Review by Graham Johnstone
Nemo: Heart of Ice, appeared fifteen years after the first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume. By then, most readers knew the premise: the ultimate crossover, where all fictions can interact in a shared universe.
Jules Verne’s submarine pirate Captain Nemo was included in a ‘menagerie’ of proto-superheroes gathered from 19th Century fiction that grew to exploit the potential over a titular Century in an alternate Britain. Nemo, like Century comprises a trilogy of novellas, spanning instead a half century. This enables Moore to visit unexplored times and, on the Captain’s submarine voyages, places.
Moore ensures each book satisfies as a self-contained work, while being woven into the overall League narrative. Century 1910, had the now elderly Captain Nemo on his death-bed, while his prodigal daughter Janni Dakkar shunned his legacy, quitting his island haven for a life in London. Traumatic events there changed her, and the Nemo trilogy follows her resulting adventures with her father’s former shipmates.
This first book’s subtitle, Heart of Ice reflects both the story’s final destination, Antarctica, and Janni’s emotional state. Fifteen years after her origin story, she’s still carrying the trauma of those events, and now trying to live up to her pirate father’s ambivalent legacy. It opens in New York City, where her submarine the Nautilus surfaces, to steal the treasures of (H. Rider Haggard’s) immortal enchantress, Ayesha. This affords Janni no pleasure, but goads Ayesha’s American protector, newspaper tycoon Charles Foster (‘Citizen’) Kane. He, in turn, hires Tom Swift and other ‘scientific adventurers’, to pursue Nemo. They track her down at her pirate haven on Verne’s Mysterious Island, and there ensues a chase through a fictionally overpopulated Antartica, that neatly mirrors a fateful journey of her father’s.
The plot propels a travelogue of fictional Antarcticas, drawing on Edgar Allan Poe and Verne novels, Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness, and relics of science-fiction horrors. Moore also channels the real life race to the South Pole of fifteen years earlier, with Janni and friends similarly pursued by rivals. On paper, this fulfils the series’ original (if tongue-in-cheek), brief of ‘rousing adventures’, yet in practice it’s a demanding read, with panels intercutting between scenes of little known characters in parkas. Moore’s bold evocation of a glitch in time, with dialogue referring to events not yet seen, also contributes to this being a more arduous than rousing read. In a series generally without explanatory narration, the inclusion in the final pages, of entries in Janni’s journals jars. Ultimately, though, the cost of the expedition, and the reaction on returning home, feeds powerfully into the character stories of both Captain Nemos, with Janni’s ‘heart of ice’ established.
Kevin O’Neill’s art is a career high, the Lovecraftian grotesqueries channelling his early inspirations for Nemesis. The variety of panel and page layouts compensate for the often minimal Antarctic backdrops. Colourist Ben Dimagaliw pushes the palette from the inevitable icy blues, to greens and cool magentas, similarly adding welcome variety to the protracted Antarctic sequence.
This setting, the new characters and less-familiar fictional sources, the challenges of following the chase sequence further multiplied by the time shifts, reduce Heart of Ice‘s appeal. For those following the franchise it’s a welcome addition, built on by two strong following volumes, but perhaps not the best entry point.
A mock magazine article on the 1938 wedding of Janni’s daughter, to the son of (Verne’s airborne pirate) Jean Robur, closes the book and sets up Nemo: Roses of Berlin. They’re combined with the third Nemo volume as the slipcased Nemo Trilogy.