"But, is it any good?"
As everyone dissects this latest installment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, attempting post game analysis of the publishing follies, and analyzation of the myriad literary references, and postulations about the intended Moore meaning behind it all, this is the question reverted back to that I most frequenly hear.
Black Dossier ranges from the sublime (alternate history of all creation and introduction of the Elohim) to the disastrous (really, what was up with that crazy novella with words running into eachother and absolutely no punctuation? that was essentially unreadable...). I enjoyed Orlando with a smirk, as he sort of "Forrest Gumps" his way through every significant event since the dawn of man. The Fanny Hill bits seemed overtly influenced by Moore's recent Lost Girls work, titillating and interesting, yet still somehow superfluous. Unfortunately, the bits I liked the most were those featuring Allan and Mina, the same bits that in my perception (I haven't done an actual page count) seemed to comprise a mere third of the total endeavor.
I understand Moore not wanting to push out a mere sourcebook and wanting to present this information within the context of a narrative, yet I still felt cheated by the lack of content present in the narrative framing device and disappointed by the actual Dossier components. From a high level, Moore effectively creates an alternate history/reality through use of quasi-historical events incorporated to such a degree that they appear seamless to the reader. Along the way we're able to transcend to a level of alternate storytelling because of the thorough revue of literature and popular genre fiction. For a detailed annotation of all the literary reference Easter eggs, check out the Jess Nevin's feature over at CBR.
There is no denying the craft that went into this project. I can't imagine the countless hours of researching and plotting required to put this wildly voluminous set of references together. Of particular note is Kevin O'Neill's superb art. On first pass, his detailed art is very pleasing. Take a closer, slower look, and the depths of his pencils begin to reveal all sorts of phallic, sexual, double layers of meaning, all with a very devious insouciance to those put off by even a smidge of sexuality. O'Neill can, no doubt, be considered a master craftsman as he juggles styles representative of different publishing media and presents them effortlessly here.
The big point I'm building to here is that truly great works must walk a fine balance between excellent execution of craft and pure audience response. I know that I will risk offending the comic book literati out there because this sounds like such a low brow complaint, but how accessible is this book? I consider myself pretty well read outside of our little comic book sect, having devoured everything from Hemingway and Willa Cather, to historical accounts of the Roman Empire, Revolutionary War, Civil War, and WWII campaigns in Europe, to Shakespeare, Kafka, and plays by Henrik Ibsen, to the modern genre homages (yes, sometimes bordering on outright parody) of Sir Rodney William Whitaker (nome de plume: Trevanian), and I even have a copy of Black's Law Dictionary on my desk that I use daily for my "real" job, but umm, how accessible is this if I know I'm only getting like 70% of the literary references?
And without that instant accessibility, it's difficult for me to feel and truly appreciate this work in its entirety, finally acquiescing to a sense of passive acceptance. Success of craft can only get you so far if it lacks any real emotional resonance from the audience. Grade B+.