he said that what is being spoken here is Mandarin, as the words don't scan when pronounced in Cantonese. He adds that the only time when Cantonese in League seems to have been in issue #3, in Quong Lee's shop.

One of the customary costumes of the criminal Triad societies was a black outfit with a red or yellow symbol, very similar to what the Insidious Doctor's thugs in League wear.

Once again, Terence Chua has come to my rescue and translated the Chinese for me, as did "Dino Mike": "Who are you?"

Panel 4. "What are you doing? This is none of your business."

Page 6. Panel 1. "Come with me! I will bring you to see the Master!"

Panel 2. "Enough! Give me that gun and follow me!" (Dino Mike translates this as "That's enough! Hand over that gun and follow me!")

Panel 3. "What are you talking about? What is...?"
Dino Mike's translation: "What did you say? What is ... ?"

Page 7. Panel 5. Jeff Lipton notes the bloody handprint on the wall and asks, "Wasn't a handprint similar to that used in `The Sign of the Hand' by Doyle?" karfan notes that there is no such Doyle story & that the closest Holmes story with a similar title is "The Sign of the Four," but that there are no bloody handprints to be found within it. Steven Flanagan adds that there is a bloody thumbprint in "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder," and that the cover to it, which can be found here, replaces the thumbprint with an entire bloody handprint. Stu Shiffman notes that Jeff Lipton may be thinking of A Study in Scarlet, where the word "Rache" is written (in blood, Ken Lemons confirms) on a wall.

Page 9. Panels 2-3. Ivan Kristofferson, among others, noted that the two panels seem to form the words "Helter Shelter," referencing "Helter Skelter."

Panel 8. More translations from Terence Chua and Dino Mike (everybody say "Thanks, Terence! Thanks, Mike!"):

Moustached man: "What is it?"
Bespectacled man: "Get rid of this bastard."

Dino Mike's translation:
"What's the matter?"
"Get rid of this fellow."

Panel 9. "You will come with us."

Page 11. Panel 1. Still more translations: "Heaven protect (us)! He is a demon!"

Page 12. Panel 1. This is one of a number of panels in which Moore has, I'm certain, placed Easter Eggs--the individual with the peg-leg, for example, and the family on the left--but I've not the slightest guess who they might be. Bob Redmond points out that Charles Dickens had a character in Our Mutual Friend with a peg-leg: Silas Wegg, "a literary man with a wooden leg."

Rick Slater notes that the family on the far left is probably the Cratchit family, from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, "as the child is suffering from the same symptoms as Tiny Tim."

Panel 4. I'm not aware as to Griffin's sense of smell being disabled in the original novel. Dave van Domelen notes that it wasn't; Hyde's is simply that much better. Philip Flores points out that "we've seen that Hyde's sense of sight extends beyond the normal range, so why not his other senses as well?"

Page 13. Panel 4. Again, Terence translates for us:
Shouting man: "What happened?"
Pointing man: "Some people are fighting upstairs."

Dino Mike:
"What's happening?"
"There are some men fighting upstairs."

Page 14. Panel 1. I believe cavorite, in the original First Men to the Moon, was actually colored blue, but perhaps the Insidious Doctor has come up with a modified version of the substance.

Page 15. Panel 3. Quatermain's wonderment at "the very idea of powered flight" reflects the debate of the late 1890s about which type of flight would be dominant in the future, unpowered or powered (or, as it was often phrased, "heavier-than-air versus lighter-than-air"). Powered flight won out, of course, but this was not at all clear during the 1890s. The most prominent fictional example of this issue is in Robur the Conqueror, where Robur represents the powered camp and the members of the Weldon Institute stand for the unpowered, lighter-than-air camp. Robur, needless to say, wins decisively. (For more on both Mors and Robur, see the annotations to issue #2; for more on Robur, see his entry on my Fantastic, Mysterious, and Adventurous Victoriana site. For more information on Captain Mors, see my Captain Mors page.)

Panel 5. Mina's statement about men being "so obsessed with mechanisms that further nothing but destruction" might be taken as a commentary by Moore on the mechanics-obsessed science fiction writers of the time, especially the dime novelists, for whom it was customary to show diagrams of their new creations in each issue or book; the obsession with new inventions and their use and destructive potential seems almost fetishistic.

Page 22. Panel 3. "Mobilis in mobili" is, as Frederic Ferro notes, Nemo's motto in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea: "mobile in the mobile (medium)."

Panel 4. "Pizzle" is an old name for an animal's penis. Hardly the language of a lady, but then, as we've seen, Mina Murray hardly sees herself as a lady--at least, not a lady as the Victorian elite defined the word.

Page 23. Panel 1. Steven Flanagan notes that the building here, the headquarters of MI5 (see panel 5 below) is

a fantasia on the 1990s MI6 building at Vauxhall. There are two obelisks shown in this panel.  If one is Cleopatra's Needle (in reality, on the opposite bank of the Thames to Vauxhall, and further East), then the other must be the obelisk to be found, in our world, in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, suggesting that in the world of LoEG, the balance of power is tilted in favour of the British.
After Terence Chua pointed out that the twin to Cleopatra's Needle is in New York City, Steven said
So my earlier speculation needs revision: the obelisks may represent a different balance of power between Britain and the USA, rather than between Britain and France.
Taina Evans asks if the real twin to Cleopatra's Needle is in Paris and only a replica is in New York. Actually, the obelisk in Paris originally came from Luxor.

Rob Petrone adds that "The obelisks on the Thames and in NYC's central park belonged not to Cleopatra, but to Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt's first female Pharaoh and the first woman ever recorded in the annals of history.  They were taken from the front of her tomb."

Panels 4-6. Alicia Germer points out that the symbol on the walls and just above the doorhandle is that of the Freemasons. For the conspiracy-minded among you, the idea of the Freemasons (who have long been suspected of being behind everything, and who Moore portrayed rather unfavorably in From Hell) in control of the British intelligence apparatus makes perfect sense. Ron Dingman sent me a long list of possible intimations of Masonry, including Inspector Donovan's two-fingered salute in issue #2, page 9, panel 1, and Bond's gesture on page 23, panel 3 of this issue. I don't buy any of it, but it is an interesting theory.

Panel 5. "Her Majesty's Military Intelligence Division 5" is, presumably, a reference to "Military Intelligence 5," aka "MI5," the British Secret Service. They were formed in 1909 as a part of the Secret Service Bureau, but presumably M had the foresight to organise something similar a decade earlier. (Dave van Domelen adds that MI5 is in charge of domestic intelligence, "which would have jurisdiction over things like Fu Manchu, but would lack the authority to send people off to France to grab Jekyll (that'd be MI6's job)."

Page 24. Panel 6. Tphile notes the "M" cufflinks.

Panel 7. The secret of "M" is revealed, and it's...Moriarty. James Moriarty. Aka "the Napoleon of Crime," Sherlock Holmes' arch-enemy who was presumed to have died when Holmes did, falling over the Reichenbach Falls with Holmes. It's not that much of a stretch to posit that if Holmes could survive the fall, so too could Moriarty. (A memorable and funny short story written in the 1980s had Moriarty doing just this and using the Time Traveler's machine to go back to Shakespeare's time and speak the line of the Third Murderer in The Scottish Tragedy)

Note that the drawing of Moriarty here is a reference to the original Sidney Paget drawings of Moriarty in "The Final Problem," Moriarty's first appearance. The drawing can be found at the link to "The Final Problem" given below.

Zack Smith, among others, points out that in "The Final Problem" it is Moriarty's brother who is given the name "James," a fact I'd forgotten about. David Serchay, among others, come to my rescue and point out both the Professor and his brother the Colonel share the same name, the reasons for which are given in Phillip Jose Farmer's The Other Log of Phileas Fogg. Steven Flanagan adds that in

"The Empty House," we are told that the Professor is called James Moriarty. In the "Valley of Fear" we are told that the Professor has a brother who is a station-master.
A number of people, Win among them, sent me lists of various Holmes-Moriarty pastiches and sequels. Win also pointed out that the first assertion that Mycroft was the first "M" was in John T. Lescroart's Son of Holmes (1986). Christopher Sequeira noted in passing that he'd written a piece, in Terror Australis: The Australian Horror and Fantasy Magazine, #3 (1992), in which he'd fingered Jekyll/Hyde, Dracula, the sailor who owned the orang-utan in "Murders in the Rue Morgue," Herbert West (the Reanimator), and the Invisible Man as suspects in the Jack the Ripper murders (with "a reference to Moriarty thrown in for good measure").

Christopher Sequeira wonders if the final line, "Call me James," might be a reference to Robert Bloch's "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," with its final line, "Call me Jack." eirias wonders if it might also be a reference to the film "The Ruling Class," in which it is one of Peter O'Toole's first lines on awakening with his new delusion. Mitch Albala adds, "At the beginning of the issue, one of Nemo's crew says, "Call me Ishmael". Perhaps Moore wanted to begin and end the issue with revealing introductions, the one being a play on the other. A famous opening line deserves an equally impressive closing line..." Mags Halliday adds that James Bond, in Goldfinger, says, "Please, call me James."

Steve MacDonald notes, "I don't remember seeing the Square and Compass with an 'M' on the top...could this be a veiled reference to Moriarty? And since the central 'G' stands for God (or any god, for that matter) it could be relating Moriarty's equivalence to Satan, who did his best to put himself above God, directly preceding his exit from Heaven."

Allan And The Sundered Veil

In the drawing on page 28, the image at the top of the panel is of John Carter (Warlord of Mars, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation) fighting against a Martian.

Terence Chua points out what I should have noticed: that the image next to John Carter fighting the Martian would seem to be

hints of the future to come, perhaps...the Royal Courts of Justice (the Old Bailey, with the statue of Justice on top of the dome) in ruins, and a Martian tripod stalking across the Thames.
Danny Sichel points out what I should have instantly gotten: that the "Aleph" is a reference to the short story by Jorge Luis Borges of the same title. The Aleph is a magic crystalline object that both represents and contains the universe. Terence Chua adds that
in the late, lamented 1963 series by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch and others, when the Tomorrow Syndicate in #6 travel to the Image universe, they encounter an Aleph which allows them views of other comic book universes (long before Hypertime).
Danny Sichel also points out that Borges was making a reference to the work of Georg Cantor, a Russian mathematician "who proposed the use of the aleph symbol to denote the various levels of infinity. (Aleph, Aleph-Null, and Aleph-Prime, I think.)" Mark Brown adds that Swamp Thing #62, written by Rick Veitch but undoubtedly with Moore's input, featured the Aleph.


Page 29: an ad for the next issue of League.

Page 32: Dave van Domelen translates the secret message as "You're not really trying to read our efforr, are you?  I imagine you tired of it long ago." (The typo, he says, is the comic's, not his)

Letters Page

On page 32 a letter is printed by a "Col. Sebastian Moran." Colonel Moran was the second-in-command to Professor Moriarty. Jason Tondro wrote this letter, and added that

Moran was referred to as "the deadliest man in all England," by Holmes himself, and was infamous for the stunt of hunting a tiger down a sewer drain. This fact gets convoluted with many others and slipped into the Moriarty mythos in the delightful poem "Macavity, the Mystery Cat," by T.S. Eliot. That cunning and evil cat is clearly based on Moriarty himself, and is even called "the Napoleon of Crime." The poem, of course, was put to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber in Cats.
Relevant Web Sites

Herman Melville's Moby Dick

A. Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem"

I'm going to leave this in as a personal conceit, but I really do think that my Fantastic, Mysterious, and Adventurous Victoriana site, which might be thought of as a list of 465 (at last count) Victorian-era characters and concepts which might appear in League, is rather good.

Go way back to issue #1

Go back to issue #2

Go back to issue #3

Get up to date with issue #5

Finish the series off with issue #6

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: Mitch Albala; "Astrocitizen;" Brenda; Mark Brown; Chris; Terence Chua; Mark Coale, as usual; Ron Dingman; Dino Mike; Dave van Domelen; Eirias; Owen Erasmus; Taina Evans; Frederic Ferro; Steven Flanagan; Philip Flores; Alicia Germer; Mags Halliday; Bryan Hollerbach; karfan; Ivan Kristofferson; Ken Lemons; Jim Lesher; Steve Lieber (!); Henry A. Lincoln; Jeff Lipton; Steve MacDonald; Bala Menon; Gabriel Neeb; Rob Petrone; tphile; Chris Schumacher; Christopher Sequeira; David Serchay; Stu Shiffman; Danny Sichel; Rick Slater; Zack Smith; Henry Spencer; Jason Tondro; Lawrence Watt-Evans (!); Silas Wegg; Win, of the wonderful Wold Newton page.


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