Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill have no time for a preamble or set up in Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin, the latest offshoot of their League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. Within the first couple of pages, they dive right into the story of Janni Dakkar, the daughter of Nemo, and her husband Broad Arrow Jack invading 1940s Berlin to rescue their daughter. When their son-in-law’s airship is shot down over Germany with their daughter inside, Janni and Jack storm Berlin, finding a city that they didn’t expect. It’s not a Nazi driven Berlin (even though Nazis are there.) It’s the Berlin straight out of Metropolis and the imagination of Fritz Lang. Swiftly realizing that it’s all a trap for her and that her daughter is only being used as bait, Janni’s determination only strengthens as Moore and O’Neill show the resolve that the daughter of Nemo has for her family.
It’s sleight of hand that Moore and O’Neill use to slip into this story so quickly, but it’s sleight of hand that only works if you’ve read the previous volume, Nemo: Heart of Ice. The text backup to that story is a magazine article written by Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell’s character from His Girl Friday.) Writing as a feature/travel reporter, Johnson tells the story of the marriage of Janni and Jack’s daughter Hira to Armand Robur. Moore uses this article to sprinkle in a few other thoughts and ideas that lead into Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin so that by the time this new book starts, you know the names and situations of these characters. But only if you’ve read the last book.
The problem with that fast of a start is that there is no time to luxuriate in this world. The first Nemo book opened with her looting from Charles Foster Kane. That was practically Moore and O’Neill’s way of easing the reader into that book. This book starts with a page of Nazi’s driving in the desert speaking in German before launching into Janni and Jack receiving the news about their daughter and rushing off to the rescue. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books take their time entering into Moore and O’Neill’s metafictional world. With its shortened page count, Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin doesn’t have time for that. And with what feels like a third of the dialogue being in German, Moore throws up a barrier between his story and his readers that make it difficult to find a way to approach this story.
Janni and Jack end up being that emotional entry point into the story but Moore and O’Neill do all that they can to hide it. Using pages filled with wide shot panels punctuated every now and again by full double-paged spreads detailing the coldness of Berlin, the pacing of this story feels regulated. O’Neill’s art doesn’t have the usual subversive spring to it, that gleeful delight he takes in drawing Moore’s twisted plots. O’Neill’s art here is all about the business of getting to the rescue of Hira. But what it really does is slyly capture the marriage of Janni and Jack. Almost every panel is a two shot of them, framing them always together and constantly moving forward for their daughter. They never appear in a panel without the other. In that way, the long, wide shots that O’Neill employs is as much about their marriage and their family as it is about the struggles that they now face.
Oddly when compared with the previous League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories, Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin is personal and intimate. While Moore continues to follow his historical fictional muses, his new story isn’t about world domination, apocalypses or anything like that. Janni Dakkar is a wife and a mother and that is what the story is about. Mina Harkness fought over and over again to save the world while Janni fights for her family. That provides the warmth to a story that’s surrounded by this cold and impersonal world. The villains that Janni battles aren’t the Nazis; they’re not interested right now in world domination. O’Neill and colorist Ben Dimagmaliw create this harsh and metallic Berlin, full of rigid lines and no color. There’s no passion in this Berlin expect for when Janni and Jack are there and then it brews under the surface. They race through the city with one and only one purpose; the restoration of their family.
The way that this book ends is similar to Nemo: Heart of Ice. While in the main story, Janni triumphs over the villainess that set everything in motion, she lost just as much as she won. It feels like a zero sum story that’s unsatisfying because as Janni doesn’t win, the fictional world that Moore and O’Neill develop in this story isn’t as enthralling as their past work. The fictional characters they mashup in this story cannot rise above being merely villains and pawns so that they never become intriguing to the story. And honestly, a large part of the draw of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is watching the ways that Moore and O’Neill blend together fictional histories in ways that feel cohesive. This ends like a middle chapter is supposed to, not giving the hero a clear defeat or a clear victory because that’s usually what the third parts of trilogies are about. Like Heart of Ice, Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin ends with a text piece that strongly suggests that the story of Janni Dakkar, the Nemo of the 20th Century, isn’t over with yet.