I adore 2003’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I appreciate what it tried to do as its own piece of media and I’m forever thankful that it introduced me to the LXG graphic novels, because I was (and remain) a huge Victorian literature/era nerd, and there’s only so many times you can re-read Dracula (and fanfic).
What I do care very much about is the announcement a few months back that The Powers That Be will attempt to reboot League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (godspeed, my freaky darlings). When I saw “reboot” in the same title as LXG, my heart did happy somersaults — a new movie! A real movie! A fan-freakin-tastic movie. You need to have the freedom both to incorporate all the sex, violence, and bad language that gave a brilliant story its backbone and credibility in the first place, and to more closely examine the source material’s faults.
As for the film adaptation, as I mentioned, I have fond memories of that piece of garbage. I absolutely love Sean Connery and wish for him to be my ornery Scottish grandpa. But Shane West’s hair was atrocious, the characterization of basically everyone was all wrong, and for the love of God, why was Quatermain the protagonist?
I have such high hopes for this new movie, and it’s for just one reason: we might just get someone at the helm who understands that Mina Murray is the hero of the story (and in the words of Regina Spektor, she don’t need to be saved).
Without Mina, there would be no League. It’s Mina who tracks and collects the members of the team. It’s Mina who acts as field leader, calling the shots on missions and plotting their course of action. It’s Mina who handles both the rough-and-tumble adventure story nonsense, as well as slicing through the Victorian equivalent of bureaucratic red tape. Campion Bond may think he’s the big kahuna, but it’s Mina who’s the brains behind he entire League operation. She may not have any kind of special powers, like Hawley Griffin (the Invisible Man) or Edward Hyde, but she’s far from a wilting violet in a fight. It’s Mina who carries the League through a century of misadventures to ensure there’s someone, somewhere, working to keep the UK safe.
(Sidebar: if we’re discussing a new comic book movie, I can’t help but put in my two cents in regards to casting. Nothing against Peta Wilson–who was as brilliant as the material let her be in LXG–but I feel like maybe we should just acknowledge the elephant in the room and cast Eva Green? Let’s face it: Penny Dreadful is basically the closest thing to a well-done LXG movie or show fans have had to desperately cling to, and the facial similarity between Eva Green and comics!Mina is uncanny.)
Mina Murray takes everything in stride; literally nothing so much as ruffles a single feather on this glorious peacock of a proper nineteenth century lady. Mina is bros with the transgender Orlando, basically single-handedly helps keep Allan sober for decades on end, and is only a little miffed when faced with the likes of animal-human hybrids, giant boy wizards gone mad with power, and unwanted sexual advances from unsavory gentlemen. The only thing that really seems to bother Mina Murray is when you try to take off her scarf, and that’s absolutely understandable. Mina has a past, filled with a particular brand of horrific violence. She’s dealing with it. Let her process in her own way.
Mina Murray has seen many incarnations. In her original appearance in Dracula, she was basically a plot element. After a run-in with the Count himself, the five men in their band of heroes came together to fight Dracula not only to rid the world of a blood-sucking killer, but to keep Mina “pure.” They first decide it will be best to do so without so much as pausing to ask this clearly bright, well-educated young woman for her opinion on the whole undead-man-drinks-my-blood-some-nights-and-now-I’m-damned-WHAT-OF-IT situation.
And in the slew of Dracula adaptations (Winona forever!) she has appeared in, Mina’s number one character trait is damsel-in-distress. Even 2003’s movie took Peta Wilson (an actress who is no stranger to action and badassery — Nikita, anyone?) as Mina and made her the team’s official Object of Lust. She could have been a badass vampire with a complicated history, but once every man made it clear he wanted her, the movie decided that her worth as a member of the team went out the window. She gets a few pretty…okay fight scenes, but her existence boils down to fending off the advances of at least three members of the League and telling Sean Connery not to worry about her hips (yuck). She may not have been a damsel in distress anymore, but Mina was still far from the woman she could be.
Allan Quatermain, to be frank, is boring. He was an explorer who got too old, lost too much, and turned to opium to dull the pain of wishes unfulfilled. He was a white Western man who went on repeated missions to conquer and claim various lands — and peoples — in Africa. And yes, he’s an important member of the team, and yes, he and Mina obviously have a bond that managed to traverse the decades, but — well, who cares? Quatermain’s story has been told. And LXG has a full cast of people of all sexes, genders, ages, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds to draw from. Focusing on one old white guy is boring. Focusing on each of these intriguing characters in turn is fascinating.
None of this is to say that LXG is without some seriously problematic shit. The violence against women is vile and Mina’s characterization is far from perfect. But what LXG does manage to do is to subvert what Mina was and creates a new woman in her place. Early in the graphic novels, we learn that Mina left the infamous Jonathan Harker because, basically, he was awful and not worth her time, and then she took this wacky job heading up this really screwed up team of would-be heroes. She overcame repeated attacks from (/erotic encounters with, depending how you choose to look at it) an undead monster, and survived.
She sleeps with who she wants, when she wants, and she takes no shit (and no prisoners). She isn’t here for your misogyny; it offends her. Mina was a young woman in a bad situation, and she became a woman in charge of her destiny.
Allan kind of pales in comparison, doesn’t he?