The second book in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s spin-off from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Roses of Berlin sees us plunged into the world of German expressionism as Janni and her crew of pirates go on a mission into the heart of Nazi Germany to rescue her daughter and son-in-law from a German version of the League. But will this be a journey too far for those at the back who aren’t paying attention to the literary references?
Publisher: Top Shelf Digital/Knockabout
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Price: £2.49/$3.99 from Sequential
Roses of Berlin is set 16 years on from the Lovecraftian arctic mysteries of Heart of Ice. Set in 1941 it sees Captain Nemo’s daughter Janni and her crew of pirates go on a mission into the heart of ‘Tomainia’ (a parody of Hitler’s Germany) to rescue her daughter and son-in-law from the evil Adenoid Hynkel and the German League after their airship crashes in a Nazi utopian Berlin.
As is always the case with Moore and O’Neill’s League books, they work on two levels. At their base level they are a fun, if rather surreal, pulp style adventure full of swashbuckling pirates and evil Nazi villains. Yet with this being an Alan Moore creation, there is much more to it than such a simple description might imply. Every character within the League universe has been hand-picked from the world of literature or pop culture to have an significance beyond just having someone to fill up the pages with. While some are obvious, like Captain Nemo, others like Nemo’s Bdaughter’s husband Broad Arrow Jack are the products of obscure Victorian penny dreadfuls which only the most hardened of bibliophile will know about.
As well as these fixtures from obscure Victoriana, in Roses of Berlin we are also introduced to a Nazi Utopia (Tomainia) and comedic Hitler-like leader (Hynkel) based on Charlie Chaplain’s The Great Dictator, who has teamed up with the villainous cabal of Die Zwielichthelden (aka The Twilight Heroes, aka the German League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) made up of Dr Cagliari and his somnambulist assassin Cesare, and Dr Rotwang and Maria from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to name but a few.
Although the books can be enjoyed with only a scant understanding of what is going on, when you begin to understand and appreciate who each character is, or rather who they represent, then it adds a whole level of slickness and intellect to the story that only Moore can deliver. Although there is also an air of intellectual snobbery if you don’t quite know who some of these character are! (The answer is to read the book a second time with Wikipedia open on another screen!) and this is taken to new heights in Roses of Berlin with large swathes of the book written in untranslated German, which is the kind of thing that only a maverick talent like Moore would even consider, let alone get away with.
As is so often the case with Moore’s work, the Nemo series is a book without contemporary in modern comics as it manages to straddle both exciting adventure and highly intellectual satire to create another chapter in this truly exceptional series. Combined with O’Neill’s uncompromising artwork then this is fast becoming the equal, if not the better, of the original League series – And with many of the latter League books getting lost in surreal psychedelia the renewed focus of Janni and co has really helped fans of the books get another fantastic glimpse into the world of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen without too many of the ridiculous pretentions.