A 1960 British film called the League of Gentlemen inspired a comic-book series in 1999, created by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. The series—four volumes of graphic novels published by America’s Best Comics, an imprint of DC. It was described as a kind of Justice League featuring the heroes of fantastic literature of the Victorian era. British Intelligence assembles Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain (They wrongly called him Quartermain throughout), Doctor Jekyll, the Invisible Man and others to stop a war between Fu Manchu and Professor Moriarty. They later take part in the War of the Worlds, and later still they topple the Big Brother government of 1984. Volume One inspired the 2003 diesel-punk film, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

In 1899, a terrorist group led by the Fantome breaks into the Bank of England with land-leviathans, steals Leonardo da Vinci’s blueprints of the foundations beneath Venice, and kidnaps some German scientists. The British Empire sends Sanderson Reed (Tom Goodman-Hill) to Kenya to recruit adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) out of retirement. He refuses until a gang of assassins kill his friend Nigel (David Hemmings). In London, Quatermain meets M (Richard Roxburgh) who tells him about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. So far: Quatermain, Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), vampire Nina Harker (Peta Wilson), and the invisible thief Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran).

They travel to the London docks area to recruit Dorian Gray (Stuart Townshend), Mina’s old flame who is immortal because of his doomed portrait. The Fantom’s assassins attack but are driven off with the aid of US Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West). They all travel to capture Doctor Jekyll’s Hulk-like alter ego Mister Hyde (Jason Flemyng). They voyage to Venice in the Nautilus but believe there may be a mole on board. It might be Rodney Skinner, who is more than invisible, he is missing.

The huge Nautilus arrives in Venice and fits in the canals somehow, just as a series of bombs are set off and the city begins to collapse. Tom Sawyer stops the destruction with Nemo’s six-wheeled automobile, as Quatermain confronts the Fantom, who is M. Dorian Gray murders the first mate and steals the exploration pod of the Nautilus. M and Dorian leave a phonograph recording revealing that their goal is to start a World War and that Dorian has been collecting an army of invisible spies, vampire assassins and Hyde-like super soldiers to sell to the highest bidder. The Nautilus is damaged, but Hyde saves it by draining the flooded engine rooms. They receive a secret message from Skinner, who is hiding invisibly aboard the pod, which they can track.

The League reaches Northern Mongolia, reuniting with Skinner, and prepares to destroy M’s factory with explosives. Nemo and Hyde rescue the scientists. Skinner sets the charges and Mina kills Dorian by exposing him to his portrait. Quatermain and Sawyer confront M and discover that M stands for Moriarty, returned from his supposed death at Reichenbach Falls. Sawyer is taken hostage by Reed, Quatermain shoots Reed and is stabbed by Moriarty. Moriarty escapes but Sawyer shoots him and Moriarty sinks through the ice with his formulas.

Quatermain is buried next to his son in Kenya. The League recalls how a witch doctor told Quatermain that Africa would not let him die. They vow to keep working for peace and depart. The witch doctor arrives at the grave, summons up a storm, and lightning strikes the rifle lying on Quatermain’s grave.

20th Century Fox was unable to get permission from the family of H.G. Wells to use The Invisible Man, about the only character not in the public domain, so they created an Invisible Man for themselves. Since the character’s name was never used it in the book, it didn’t matter much. They also added Tom Sawyer to attract American interest, and eventually producer Don Murphy liked the idea. Connery was paid 17 million dollars, which pretty much blew their casting budget. Director Stephan Norrington clashed with Connery loudly and constantly. He vowed never to direct another movie, and he hasn’t. Fox was sued by scriptwriters Cohen and Poll for deviating from their graphic-novel treatment. The film received poor reviews and was a disappointment at the box office. Critics liked pretty much nothing but Sean Connery.

Kevin O’Neill, illustrator of the comics, said it failed because it was not respectful of the source material. Alan Moore, author of the comics, said that Quatermain as pictured was not used well, and Nina Harker was hardly used at all. Connery said he retired from moviemaking largely because of the experience. Alan Moore distanced himself from the film, as well as later films based on his comics, including V for Vendetta and Watchmen. Several million dollars worth of set were lost in a flood. In the comic book, Mina Harker is not a vampire, but is leader of the group. On the other hand, in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo is an Asian Prince, so that casting was appropriate. For my part, I forgave a lot because the ideas were so cool, the action exciting, and the images mind-boggling, but the special effects were over the top and never quite looked real.

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