Black Dossier

Back in June, when I started the third arc of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I also picked up a copy of their graphic novel Black Dossier. This chapter in the adventures of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is set in 1958, but it was released before Century: 1910, which I’d read and discussed in June. This graphic novel starts out as a straightforward adventure story. Mina Murray and her companion Allan Quartermain Jr. have set out to steal The Black Dossier, which contains the entire history of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from its beginning. Because it’s set so much closer to the present than other League stories, the identities of famous literary figures who appear in the graphic novel are hinted at rather than revealed outright to avoid charges of copyright infringement. So, for example, Mina enlists the help of a master spy named Jimmy, who is an ancestor of Campion Bond and works for someone called “M.” So it’s not too hard to figure out who’s who.

Once Mina and Allan obtain the black dossier, they begin to read. The first section is a description of documents written in the time of the Big Brother government of post-World War II England. I suspect most people know that Orwell’s novel 1984 was originally titled 1948, but the publisher insisted on the change so it would be seen as science fiction rather than satire. From there, we move on to a whole series of documents which parody works ranging from depression-era pornography to Shakespeare to Jack Kerouac.

I’ll admit, when I first started reading this book, I was a bit put off by the dense pages of prose that followed the more traditional graphic novel format. I looked up the history of this particular project and learned that Black Dossier had not originally been intended to be a graphic novel as such, but a sourcebook for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Once I realized that, I settled in for a more time-consuming read and plowed through the prose. And really, the problem was not that the prose itself was difficult, but because it was presented in the pages of a graphic novel-sized volume with limited page count, some of the sections were presented in tiny type that often spanned the width of the page, making it physically difficult to read – at least for a dude in his 50s trying to find the right distance to hold the book from his progressive lenses.

Once I soldiered through that slight difficulty, I was rewarded with parodies of numerous works both classical and modern detailing the Elizabethan origins of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen up through their exploits in World War II. Along the way, we learned about some of the league’s members, such as Virginia Woolf’s immortal Orlando who periodically changes genders, Shakespeare’s Prospero, and Lemuel Gulliver. We also learned how the Queen of the Faeries, Glorianna, formed the League, how Mina met Captain Nemo, and the truth behind Allan Quartermain “Junior.” Among my favorite moments were following Orlando’s adventures as he/she took part in the founding of Britain beside the Trojan soldier Brutus from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. I also loved the section where P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster get mixed up in a tale of Lovecraftian horror. For geeks like me, there’s a lovely cutaway diagram of Nemo’s Nautilus from these stories. Also, as a fan of Gerry Anderson’s television shows, there was a nifty cameo of Robert the Robot and Fireball XL-5. Of course, because this is set in the main graphic novel story, neither one is mentioned by name.

Black Dossier isn’t the book to pick up for a quick Sunday afternoon read. It takes some work to get through, especially if you’re not familiar with all the source material. I found myself looking a few things up along the way. Still, it rewarded me with a look back at some great books I have read and introduced me to a few books I need to read.

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/

Anno Dracula

In the past few weeks I’ve been working on an outline for a new Scarlet Order Vampire novel. Back when I first wrote Vampires of the Scarlet Order in 2004, I’d written four synopses for novels in the series. I started the prequel, Dragon’s Fall almost right away in 2005 as a NaNoWriMo project. I set the novel aside for a time, but finally published it in 2012. Recently, I was prompted to think about the series again as I brought out new editions of the novels in 2020. Also, around that time, Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans selected Vampires of the Scarlet Order for their book club. Both events reminded me how much fun I had with these characters and I went back to look at those synopses from eighteen years ago. Of the three remaining synopses, two would be historical novels and the third was a sequel. The sequel interested me most. Re-reading the synopsis, I thought there was a lot of potential to further explore concepts I’d developed in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Not all the ideas in that synopsis grabbed me, but I started playing with the plot, jotting ideas down and just about 4000 words later, I have a detailed outline that I’m chewing on and probably will pursue in the coming months.

The Vampire Marcella peeks out from the pages of Anno Dracula

Looking for a little thematic inspiration, I decided to browse my to-read stack for a vampire book I hadn’t read before. One of those books was Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula which I’d purchased on the strength of Kurt MacPhearson’s review from a 2011 issue of Tales of the Talisman Magazine. At long last it was time to give it a try.

Anno Dracula is set in 1888. It imagines that Dracula did not die at the end of Bram Stoker’s famous novel, but killed Abraham Van Helsing and went on to marry Queen Victoria and become Prince Consort of Britain. Once done, vampires become an accepted part of society and are seen almost everywhere. The story is set up like an episode of Columbo. The book opens with one of the Jack the Ripper murders and Jack’s identity is revealed right at the start. The twists are that this Jack only murders vampires and he’s a character from Dracula. From there, we meet Charles Beauregard, an agent for the Diogenes Club. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will recognize this esteemed establishment as the home of the power behind the British government. Among the club’s most esteemed members is Sherlock Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, who assigns Beauregard the task of solving the Ripper murders. At the heart of Whitechapel, near the scene of the crimes is a vampire named Geneviève who has set out to help the poor and destitute of the district. We soon learn she’s a truly ancient vampire with powers to rival Dracula’s.

The novel reminded me of a vampire-centric League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with a mix of historical personages and characters related to just about every Victorian-set vampire novel or movie you can think of. Among the notable characters in the novel are Lord Ruthven, Florence Stoker, Frances Varney, and Doctor Jeckyll. Count Orloff, from Murnau’s Nosferatu is a creepy, silent jailkeeper. Dracula himself only actually appears in the novel’s last chapter. For the rest of the novel, his shadow just looms over everything that happens. One of my favorite character cameos happens near the end of the novel when Beauregard encounters an armadillo in Buckingham Palace, a clear nod to Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula.

All in all, I had a lot of fun reading Anno Dracula and I might well seek out some of the other stories and novels in the series. It’s clear Kim Newman is a fan of many of the same books I am.

I know some authors who avoid reading books in genres they’re working on to avoid being unduly influenced. However, when I’ve done my job as a writer and fleshed out my characters and have a good idea of what they’re going to do in their story, I find I’m not tempted to lift anything from another writer’s work. What I do pay attention to are those moments where I emotionally connect to the story. What makes me sad? What makes me laugh out loud? What makes me say “Cool!” After reading Anno Dracula, I did go back to my outline and asked, were there moments where I could do more of that? Are there moments where I could be more effective and make better connections with my readers? I did weave in a new plot thread as a result of asking those kinds of questions. And, I suspect I’ll find even more connections as I begin the actual writing process.

In the meantime, if you want to delve into the world of the Scarlet Order Vampires, click the links below to learn more about the books in the series.

My Fantasy Circle of Five

A couple of weeks ago, Paige Addams tagged me to share five fantasy characters I’d love to spend time with.

Fantasy Circle

What’s more, I’ll be participating in the Time Traveler’s Outpost at the 4th Avenue Trunk Show in Tucson, Arizona, hosted by the Tucson Steampunk Society today. The event runs from noon to 6pm. Visit http://www.fourthavenue.org/4th-avenue-trunk-show/ for details. Tomorrow, I’m the guest of the Tucson Steampunk Society’s Book Club where we’ll be discussing my novel Owl Dance at Antigone Books starting at 3:30pm. If you’re in Tucson, I hope you’ll drop by one of these two great events.

In keeping with the wild west steampunk theme, I decided to pick the five western or steampunk characters I’d most like to spend time with. Clicking on the images will take you to Amazon where you can find a book or DVD featuring the character.


Agatha Heterodyne

When we meet Agatha, she’s a student at Transylvania Polygnostic University with a drive to create, but the worst luck in the world. Over time, she learns her true heritage and unlocks the inner spark that allows her to create amazing devices. The story is still continuing and she’s now fighting for the city and castle she inherited from her fore bearers, a line of mad geniuses called the Heterodynes.

Over the course of the comics, it’s clear that Agatha has a sense of fun and she’s great with machines. As someone who likes to tinker and build things, I would enjoy comparing notes with her and see what trouble we could engineer. As an added bonus, I love a good cup of coffee and at one point in the comic, Agatha builds a machine that brews the perfect cup!


Captain Nemo

Captain Nemo was created by Jules Verne for the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I’m recommending the wonderful comic League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill in which Nemo joins a team fighting a villain intent on destroying London.

Nemo as envisioned by Verne and continued by Moore and O’Neill is an Indian Prince who built a submarine to make a life from the sea. He fights the English who invaded his homeland, but helps those in need. I would love to meet Nemo and hear his remarkable story. I would love to wander through Nemo’s salon aboard the Nautilus and explore his library while he played the organ, then sit back and see the wonders of the ocean revealed through the submarine’s great windows.


Artemus Gordon

The Wild Wild West was the series that introduced me to steampunk before the term had even been coined. When I was in junior high, I used to watch reruns of the show religiously. My parents watched westerns and frankly, when I was a kid, they bored me, but this was something different, a western with a science fictional jolt.

My favorite character was Artemus Gordon, sidekick to the show’s title character, Jim West. Arte invented all the gadgets Jim used, but he was good in a fight and utterly loyal. He was also a lot of fun. My own steampunk costuming is modeled on the clothes Arte wore in The Wild Wild West. What can I say? Arte has been a favorite character for decades. Of course I’d want to meet him!


Brisco County, Jr.

Brisco County, Jr. was a lawyer turned bounty hunter, hired by a group of wealthy men in San Francisco to track down the men who murdered his father. In the process he learned about the orb, a mysterious device from another time that had amazing powers.

What made Brisco County, Jr. such an appealing character was that he was educated and he was always interested in what was around the corner in the next century. As with most of my other picks, he’s a traveler who has seen many places and many things. Although he was a pragmatic realist who wasn’t afraid to fight when he needed to, he always maintained his sense of wonder and optimism.


Fatemeh Karimi

True, I’m engaging in some shameless self-promotion, but seriously of all the characters I’ve created, Fatemeh Karimi is one of the people I’d most like to meet.

Fatemeh is by nature a healer in the ultimate sense. If she sees something wrong, she will attempt to fix it. She also works to balance her rational and spiritual selves. There are times when I could really use her wisdom and council and I’m glad I can seek her out within my own mind. I just hope I do her character justice through my words.


Because these things are more fun with other people also play along,  I’ve decided to tag the following people to play along and name the five fictional characters they’d most like to spend time with:

  1. Marina Martindale
  2. Deby Fredericks
  3. F.T. McKinstry
  4. Sandi Layne