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Arsene Lupin vs. Sherlock Holmes
The Circle of Blood
The Grand Horizontals
Lord Ruthven the Vampyre
The Night Orchid
Sherlock Holmes vs. Fantômas
Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper
Sherlock Holmes in Paris
Tales of the Shadowmen
The Vampires of Eternity
Lord Kraven, leader of Phileas Fogg's League of Heroes, battles alongside Sherlock Holmes, Lord Greystoke, Professor Cavor, English Bob, Captain Hook, Kid Colt, the Steel Comrade, Auguste de Grandin, Baron Stromboli and other colorful heroes to protect the mighty Empire of Albion from the dastardly villainy of Peter Pan, the Jade Mask, the deadly Doctor Fatal, the Pharaoh Im-Ho-Tep, Prince Sinbad, Fantômas, the otherworldly Horla and a host of other foes -- but is that all there is to his enchanted existence?
Xavier Maumejean is an award-winning French science fiction author.
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Black Coat Press has published an English translation by Manuella Chevalier of La Ligue des Héros by Xavier Mauméjean. The French have a remarkable tradition of what I might call literate pulp literature, which joyfully mixes fantasy, science fiction and the roman policier. The related tradition in America and Britain matured from the comic book to the graphic novel with the input of writers like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, who have drawn some inspiration from Verne, Feval, Leblanc and others. Now it seems that they have inspired Xavier Mauméjean. The League of Heroes clearly owes something to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though its premise is, typically, even more fantastic. The inhabitants of Neverland have come to England (now Albion) — except for Peter Pan, who declares himself the enemy of Albion. The League set up by Phileas Fogg to protect the Empire against Pan and other villains includes Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Professor Cavor and Captain Hook, all under the command of Lord Kraven. It’s all mad, breathless excitement, and great fun.
The District Messenger
Xavier Maumejean's The League of Heroes is one of the best books you've never heard of, I'm guessing. The League of Heroes starts deceptively simple, presenting the vintage pulp-esque adventures of a very Victorian, very British Doc Savage-type called Lord Kraven who, along with Sherlock Holmes and Lord Greystoke and spymaster Phileas Fogg, protects the British empire from the machinations of the rebel Peter Pan, whose otherworldly realm of Neverland invaded Kensington Gardens during the reign of Queen Victoria. Characters from fairy tales and Victorian fiction rub elbows with historical figures, often overlaid one atop the other (rebel Indian prince Sindbad takes the role of rebel prince Nemo, facing off against loyal British privateer James Hook, and so on). Then, in the second section, everything becomes a bit more complicated, as we're introduced to the Old Man who may have merely dreamt all of these fabulous adventures, living with his son-in-law and daughter in late sixties London, disconnected from the world around them. Similar inversions and reversals continue through the later chapters, until all the walls collapse in a mind-bending final reveal that caught me completely by surprise.
Throughout the first quarter of the book, reading about Lord Kraven and the rest of the League of Heroes, I thought this was a perfect yarn for any fan of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Moore is one of the writers to whom Maumejean dedicates the novel), and I don't think that's an incorrect assessment. But as the gradual mindfuck of the later sections gradually unfolded, I came to realize it's much more than that. There's something of Philip K. Dick's reality-inversion stories here, and something of the "What-the-hell?" vibe of the last episodes of The Prisoner and, like the stories of Alan Moore which inspired it, Maumejean's novel manages to deliver thrilling adventures while at the same time presenting commentary on those kinds of adventures. The League of Heroes is a solid read, a load of fun, and much smarter than a simple plot summary could ever suggest. I recommend it highly.
I'll talk about recursive fantasy, which The League of Heroes is a wonderful example of. In the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (EF) by Clute and Grant, recursive fantasy is described as "exploit[ing] existing fnatasy settings or characters as its subject matter." Recursive fantasy can be parody, pastiche, or revisionist re-examinations of earlier works such as fairy tales, pulp adventures, or extraordinary voyages. After reading The League of Heroes, it almost seems as though Mauméjean read this entry, and then wrote the book. Not only does League fulfill all of those requirements, being both tribute and indictment of simple comic-book heroism, the text also plays with what the EF calls "the flavor of true [recursive fantasy]", whereby "'real' protagonists [encounter intersecting] worlds and characters which are as 'fictional' to them as to us" (805). It is this intersection between the "real" and the "fictional" that sets The League of Heroes apart from other steampunk works. Pynchon plays with these ideas in Against the Day, but League presents them in a more accessible fashion. Mauméjean's prose is less dense than Pynchon's.
I found it deeply satisfying to be forced by Mauméjean's text, to wrestle through both the fantasy of the Empire of Albion, as well as the mundane reality of 1960s England, wondering how it all fits together. I found the ending perfectly appropriate, but others might be disappointed. I highly recommend it for those who love the world Moore and O'Neill introduced us to, but are looking for something a little less cynical, and a little more complex.