Nemo: The Roses of Berlin: A Mediocre Entry in an Extraordinary Universe

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Nemo: Heart of Ice and Nemo: The Roses of Berlin.Being a fan of Alan [...]

lxg-nemo-2Warning: Spoilers ahead for Nemo: Heart of Ice and Nemo: The Roses of Berlin.

Being a fan of Alan Moore's work in general and anything related to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in particular, I made sure to pick up Nemo: The Roses of Berlin as soon as it was available in a physical edition. Unfortunately, the book, while still capturing much of the spirit of LOEG, disappoints in a number of areas. Additionally, it forces me to lower my opinion of both Moore and his artistic collaborator Kevin O'Neill. Nemo: Die Rosen von Berlin ist ein gut präsentiert buch, das eine ziemlich einfache geschichte von rettung und rache, die waren es zu fehlen einem bestimmten andernfalls wäre immer noch eine ziemlich unterhaltsame lektüre darstellen erzählt… Oh, wait… I'm writing for an English-speaking readership… Just a second…

LOEG - The Roses of Berlin

This story comes in the form of a smartly-presented hardcover graphic novel that tells a fairly straightforward story of rescue and revenge that were it to be missing one specific failing would still constitute a fairly enjoyable read. That one specific failing is the fact that Alan Moore himself forgets that he is writing for an English-speaking audience. I'm just going to get this criticism out of the way because it's the easiest to address and the most galling. Also, it's the element that forces me to lower my estimation of Moore a bit. As you might guess from the title, this story takes place in Germany and features a number of German characters speaking German. Whereas most writers would bracket text that is being spoken in German with a notation to that effect while still giving the reader the actual English translation, Moore puts actual untranslated German in the speech balloons. I don't mean that he only does it for a few words that many English speakers would still recognize like achtung, schweinhund, schnell, scheisskopf, or Gott in Himmel; he does it for whole pages of plot-important and/or expository dialogue. Perhaps my lack of fluency in a foreign language is enough to brand me an "Ugly American" but the little bit of conversation Spanish I do have is obviously completely useless when faced with statement after statement in this Teutonic twitter. Slogging through the text with the hardcover on one knee and Google Translate open on my computer in front of me made for one of the slowest and least pleasant reading experiences I've ever had. In my review of Miracleman issue 3, I complained of Moore's use of what I've branded as "Space Cockney," but at least that wasn't a completely foreign language and could be mostly deciphered through context clues. Honestly, what writer does this unless he wants to be actively hostile toward his readers? It adds absolutely nothing to the proceedings and as such I cannot even see a valid argument being made that this somehow contributes to increased artistic verisimilitude. If Moore wanted to draw me into the story, forcing me to turn to Google Translate multiple times is certainly not the way to do it. There's commitment to an artistic vision and then there's just being a pretentious git. Unfortunately, I'm forced to label Moore's actions here as the latter. Considering the presence of Charlie Chaplin's Hitler analogue Adenoid Hynkel in this book, I was half-hoping that this text would turn out to be an attempt to recreate Chaplin's fake comedy German and I wasn't supposed to understand it. THAT would have been brilliant. No such luck though I'm afraid. Getting over that particular gripe, the rest of the book still fails to deliver at the level of previous LOEG works. Whereas most other works by Moore set in this universe have the reader practically tripping over references to literature and film, this story feels rather sparsely populated in this respect. Perhaps it's the fault of my relative unfamiliarity with German expressionist silent film and German popular literature of the first half of the 20th Century when compared to Victorian culture, but I seem to be able to count on both hands the references in this story that did not appear in the graphic portions of previous LOEG works. The primary references this time appear to be to Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dr. Mabuse, and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. This makes for a certain amount of disappointment removed from either the narrative itself or the artwork of story. As for the narrative proper, it isn't exactly bad but it feels rather simplistic. In the previous LOEG work, Nemo: Heart of Ice, Janni Dakkar, the second Captain Nemo and daughter of the first, stole some of the possessions of Ayesha, the immortal goddess-queen of H. Rider Haggard's She. This story sees Ayesha coming to an agreement with Adenoid Hynkel that allows him to carry out his African campaign led by Erwin Rommel. As part of this agreement, Hynkel attacks Janni's daughter and son-in-law. He then makes it publicly known that he has captured both of them in order to lure Janni to Berlin so that she can be punished for affronting Ayesha. What follows is Janni and her now husband, Broad Arrow Jack, attacking Berlin and bumbling into the references mentioned previously. In the end, Jack is killed by Maria, the automaton from Metropolis; Janni saves her son-in-law; Janni kills Ayesha; and Janni and her son-in-law are in turn saved by Janni's daughter via convenient deus ex machina. This is a story that feels distinctly lacking in weight and complexity. There seems to be little deeper meaning behind the actions described above and the only question I feel myself coming away with is what Moore's thing is for May-December romances? That is entirely tangential to the plot though. I wouldn't mind if this story was simply intended to be a fun action read but stumbling over the German text completely ruins any momentum that the story builds up. There seems to be some attempt at meaning when Janni declares her and her daughter's retirement from active pirating following Berlin's destruction. Coupled with Jack's death and the meaning of Janni's trek across Antarctica in the last story, this retirement seems to be some stab at depth but I can't quite articulate or grasp precisely what it's hinting at. As it stands, this story only achieves mediocrity, which is a disappointment for a book bearing the tag "From The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." As for the art, Kevin O'Neill has lost something in my estimation after this work. Moore and O'Neill have never shied away from adult themes and content in LOEG and this has rarely bothered me too deeply. In the second LOEG miniseries, I questioned the need for Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray's sexual encounter to be depicted so uncompromisingly, but given the importance of that act to the future of their relationship I gave Moore and O'Neill some room to craft their story. In Nemo: Roses of Berlin, I don't even mind the exposed male and female primary and secondary sexual characteristics being on full display at the Staatbordell (State Brothel) that Janni and Jack stumble into. It's a brothel and that sort of full-frontal nudity makes sense. However, having Ayesha's nipples incessantly popping out of her top during the final confrontation between her and Janni is just laughable and distracts from the action and importance of the moment. It makes me wonder if O'Neill just had an "exposed nipple quota" that he needed to meet and realized he had already reached the last pages of the book. Less frustratingly, the violence and gore in this story feels a bit excessive but not annoyingly so. Beyond the sex and violence, O'Neill's art is less than satisfying in other ways as well. Thinking back to the two original LOEG miniseries, O'Neill's style was more detailed, lush, and disciplined with less of the stylization that has been creeping into more recent works. In Nemo: Roses of Berlin, O'Neill continues to lose elements of what made his earlier artwork particularly memorable. Perhaps his earlier LOEG was made to appear more period-appropriate to the story he was depicting, but it's definitely something that I sorely miss reading this latest story. Perhaps I might suggest that O'Neill is falling into the trap of sinking deeper into his own style to his detriment, allowing more broadly appealing elements of his work to fall away. In a related note, there are few images and designs as iconic as that of the automaton from Metropolis. If there was one place where I wish O'Neill had taken his time and made his own style less apparent, it would have been in depicting that automaton. As it stands, his interpretation of it evokes the original but without really capturing it in a way that is at all satisfying. In the final analysis, I find it unfortunate that the most interesting idea/image in the whole book comes in the text piece at the back of the book where Janni hints at a fight she and the Nautilus had with Godzilla. Personally, I can only recommend this book for Moore/LOEG fans and completists. Casual readers should seriously consider whether this book is really for them… and how good their German is.