V for Vendetta

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‘A frightening and powerful story of loss of freedom and identity in a totalitarian world. V for Vendetta is the chronicle of a world of despair and oppressive tyranny. A work of sterling clarity and intelligence, V For Vendetta is everything comics weren’t supposed to be. England Prevails…’

V for Vendetta is a 286 page graphic novel by Alan Moore collected from the original series of strips he produced with illustrator David Lloyd. The story is set in the near future after a limited nuclear war that resulted in Britain being controlled by a fascist government. However, the careful control exerted over the country by fascist party Norsefire is threatened by a flamboyant lone anarchist/terrorist known as only as V. This theatrical and mysterious vigilante, who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and flowing wig and cloak, declares war on the the government and his personal vendetta seems to be especially bad news for anyone connected to a secret and now obsolete concentration camp…

It would be hard to draw up a list of essential graphic novels without including Alan Moore’s classic dystopian epic V for Vendetta, which is like a sort of cross between Batman (although V is a far more cultured and romantic hero) and 1984. Moore himself drew on multiple sources for inspiration including George Orwell, Judge Dredd, The Shadow, Max Ernst, Thomas Pynchon, Harlan Ellison, Fahrenheit 451, Dick Turpin and Robin Hood. The end result is an incredibly absorbing and somewhat downbeat comic that is complex, full of ideas, and very British. V for Vendetta is not crammed with action and works all the better because of this. While there is plenty of incident and destruction, the uncomplicated art and strong story and dialogue from Moore make V for Vendetta an atmospheric and gripping book that touches on concepts like freedom, control, and even nostalgia.

One of the chilling things about the story is that Moore’s nightmare vision of a future Britain doesn’t seem that far-fetched today with video cameras watching our every move and terrorist raids becoming increasingly routine. In V for Vendetta a fascist group seizes power in the aftermath of turmoil and it’s a small step to genocide and imprisonment of ethnic and sexual minorities and those who are different in any way.

“The police and government characters seem like real people in comparison to your average graphic novel.”

In the introduction to this collected graphic novel, written by Moore in 1988, he lambastes the Thatcher government – clearly an inspiration for the book – and comments on little creeping changes he’s noticed like how the police are starting to film people with video cameras fitted on their cars and government legislation that seems to target minorities. ‘I don’t like it here,’ says Moore. ‘It’s mean-spirited.’ You dread to ponder what he thinks about now. When V says in the book – ‘We’ve had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars, and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions’ – you think immediately of Parliament today. There are some apparently timeless themes in V For Vendetta.

V for Vendetta is told for the most part through other important characters. The most important one is Evey Hammond, a sixteen-year-old rescued by V when her attempt at a career in prostitution ended as soon as it began and nearly led to her being raped and killed by ‘Fingermen’, a sinister secret police unit. After blowing up Parliament (‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November…’) and showing her real fireworks for the first time in this symbolic act of destruction, V becomes a mentor to Evey and takes her on a very strange and difficult journey. The relationship between V and Evey is quite touching and sometimes surprising. V is not a predictable character. Like 1984, Moore creates a vivid atmosphere of a society that has been brainwashed to forget its past. V takes Evey to his underground station headquarters where he shows her the books, film posters, and paintings that used to make life worth living. He even plays old songs from a jukebox – ‘They have eradicated culture…tossed it away like a fistful of dead roses…’

Another key character in the story is Detective Finch, the man charged with finding and apprehending V. The story of V and Evey and Finch’s search for V are both very absorbing story strands and the characters are fairly well developed. The police and government characters seem like real people in comparison to your average graphic novel. Moore’s depiction of the government and their systems of control are always interesting and we even get a glimpse of what television in a fascist landscape might look like.

V for Vendetta is a classic graphic novel, an essential buy for anyone interested in comics or Alan Moore.”

Great use of flashbacks also adds to the complexity of the book and the central mystery of V is never too far below the surface. We learn a little more about him as we read on and you are always desperate to perhaps find out who he is or more about where he came from. Moore has said that V touches on ‘A good tradition of villains and sociopaths as heroes’, highlighted by the likes of the aforementioned Batman and Rorsarch from Moore’s Watchmen. The ambiguous nature of V is a strength of the book. He is a killer and probably mad, but he’s on the side of us and not them. The painted Guy Fawkes mask with the permanent smile is an instantly striking and iconic image and adds a real sense of enigmatic mystery to V. V is a complex and cultured hero and is constantly saying enjoyably flowery and dramatic things like – ‘The flames of freedom. How lovely. How just. My precious anarchy…O beauty ’til now I never knew thee’ – as he goes about his campaign. The central concept in the story is that ideas are the most important things people have. Ideas can never be destroyed.

The original run of comics of V for Vendetta was printed in black and white but the additional colour here works quite well with a lot of browns and dark frames helping to maintain the grainy down to earth feel. The artwork is fairly simple and rudimentary but it doesn’t matter a great deal because the story is the real star of the book. You don’t really notice the art a tremendous amount because the story is so absorbing. Within the graphic novel you also get ‘Behind the Painted Smile’ – an article that first appeared in Warrior Magazine in 1983 when V For Vendetta was a ‘work in progress’. This article is an interesting look at the origins of the story and, in addition to other pieces of information, we learn that Moore originally started off with an idea for a transsexual anarchist terrorist called The Doll!

V for Vendetta is a classic graphic novel, an essential buy for anyone interested in comics or Alan Moore.

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V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore, David Lloyd

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