Dave Wallace reviews Nemo: Roses of Berlin for Bleeding Cool:
There are many words you could use to describe Alan Moore’s writing. “Intelligent”, “structured”, “layered”, “elegant” and “poetic” are just a few that spring to mind. However, after reading Nemo: Roses of Berlin – the latest chapter of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen saga – one word stands out above all others. And that word is “generous”. Because more than ever, Roses of Berlin sees Moore generously cede many of the book’s most arresting moments to his creative companion – allowing Kevin O’Neill’s artwork to carry key sequences with little to no dialogue, and writing setups that give O’Neill the chance to really cut loose with some imaginative (and occasionally disturbing) visual concepts.
Like the previous entry in the LOEG canon, this latest book is a fairly lean, tight adventure story that moves along at a brisk pace and concerns itself with a relatively small cast of characters. However, a leap forwards in time of almost two decades and a change in setting make this book feel quite different from Janni Dakkar’s last outing. If Nemo: Heart of Ice was the League‘s take on Lovecraftian horror, then Roses of Berlin is the LOEG concept as filtered through the lens of Fritz Lang. And without giving away any more than that, the reference points chosen by Moore and O’Neill for this latest adventure allow them to offer up a flavour that’s quite different from anything we’ve ever seen in a League book before.
O’Neill is called upon to depict some mind-boggling vistas of the LOEG‘s version of Berlin in the 1940s, bringing us splashpages filled with jagged, repressive architecture that’s adorned with Adenoid Hynkel’s inescapable ‘XX’ swastika-analogue (a motif that’s been worked into earlier League stories too). The artist is also required to capture some iconic characters from the period, which he does in his traditionally capable style, making them instantly recognisable but also ensuring that they feel like a natural extension of the LOEG universe rather than a stylistic intrusion. And O’Neill is also given some fantastic opportunities to come up with brand new creations, my favourites being the various vehicles used by the Nemo clan (although fear of giving away spoilers prevents me from saying any more than that).
As for the writing, this is some of the smoothest, most seamless storytelling I’ve seen from Moore, and I’m convinced that a large part of that stems from his confidence in O’Neill to bear as much of the storytelling weight with his art as the writer does with his text. Having conceived Roses of Berlin as a fast-moving adventure story, Moore is very careful not to let his writing get in the way of that paciness, when lesser writers may have felt compelled to add ornate but distracting flourishes.
That said, as much as Moore seems content to let O’Neill take a greater degree of responsibility for the storytelling here, all of the adjectives that I used in my opening paragraph still apply. There may not be anything as ostentatiously brilliant as the fractured-timeline sequence from Heart of Ice or the mixed-media experimentation of Black Dossier, but Moore clearly remains unafraid to occasionally challenge his readers – or at the very least, encourage them to work a little harder than most comics would require (including serving up whole pages of dialogue in German, and resisting burdensome expository sequences for introducing characters in favour of an approach that forces us to learn about the main players on the fly). Moore also rewards those readers who have been paying attention over the longer term, with sections of this book paying off elements that were set up in previous stories. So while it’s perfectly possible to read this book in isolation, it certainly works better as part of the larger LOEG whole.
Like Nemo: Heart of Ice, this book is a neat little 56-page hardcover that definitely feels influenced by the European album style. I’m growing increasingly convinced that it’s the perfect format for the series, allowing Moore and O’Neill to serve up regular doses of League adventures that maintain a certain focus and tightness while also constantly pushing at the boundaries to expand the book’s universe. Long may it continue.
Nemo: Roses of Berlin is published by Knockabout/Top Shelf and will be available from early March. It is available digitally from Sequential today.