I always knew Moore was pleasantly eccentric, but now I consider him a mad genius. And the book is genius, as much as the previous two, maybe even more so because of its epic scale. It's also more text-heavy than any graphic novel has a right to be. Moore includes a "lost" Shakespeare folio, a Jeeves and Wooster story (where they battle a Lovecraftian Old One!), a new adventure of Fanny Hill, a chapter from a 1950s Beatnik novel, and so much more, all as third-party anecdotes in the mysterious Black Dossier tracking the history of England's superpowered, literary-character secret agents from the time of Elizabeth I ("Queen Gloriana") to the mid-1950s. Most graphic novels can be devoured in an hour or two, but not so Black Dossier. This one took me days. It's that dense.
The story follows Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain as they sneak back into 1950s London from their self-imposed exile to retrieve the dossier from their old headquarters, now Room 101 of the Ministry of Love, and keep it out of the hands of the corrupt government. One of the many literary references Moore employs this time around is Orwell's 1984, here moving the Big Brother government back a few years to post-war England. He also continues his many references to the James Bond mythos by introducing a slick government agent named Jimmy who's hot on their trail (and who, sorry Fleming fans, is not presented in anything remotely resembling a positive light). That's just the surface, though. The real meat of the story is in the pages of the dossier itself, those text-heavy bits I mentioned. You may be tempted to skip or skim them, but I'd recommend taking the time to read them through. Moore does a great job mimicking the language each anecdote would be written in, from Shakespearean iambic pentameter to rhyming Beatnik rhythm. And did I mention the last 17 pages require the use of (included) 3D glasses? Yeah, Moore's nuts all right. No wonder it took him four years to write this!
The problem with the story, though, is that we never know quite what's at stake, why the dossier had to be retrieved and what the government would have done with it, and that makes it feel slightly empty. Another problem is that Moore's writing has become so sex-crazed that there were times I would have preferred drama or suspense to erotica. Plus, I missed Hyde and Nemo, which is only Moore's fault in so much as he made those characters so memorable in the first two installments.
But if you liked volumes 1 and 2, and if you don't mind the text-heaviness, I do recommend Black Dossier very much. I'm not sure how much I liked it as a story, truth be told, but I can appreciate the mad genius evident on every page.