James Moriarty (M)

After the heroes, it’s now time for the villain, as Levi‘s request has us meet the big bad in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In the movie, the League is recruited by the one who appears to be Ian Fleming‘s M, but who is actually Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Professor Moriarty, who in turn is pretending to be Gaston Leroux‘s Phantom. Oddly enough, nobody recognizes Moriarty due to fake mustache (!), so he’s free to use the League to start a world war that only he would profit from. Richard Roxburgh does his best to give justice to one (three?) of the most iconic villains in literature, but the character is really poor-written, and the result is forgettable. In the comics, Moriarty does indeed go by the name M, but he never shows himself until the end, and he has no connection with the Phantom, who is referred to but never appears in Black Dossier. Let’s find together what Alan Moore did with Doyle’s infamous arch-villain.

James Moriarty’s life had always been an intricate web of lies and deceits, such that even he lost traces of which one of his many identities was the real one. He was allegedly born in Ireland, and possibly had a brother named Robert. Since his youth he was a prodigy in everything he did, and he excelled particularly in mathematics and logic. While he was in university, it was clear to the whole country that he would have become one of the finest minds in the British Empire, so he was contacted by the MI5 to serve under them. The British Intelligence needed him for a very delicate task: they wanted to keep control of the criminal underworld, but they also needed it to keep running for profits. In order to control criminality without stopping it they asked Moriarty to act as a “manufactured” crime lord, a “boss of bosses” who controlled each and every criminal activity in the Empire. Using his genius, it was easy for Moriarty to accomplish such a mission, and with the aid of his agents Campion Bond and Colonel Sebastian Moran, he soon became known in the underworld as the Napoleon of Crime, a shady crime lord who forced all gang leaders, slavers, pimps, thieves, murderers, poachers and smugglers to submission… everything comfortably sitting in his office as chair of the Mathematics Department in Durham University. Of course, since it was a secret mission, public authorities weren’t aware of the fact that he was actually working for the government, but on the other hand there was nobody smart enough to realize that there was a single man behind a criminal network that spanned over hundreds of different activities. Well, nobody but Sherlock Holmes, a genius private detective who, alone in the world, possessed an intellect able to match Moriarty’s. Holmes investigated on the “Napoleon of Crime” for years, and he eventually started seeing the threads of the net Moriarty had been weaving all his life… then, he began to destroy it.

Moriarty was an old man by the time Holmes discovered his existence and started undermining his criminal empire: finally, after years of solitude, he had found a worthy adversary. He began with Holmes a chess match that used Great Britain as a chessboard, suffering several blows to his empire, but forcing Holmes to flee in Europe. The two met face to face in Switzerland in 1891, where they fought at Reichenbach Falls. The older Moriarty was effortlessly beaten by the younger and stronger Holmes, and he fell, allegedly to his death, on the rocks below. Miraculously survived, albeit severely injured, he was rescued by Bond and Moran. He ordered the latter to kill Holmes, who was climbing his way up the mountain, and was led back to London by the first. Here, years of service were finally awarded by a long expected promotion, and he became the new M, head of the British Intelligence. From Vauxhall Cross, M controlled the entire Empire, leaving to Moran the task of replacing him as the Napoleon of Crime. There was a secret project, however, that Moriarty had been working on for a while: despite being a rationalist at heart, the Professor was aware of supernatural threats looming just outside the veil of reality, and deemed it necessary to counter them before it was too late. Taking inspiration from the secret files he studied, that described a secret team of exceptional individuals serving first under Queen Gloriana, under the leadership of the sorcerer Prospero, and then under King George III, led by Nathaniel Gulliver, Moriarty selected five extraordinary subjects he wanted in his version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Mina Murray, who had more experience with the supernatural than most due to her close encounter with the vampire Dracula; Allan Quatermain, the seasoned explorer; Captain Nemo, the science pirate; Henry Jekyll, as well as his monstrous alter ego Edward Hyde; and Hawley Griffin, the Invisible Man. He also had the perfect task to test them: a new drug lord, Fu Manchu, had just stolen the Cavorite, a unique mineral that could power flying machines. The mineral needed to be recovered… and Fu Manchu had to be taught that there was only one Napoleon of Crime in London.

James Moriarty is an absolute genius, a ruthless monster driven by sheer logic and pure, emotionless ambition. An artist who brings everything he does to perfection, he took his role as a criminal mastermind so seriously that he committed himself to it completely, before coming back to be a “simple” MI5 agent. As M, he has at disposal the entire power of the Empire, comprised of an army of secret agents and the last miracles of science and technology. An intelligence without borders, Moriarty is able to conceive a plan and work for years for its completion, with an unnerving patience and absolute determination, always acting from behind the curtains: after all, the Devil’s greatest trick is convincing the world he doesn’t exist…

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