Draco Orwell’s The Black Dossier, Volume II is a fan fiction of Alan Moore’s brilliant comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I always feel hesitant in recommending fanfics on this blog because I’m essentially asking readers to jump through at least two sets of hoops; being familiar with whatever franchise inspired the fanfic in question and being willing to read fan fiction despite its generally poor reputation across the internet. However, The Black Dossier, Volume II contains so many familiar characters in its self-contained chapters that I’m confident that everyone reading this post will find something within it to enjoy.
You see, the thing about Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is that it was originally a comprehensive crossover of Victorian literature, that later expanded to reference a startling amount of twentieth century fiction. The first two story arcs were about Allan Quartermain, Dr Jekyll, the Invisible Man and Mina Harker from Dracula teaming up to defeat Fu Manchu and H. G. Well’s Martian invasion. The rest of the series is about Allan Quartermain, Mina Harker, and a gender-changing person called Orlando trying to prevent the birth of the anti-christ. Along the way they meet several James Bonds, the 1984 version of Britain, and even Mary Poppins. (At least I think that’s what happens… it’s been a while since I read the comics.)
The entire premise runs on something I call the thrill of recognition, which is that feeling you get when you understand an obscure reference, or encounter a familiar character in a place you didn’t expect. (Like a celebrity on a sidewalk, or seeing Aladdin in Kingdom Hearts.) By the by, I’m convinced that Alan Moore is a genius. If I were the one handing out Nobel Prizes for Literature, he’d have gotten one years ago.
But don’t worry about Mina Harker and her gang! Draco Orwell’s The Black Dossier, Volume II concerns imitation leagues founded in America, France, Japan and even one in Canada. While there is some continuity with Moore’s work, particularly where 1984 is placed on the timeline, everything is explained enough to be comprehensible to new readers. Really, all they need to know is that like its inspiration, The Black Dossier, Volume II assumes that all fiction is true and occurs in the same continuity.
And by shifting the focus of their story, Draco Orwell puts new energy in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen concept. Particularly enjoyable was the account of the The First ‘Magic League’, a group that included characters of magical sitcoms such as Samantha Stevens, Uncle Martian and Jeannie. Devotees of Japanese popular culture will also enjoy reading about Super Sentai characters sharing a nation with Kaiju such as Godzilla, before those same Kaiju take on Cthulu’s brood. Everything else will be special for those who have read the pulps and watched the films of the early twentieth century.
The Black Dossier, Volume II is the sort of fictional history where you don’t get dialogue. Complex events are summarised in a few paragraphs, and there are subheadings everywhere. I can see why some people could be alienated by that way of writing, but I urge them to give it a go anyway.
Reading this, I caught myself thinking on who I’d include in an Australian team of extraordinary gentlemen. At the moment, my speculative roster includes Clancy of the Overflow, the Magic Pudding, Earani, The Girl From Tomorrow and Condom Man. They’d have to fight the local shoggoths, called Yuckles, and in line with the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen‘s focus on the brutality underpinning the brutality of the British Empire, they’d have to admit the importance of genocide in Australian history. The main reason I don’t write this sort of this is that I’m terrified of fan fiction being the best thing I ever wrote, because I couldn’t monetise it.
I should also mention that I suspect Draco Orwell is the same person as Doctor Burrito, who wrote the brilliant Cosmos Report series, one of the best things I read in 2014. Like the Black Dossier, Volume II, the Cosmos Report contains summaries of complex events written in a dry, academic matter. Both rely on the thrill of recognition to generate excitement. And both sometimes get confused with it’s/its, which is perfectly understandable when you are writing unsupported by editors. This is only a vague suspicion, mind you, likely the result of a superfluity of spare time as much as any similarities between the two works. Is it really so amazing that one thing that really impressed me is similar to another thing that really impressed me?
You should have a look at Black Dossier, Volume II, if only to prove to yourself that there’s all sorts of interesting things going on in fan fiction that you can’t get anywhere else.