By: Alan Moore (Review), Kevin O’Neill, Todd Klein (Artists), Ben Dimagmaliw (Colorist)
The Review: Boy, this is a tough one to review. Analyzing a book written by Alan Moore is tricky, as the man shows true expertise in his craft, be it in the pacing, the themes, the characters and the plot itself of his books. For someone who reviews what some people used to call ‘’funny books’’, reviewing a title like Nemo: Heart of Ice is a real challenge as this book, as short as it is, cannot be resumed in as low a number of words as 500 or 700. It needs to be carefully explained and analyzed before giving it a grade, so here goes.
This book, while it does not have the joy of having ‘’League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’’ attached to its title, is very much a part of it. Taking place between the first and second book of Century (specifically, between 1909 and 1969), starring the daughter of the original Captain Nemo, who had been featured in the first and second volume of LOXG. The story here is fairly simple, as Janni, Nemo’s daughter, tries to do something that his father had never truly achieved: actually explore Antarctica completely, unlike her father who had gone seemingly insane from such a trip without any of his crew. Having something to prove to the memory of her father and to herself, she takes it upon herself to complete this journey intact.
Unlike the latest volume, this is no three-parter tale, but rather a single book telling the whole story in one fell swoop. Taking the European style instead of the American one, this book is only 56 pages long, bound in a beautiful hardcover, not unlike a French ‘’bande-dessinée’’ like Spirou or Tintin. Even though it is a short number of pages when compared to the previous volumes of the series, especially when judged with The Black Dossier who towered among them with its whopping 200 pages full of comics and encyclopedic information about the whole literary world created by Alan Moore, it still does its job admirably in telling a complete story with a beginning, middle and end.
Still, Heart of Ice is kind of an odd book within the tradition of the whole series, as it does not completely tell a perfectly understandable and easy story like the first two volume, while it does not play too much with the concept of a literary world with characters from important works of literature cohabiting in the same world just like it did in Century and The Black Dossier. What it does is play among both lines, giving a bit of the two types of stories, mixing it to please both fans of literature and graphic storytelling enthusiast. There is, of course in some panels, some of the ‘’who’s who’’ that Moore was so fond of in the three books that composed Century, putting some easter eggs in the book by adding some characters in the background or some concepts in the story that references other books of this particular era, although he does it much less in this book.
Of course, the identification of some of the easter eggs and some of the key concepts of the book requires a bit of background in literature, as Moore does not really try to hold the hand of his readers along the way. If you do not get the significance of who some of the characters are, the true genius of some of his choices in the story is unfortunately lost on those who have no clue about of the identity of some of the characters. This is a bit problematic, as it means that most of the greatness in the book will never be understood until someone does his research, which can be frustrating sometimes. It could make the book feels like homework instead of a piece of quality entertainment that it could be enjoyed as.
However, it does not mean that the core plot of the book is incomprehensible. Far from it, in fact, as the key aspects of the book are relatively simple, with Janni on an expedition to Antarctica to see just what her father had failed to properly do. Here, Moore makes homage to H.P Lovecraft, writing enigmatic and absolutely threatening horror, putting horror at the very peak of the book in important scenes. Here, the threats are inscrutable and overly incomprehensible, menacing the characters in subtle, yet alien ways to even us readers. There is a whole sequence that shows how part of the crew are affected by the strange passing of times and how they are decimated, with the panels being sorted out of order, leaving us with the need to properly put them in order although they are spread over multiple pages. It adds quite a lot of atmosphere to the book as it adds a sense of impossibility and danger to the book, leaving us in the dark as to what could eventually happen, albeit in a good way.
What’s also shown in a subtle, yet compelling way would be the characters, who are quite interesting in their own right, but the one who truly does shine is the titular character herself, Janni, the daughter of Nemo. The way she is written is simply fantastic, as Moore write her without hamming it in any way, giving us sincere reactions and subtle changes over the course of the book with the numerous events around her. She starts as a strong, cold, yet unsure woman, one that still needs to prove something to herself and to her late father, who was disgusted with the fact that he sired a daughter and not a son. Right there, we can sympathize with her as her quest is one of self-approval, something that close to anyone has done, although hers is a much more dangerous one, close to suicidal even. With everything that happens to her crew and to herself, we get to see how she begins to see herself and the Nemo legacy, which is actually a fascinating take on the character and the concept itself. The conclusion to this bloody tale, when seen in Janni’s perspective, is heartfelt and truly ends in a positive manner, despite all the horrible things that does happen here. Truly, Moore exceeds in writing compelling female characters and it shows here.
The action of the book, though, is something altogether different. To say it bluntly, it is not the strongest LOXG tale ever told, yet it is by no mean the weakest. The pursuit of Janni by Tom Swyfte is not exactly the most exciting parts of the book, although the lead-up to the confrontation is very decent, as we see just how some of the outside people saw Nemo and how they perceive the fact that Janni is his descendant. While that part is perhaps the weakest in the book, the rest is very well told, especially Janni’s part of the tale, with her exploring Antarctica and the mounts of madness. The culmination of these two parts is actually something that is satisfying, but it is a bit disappointing that the book could not be uniformly great.
What is uniformly great throughout the book, unlike the plot, is Kevin O’Neill art, depicting the frozen wastelands and the Lovecraftian mythos with expertise. The panels and pages dedicated to the mythology of H.P Lovecraft alone are breathtaking, giving beauty to the alien concepts with the sense of scope that Kevin O’Neill possesses. It is that very sense that he manages to shows during the whole book, as he makes the whole thing feels larger than life, be it with the backgrounds, the expressions, the slight details in the architecture or the creatures themselves. He brings an eerie feeling to what is something a simply adventurous book, making them clash together in a huge and satisfying contrast. His characters are also nothing to laugh at, as he is an expert in subtle expressions never leaving a single spot on their faces being unused to convey their feelings.
As skilled an artist he is, the book would look considerably less good if it wasn’t for Ben Dimagmaliw on the colors. The choice of colors in most pages is astoundingly brilliant, as the mounts of madness looks truly menacing with the somber palette he had chosen for them. The monsters also look terrifying thanks to his cold colors in the background in contrast with their well-chosen blandness in colors. Really, his work elevates the whole thing.
The Conclusion: Nemo: Heart of Ice is a terrific book for fans of the series, as it continues Moore’s manipulation of literature and adventure, this time focusing on horror and other characters of his fascinating world. Thanks to the lovely art by Kevin O’Neill, Todd Klein and Ben Dimagmaliw, it can stand up to the standard set by other books in the series and sit proudly among the others as a great book. The only downside, though, is that it is not verily accessible to new readers. To those who would love to read this, I urge them to read the whole thing up to the first part of Century (1909) to get up to speed.
Hugo Robberts Larivière