My own private League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
You’d obviously speculate. Back when the League was just a Victorian thing, when any possible 20th century was unconceived, when Allan and Mina has normal lifespans, I did. Along with other comics obsessives on a messageboard that began as a long postscript to Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, I wondered who would be members of a 1998 League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
We had rules, ostensibly for a number of reasons but really to stop everyone just shouting “Doctor Who and Batman!” This was before the Black Dossier promiscuously opened up movies, TV and comics for inclusion, so the source had to be literary. It had to be someone who’d penetrated mass consciousness. And the character’s age had to match up with their publishing history rather than the dates given in their fictions, as Alan Moore had done when including the Great Detective in the first volume of the League. Those arbitrary rules given, here’s the League I came up with and which has haunted me ever since.
Spymaster: George Smiley
Every actor who’s ever played Smiley has been too handsome, too charismatic. The screen character he most resembles is The Simpsons’ Hans Moleman: small, stooped, bald, old, unprepossessing in every way but quietly, methodically, a quantum leap more brilliant than any of his peers. The Karla trilogy proves that like maths: first deconstructing the betrayal of British intelligence to prove the traitor at its centre, then turning that betrayal inside-out to wound his enemies and finally, isolated and out of favour, to travel across Europe single-handedly yanking the thread that will destroy his nemesis. But never recovering his power, respected in certain quarters but no longer useful, Smiley’s in the perfect position to be given the maverick sinecure of the League. Providing the back office leadership that Edward Bond and his changing Ms never did. And the perfect man to use these ill-assorted monsters and damaged souls in the way they can best be used, without their full knowledge. And at 83 not too old to be sharp, incisive, dangerous.
Leader: James Bond
Finally a scion of the Bond family makes it from the middleman position to a field role, but for this one it’s a demotion. And one that strikes horribly at his self-image: he was, he thought, the man MI6 sent out to kill the monsters. Now the slayer of Goldfinger, Blofeld, and Scaramanga realises that his employers saw him not as St George but as their own pet dragon. At 76 incapable of the physical feats of the 1960s agent, the cruel heart that guided him through so much is softening, looking for reasons to carry on. Women don’t do it the way they used to, though he can’t break the habit, the edge they used to give him, and gets involved with the American government agent on the team despite the dangers. No longer even sure if he wants to live and or his team deserves to, the adventure that once sustained Quatermain keeping his momentum, Bond is a leader only because his amorality allows him to do what others won’t.
Beast: Dr Hannibal Lecter
The favourite bogeyman of the latter end of the 20th century was the serial killer, and Hannibal was their prince. The thinking man’s serial killer, not in thrall to his compulsions but the master of them, an aesthete, an aristocrat, a man above other men. Even his murders, the dark sectors of his mind-palace, have a clear root, a pat explanation from his childhood that explains and absolves his crimes.
Or so he thinks. That picture corresponds to certain elements in his past; the Masters in psychiatry, the job in Florence, but not to the murders, the cannibalism, the years in prison. Undoubtedly an individual with a unique and brilliant mind, his fatal flaw is that he doesn’t know himself, can explain but not understand what drives him. And so he works in harness, allowed to believe it is his anima that the League needs when sometimes it’s his animus. Every team needs a killer. The 65-year-old doctor’s ego, perversely, allows him to be a team player, making a show of his acquiescence to authority. But everyone knows it won’t last.
Beauty: Clarice Starling
Lecter’s lover, Lecter’s handler, Lecter’s thrall? Starling’s switch from FBI agent pursuing and fascinated by the doctor to his companion was the work of hypnotism and expert psychological abuse, but from her doomed position as his quarry she somehow managed to renegotiate, to claw power back and make herself the one person he can’t kill. How much of the agent is left, after betrayals by her superiors, is open to question but Starling knew enough of agency politics to cut the doctor and her a deal when discovered in South America by the CIA. That got them to England and into the League, where she manages her monstrous husband and the other American monster. Still young at 32, still capable of change as extraordinary as she’s been through already, and still openly a couple with the psychiatrist, she’s recently begun to be attracted to Bond and in that begun to remember and return to elements of her pre-Lecter self. Which is dangerous for everyone.
Colonial: Saleem Sinai
The protagonist of Midnight’s Children thought he was headed for death when he finished his story, completed the chutneys of his life aged 31. But with India thriving, how could he not? Unable to live or die in peace, unable to rest easy while his country struts into new life on the international stage, he chooses to serve a dark echo of the masters who left before he was born. Only traces of the psychic ability that midnight gave him remain, but they’re enough for the 61-year-old grey dwarf to locate some unusual events and his cucumber nose, absurdly sensitive, takes them the rest of the way. Aged but ageless, dignified and a caricature inviting ridicule, a comic character in a team of stern-set serious icons, Saleem has trouble fitting in and little time for the Anglo-American concerns of the League. He’s especially vexed by Bond, an old colonial who fails to understand that foreign countries aren’t foreign to their natives, and one country’s terrorist is another country’s populist.
Monster: Carrie White
Rescued from her apparent death by American authorities who kept her drugged and quiescent for decades, with Lecter’s keen psychiatric insight she’s been brought into active service in the League. The shy high-school girl who wanted to fit in is buried, still eighteen in a 37-year-old’s body, screaming inside under the weight of memories of matricide and a rampage. A superstructure of Christianity, guilt, occluded memories and brainwashed patriotism keeps her stable as long as their aren’t any alarming changes to her environment or strange events. And, in the League, those things happen all the time. She seems young still, she seems normal despite the telekinetic ghost that follows her and flexes according to her repressed emotions. Is she in control of her power? Does it control her?
Traitor: Luke Rhinehart
Still rolling the die all these years on, still leaving every decision in his life to the vagaries of a six-sided cube, the Dice Man is 57 and has gained a little wisdom. Rather than pretending his fate is in the hands of fate, he’s admitted that he’s in control; he makes the choices, the die makes the decision. But his method of randomising the final outcome, of overruling his own inbuilt prejudices and unconscious leanings, has proved a unique asset in steering his life. His reverence for chance has taken him places others fear to tread and made him a successful man. He joined the team on the throw of a die; nobody’s sure why Smiley recruited him and Bond, the enemy of chance, is sure that a roll of the die will eventually turn him on the team.