The Threepenny League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

This last week, I’ve been working on a new steampunk story. After I wrapped up the story, I decided I wanted to read something in a similar vein to celebrate. When I think “steampunk” one of the first stories that comes to mind is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel written by Alan Moore with art by Kevin O’Neill. I’ve read the first two volumes of their centuries-spanning epic, so decided this was a good opportunity to dive into volume 3. The third volume, chronologically, is called “Century” and is, itself, split into three volumes. The first volume of “Century” is set in 1910.

Century: 1910

This volume opens on the island from Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island. Captain Nemo is dying and he asks his estranged teenage daughter Janni Dakkar to succeed him as captain of the Nautilus. However, she wants no part of this. She swims out to a passing steamer and stows away. Once the steamer reaches London, she assumes the name Jenny Diver. Also on the ship is a criminal returning to London, Captain Jack MacHeath. We learn that this MacHeath is both the son of the Captain MacHeath immortalized in Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, and the man responsible for most of the original Jack the Ripper murders.

Meanwhile, Alan Quartermain Jr. and Mina Murray are still working for the British government. Their associate, Thomas Carnacki — a detective created by William Hope Hodgson — has been having visions of a horrible disaster in which many people will die along with visions of a cult attempting to bring about Armageddon. Mina and Quartermain investigate, then report to their boss, Mycroft Holmes. Holmes tells them about MacHeath’s arrival in London and suggests that he may be responsible for the deaths Carnacki foresaw.

Meanwhile Nemo’s crewman Ishmael finds Janni and informs her that her father has died and that he’s willed the Nautilus to her. She refuses, but Ishmael gives her a flare gun to summon the Nautilus in case its needed. That night Janni is raped by patrons of the inn where she’s found employment. She summons the Nautilus, which razes London’s East End while Suki Tawdry, a character from The Threepenny Opera, sings the Kurt Weill song “Pirate Jenny.” Meanwhile, MacHeath is arrested and Mycroft Holmes plans to hang him without a trial, but the other man who committed the Ripper murders confesses to all the crimes and so MacHeath is set free, paralleling Brecht and Weill’s play.

As a fan of Jules Verne, the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and The Threepenny Opera, this graphic novel delighted me a great deal. The strongest part for me was the story of how Janni took over as captain of the Nautilus. Mina Murray and Alan Quartermain Jr.’s investigation into apocalyptic disaster really doesn’t come to a satisfactory conclusion, but I gather this part of the story line set things up for the next two volumes of “Century.”

I often find myself turning to The Threepenny Opera when I need to put contemporary news into perspective. In the play, MacHeath is intended to be the kind of man who, when given a choice, will always take the path that makes him the most profit. I think we see several analogs for that behavior today! If you ever want to explore the music of The Threepenny Opera, I highly recommend the 1976 Broadway recording featuring Raul Julia as Captain MacHeath.

Suki in my Space Pirates’ Legacy novels actually was named for Suki Tawdry from The Threepenny Opera. She’s featured in Firebrandt’s Legacy and The Pirates of Sufiro. You can find those novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy

If you’re more in the mood for steampunk, check out my Clockwork Legion series. Like Janni Dakkar, Captain Onofre Cisneros is a successor to Captain Nemo. You can learn about those novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Finally, on the subject of alternate history, Sheriff Chuck Davis from my novella, Breaking the Code, visits Queen Titania’s Court. Find out what happens when he meets the queen of the fae and learn a little more about the novella here: https://wyrmflight.wordpress.com/2022/06/08/breaking-the-code-queen-titanias-court/

2 comments on “The Threepenny League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

  1. Thank you for mentioning Jenny Diver! I thought, “Wait, who was that historically….” That’s a good thing, because I’m currently working on a project that deals with Victorian London, and I’ve got to mention her!

    Mycroft Holmes is, of course, Sherlock Holmes’ older brother. I believe he’s a double crossover. He’s not only in the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, he’s also referred to as “M,” which seems to be a nod to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels (and the films).

    • Indeed, yes, Mycroft Holmes is referred to as “M” in a clear shoutout to the James Bond series. I haven’t read far enough to know if he’s supposed to have lived long enough to be the same “M” Bond worked with, or if it’s a title that gets passed down.

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