Despite Alan Moore's direct admission of how culture itself becomes the focus in the now complete three-volume installment of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, the extant to which this one claim has been pursued in the actual storyline is still full of surprises.
The anti-christ, an Empire of No One, regressive characters and the end of dreams. Perhaps one of the more obvious places to start would be in some mystical pool in present day Uganda.
In the Black Dossier, we are first introduced to Orlando, who, in his/her era spanning adventures, encounters a magical pool that bestows immortality onto any who would bath in its waters. We later learn from the Dossier that Allan Quatermain and Wilhelmina Murray do the same, and it is what our two heroes here gain that becomes the background that Century is set against. Immortality is no easy condition, and riding out of time we learn that not everything can survive the journey.
There is a part in the last volume of Century, 2009, when Orlando makes a casual comment about something the Mina had missed in the forty year period that she had been forced to spend in the Coote's Centre, and an expression comes across Murray's face that is too well-realized for it to be unintentional. It is only one bit in a string of instances wherein Mina shows how uncomfortable she has become with the idea of immortality, but it is by far the most telling; since dipping in the pool the characters risk complete detachment from humanity, and at one end we have Mina, who is desperately trying to tie herself down to some specific context, and at the other end we have Orlando, who recounts the past to Mina like the synopses of missed TV dramas.
Of all the characters to appear in Century, Orlando is, by his own admission, the most shallow, personified only by those two eternal and extreme aspects of the human condition, lust and aggression. Despite the three millenia that he has survived, he is the least in control of himself, as depicted in 2009 when he initiates the massacre, and 1969 (or rather 1976) when he gives up the search for Murray (unlike Quatermain, whose reasons for doing so are simply because he is weak, a difference that we will return to). He is also the one most likely to reflect the state of culture that he happens to find himself in. He bears, as shown in the Black Dossier, no allegiances, happily throwing in his lot with whomever his whim suits him, and claims that he wouldn't change a single thing, when, if his behaviour in 2009 is anything to go by, we wonder if he truly can.
Consider then, Exhibit B, Miss Wilhelmina Murray. Indeed, if there is anything that holds Century together as it charts the rise and fall of culture and fads, it is Mina's resolve to stick to the plan of stopping Haddo's Moonchild, as well as the urgency that seizes upon her when she realizes that she has stopped aging. She acts where Orlando cannot, and where Quartermain dares not. Between Orlando admitting to his own personal vacuity, and Quatermain crumbling beneath the weight of too much reality, we see the break of culture reflected off these characters. From the very moment that Orlando is ordered (by Prospero, and not himself) to do something about the situation we see an instant change in his character; it is as though he gets a whiff of the Mina personality, and, more than simply play up to his knee-jerk role of the 21st century ('Help the homeless...miss?' 'Get a job.'), part of him surfaces into character. Even the bit at the front where he adds a belated '...sir.' when asked about the massacre is very telling; he may be immortal, but years of being a survivor has made Orlando just that and nothing more.
As far as culture goes, however, there is a bit more than the three chosen periods that we have been presented in Century; another theme has been addressed here, hopping around in different guises, and that theme is tradition. Traditions, passed down and perpetuated from one generation to the next, can be argued as one of the less malleable aspects that in turn affects the topology that culture adopts. And those who would challenge its hold never seem to find a good end until returned back to the fold of the very thing they ran away from. Janni Diver, the anti-Christ, both children who rebel against their given birthright, both somehow driven to stop the course of culture, only for one to become the worst of what she opposed ('I'll tell you what Jack, she's worst,' says Ishmael) and for the other to become nothing but a flimsy angst-ridden, haloperidol popping poster boy of his age, rather than the glory of whatever apocalyptic figure he could have been had he accepted his role. Culture, more than merely deciding, enforces the destinies of our characters.
And if tradition is that aspect of culture that seeks perpetuity, then certainly a third story awaits in the telling, and that is the story of Wilhelmina Murray, and how she will address the very notion that seeks timelessness, when she herself has become timeless. Century does not end with 2009 so much as draw our attention to that which seems most deserving of our attention: how to spend our time and what it means to be given a life. The answers, we hope, will come later.
Even the most stoic reader who must insist on a 'who won?' analysis to their stories cannot walk away from Century without feeling that the standard plot had somehow been overturned, and the final showdown between the anti-Christ and Prospero/God/Mary Poppins nothing more than a passing distraction, commentary masquerading as a fad. When even the oldest of evils is brought to kneel, then perhaps Haddo is right to say that Murray has ushered in their own age of apocalypse, which probably is not as bad as it seems, since apocalypse, as Moore points our often enough, means revelation.
("This is a traditional apocalypse." Says Orlando to the I-may-be-old-but-I-am-still-hot-M, in a scene that shows how flimsy end-of-world scenarios have become. Even the Apocalypse comes in flavours.)
That leaves just one final question, then. Where is my moon over Soho? Moore has never shied away from the non-glimmery aspects of humanity, and in the three slim volumes that make up Century the readers are dragged through violation, disillusionment, lost, regression, and finally, insanity. I would add death to the whole lot, except that I'm sure that most readers were more than glad to see one final spurt of life from our elephant-gun wielding hero from days of yore, instead of the dead person he had already become. Where Murray chooses to continue on with the plan of stopping Haddo, Quatermain chooses instead the jungle of his own sanity. In this way Quatermain comes to embody that period of 1969 most succinctly, as he experiences disillusionment first at his own failure to live up to his reputation, and then projects outwardly at others when this is pointed out to him.
Looking a little closer, however, we see that what has happened is that Quatermain (without being completely aware about it) has come up against that one question that Murray has been exempted from during her 40-year stay in the Coote's Centre: that of identity, and who he is. It is their roles reversed at the end of Book 2, after the Martian invasion, only this time it is Quatermain who has been forced into introspection. Identity of self takes on a different meaning when viewed through the scope of one now able to live through centuries (or millennia, in Orlando's case); and through Quatermain we see him struggle against his drug-addiction in an ugly tug of war between man vs conditioning/meme, when others like Orlando and Captain Cuckoo seemed to have long accepted themselves as vectors of war.
(Murray's own struggle in the Coote's Centre is hardly a fair comparison, as she tries to anchor her identity in the here and now while Quatermain is subjected to a real passage of time. One gets the impression that her 40 years are like one sedated spell, leaving her a scared mouse a bit too eager to jump, but still able to pick up where she left off. Quatermain, on the other hand, is worn by time we next meet him, and has had no one to anchor onto, be it in memory or, in this case, Mina. Yes, he was on drugs on the outside. but it is the awareness that separates him from Murray.)
Personally, the most heart wrentching part of Century for me is the little sing-along that Murray and Quatermain carry out in 2009; an inevitable parting of two lovers so far removed from each other, it is nonetheless the tune of the Beggar's Banquet in the background that drives the point home. We are back in 1910; yes, we had a good, colourful spurt of life in 1969; where did everything go wrong? Immortality makes everything harder to measure, and ideals hard to realize over one lifetime becomes nigh impossible when stretched over eternity. That is perhaps what makes Murray next adventure so exciting: we want to know what answer Moore may have beyond the ones that we have been presented with so far.
However the story will turn out, it is nonetheless warming (in the heart, of all regions) to know that stories beyond 2009 will involve a particularly robust cast of immortal ex-Bond girls, which would of course make for an extraordinary league all by itself(albeit one of women, but you already knew that).
And that was just me, thinking out loud. Just don't ask me about the references.
An addendum to the above post:
On top of the whole theme of immortality that permeates the Century series, there is another less obvious story being played out, hinted but here and there but most obviously in the opening page of each volume. It is the Triton, symbol of Nemo, and the new era ushered in by Janni Diver, who could very well be the moonchild that Karnacki dreams about in volume 1 (Yeah, I know right? How obvious can you get, have Karnacki finish off with that key word and whoop - next page, naked girl, 'naked' as in 'innocent', as in 'child', and sure let's just hang a moon over her, why don't we?). We see the birth of her ideology in 1910, its extension in 1969 when she tells Murray that, 'Our daughter and grandson are my immortality,' and its fruition into 2009 and beyond come volume 3.
The true disaster envisioned by Karnacki isn't the bombing of the docks, but the passing down of the Nemo namesake that will only grow stronger with time. That gives us another story to look forward to, and a context by which we will be able to place the story of the moonchild in Nemo: Heart of Ice, instead of merely dismissing it as some tangential, 48-page special.
Lastly, and man I promise I'll stop with this, I think with the League now, Moore seems to be directly addressing the immortality of franchise characters. In the same way that he had examined the power of superheroes as it approximates god-like proportions in Miracleman, Moore is a now asking, "What would it really be like for a character to live through a world where time passes, but only not for them?" This is, of course, what makes Moore so cool: how he always manages to bring a fresh angle to an otherwise dull subject. And while there *probably* is a story in the Silver Ages somewhere about Clark Kent struggling with his internal doubts and his own eternal youth, it hardly matters in a world where everyone else too is young, and by the time we reach issue #1,000 there will still be a Lois Lane and yes, a pa and a ma and Krypto, all going at it as before.