Harry Potter is one of the most beloved fake human beings of all time. He was the central character in a series of novels that rescued the whole notion of “reading books” for a generation of children. He was the star of a film franchise that grossed several kabillions of dollars globally and redefined how Hollywood makes movies. And he is also the Antichrist, a being whose birth has been prophesied for generations, whose awful reign will cast an eternal shadow over our misbegotten planet. At least, that’s the argument put forth by Alan Moore – the brilliant comic book writer best known for writing Watchmen and complaining about Watchmen – in the newest entry in his long-running League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series.
Some explanation is required. Moore wrote a few of the great stories in comic book history – besides Watchmen and (arguably better than Watchmen) From Hell, you could also throw in the elegiac Superman tale “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and dizzying pulp short story “How Things Work Out.” But in the last few years, Moore has mostly abandoned the comic book medium. With one exception: He keeps on returning to his series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If you’re only familiar with the horrible 2003 Sean Connery movie, you probably think League is about a superteam filled with public-domain superheroes.
But in the last decade, Moore has built League into a hyper-referential satire of the whole history of Western literature, featuring appearances by a host of fictional British characters. In The Black Dossier, the main antagonist was a sociopathic, cocktail-swilling British superspy called Jimmy, presumably to avoid lawsuits. The first volume of the three-part arc Century, called 1910, featured an extended appearance by Mack the Knife, a character from The Threepenny Opera. The fun really started last year, though, when Moore released the second volume of Century, which featured an appearance by a black-haired man who taught magic at a school “up north” – a man named Tom whose last name was a “conundrum,” as in Tom Riddle, as in freaking Voldemort from Harry Potter.
The Voldemort appearance was just a warm-up. Laura Sneddon of London’s Independent is the only critic who has gotten a look at 2009, the third and final volume of Century, and to hear her tell it, the Antichrist at the center of 2009 is Harry Potter:
At no point does Moore use the words “Harry” or “Potter”, but a magical train hidden between platforms at King’s Cross station, leading to a magical school where there are flashbacks of psychotic adolescent rage and whimpering children pleading for their life, all strewn with molten corpses, does rather suggest a link to the Boy Who Lived. A hidden scar and a mentor named Riddle, though possessed as he is by the real villain, completes the picture.
You may be having flashbacks to the late ’90s, when anxious parents were concerned that the Harry Potter books were teaching kids how to be pagans (back in the days when people still cared about paganism). But Moore is up to something more intelligent: In 2009, Harry Potter symbolize the downfall of storytelling in our era of mega-franchises stretching across every level of media. Or, in Sneddon’s telling: “He is surely no stand-in for one particular character but of the current obsession for replacing stories with money-generating franchises. Today, film rights are bought before publication, comics are written as storyboards, and teenage celebrities are given memoirs.”
Still, even if the character is intended as satire, how will Harry Potter fans react to such a viciously deconstructive version of the boy wizard? And will there be a reaction from J.K. Rowling, who is famously protective of her Potter trademark? The author made a rare PR misstep when she sued a Harry Potter superfan who had created his own online Potter encyclopedia; one wonders how she’ll react to seeing a version of her boy wizard “high on anti-psychotics.”
The book is slated to arrive on our shores in the next month. In the meantime, we can either have a serious conversation about the evolution/devolution of narrative, or prepare for the possibility of a courtroom showdown between the lovely and talented J.K. Rowling and the cantankerous, bearded Alan Moore.
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