Hello everyone and welcome back to Comic Book Spotlight where we look at books both old and new and make judgements about their quality just as every jackass who ever read them does. Pretensious jokes aside though, today we have a special treat for you that was inspired specifically by a day that recently passed and the midterm elections that happened earlier this month. This is an article that we have had in the works for some time and given the current political climate, its subject matter is perhaps more relevant than ever. So please feel free to read, comment and discuss this as we shine a spotlight on V for Vendetta.
Published from March of 1982 through May of 1988, the book was one of writer Alan Moore’s early attempts at an ongoing comic series. Alongside Alan Moore’s other early works, the series was originally canceled after its original home, Warrior Magazine, was discontinued following a fallout between Moore and publisher/editor Dez Skinn. Eventually the book went over to DC and Vertigo where Moore and artist David Lloyd were able to conclude the series and has since become one of the writer’s best-known works. And unlike some of Alan Moore’s other early ongoing series, V for Vendetta is one that absolutely still holds up to this day and is a book that everyone should experience at least once. Even if it is a book that one may need to be a bit more mature to understand.
The book takes place in an alternate 90’s dystopian England. After what is implied to be a nuclear war erupting between the United States and the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom fell into ruin. From the chaos a fascist party emerged and took control of the country, eventually enacting its own final solution against the minorities of the nation and keeping the population under control with an iron grip. Several years later an apparent survivor of this genocide known only as V appears and begins fighting back against this oppressive government. First he takes his revenge against those who directly harmed him and then against the system itself, drawing the country into a possible new way of thinking.
What makes the book work is Alan Moore’s complete and utter dedication to the comic medium, from storytelling device and attention to detail to every word and image used. Much like Watchmen, every page is full of panels that convey movement, character position and actions that give us a full account of what these characters are doing and how they do it. Not a single line of dialog is wasted within these panels as every word written is meant to further develop the world and the characters who inhabit it. Save for one massive exposition dump, every line of dialog as it relates to world building is used to give us more information about the characters and give us more insight as to who they are and what makes them tick.
Leader Adam James Susan, for example, has an extended sequence where he talks about his government, his belief in fascism and so on. Now, on one hand, it feels like a typical villain’s monologue speech. He goes on about how in the right he is and how he traded the country’s so-called luxuries for security and so on. But, at the same time, it gives us a deeper understanding as to who this man is, what drives him, and gives us hints as to what kind of lifestyle can effectively turn a man into what amounts to British Hitler.
Just about every other character is fleshed out in a similar manner. Often in only a few pages we get a good idea as to who many of these people are with their traits and personalities continuously reinforced through their actions and dialog. The titular character V, for example, is constantly presented to us as something of a wild card character who speaks in riddles and metaphors with very little regard for human life. Similarly, Inspector Eric Finch, who may be the best character in the book, continuously reinforces his characterization through actions. It’s made clear from the get-go, for example, that he doesn’t care for fascism or white supremacy and holds nothing but contempt for his peers. Yet at the same time, he remains dedicated to helping them enforce their laws because there isn’t a better option. This, once again, is reinforced through dialog and actions that eventually leads into what is probably the most satisfying character arc in the entire series.
If there is one criticism that can be laid at the writing, however, it is the actual story. It comes off a bit scattershot and, much like V himself, is a little difficult to figure out until the book’s final act. It’s clear from the get-go what he is trying to do but it’s not entirely made clear as to how he intends to do it, (read the book and you’ll understand). The upside to this is that when everything falls into place it actually makes sense. And thankfully, up until this reveal, the book is never boring.
Now of course it’s impossible to separate the book without addressing its politics. V for Vendetta was, of course, written during a period of political unrest in the United Kingdom. When the book first began publication, Margret Thatcher was already in her 3rd year as Prime Minister and this easily fed into what might call the paranoia’s of the left. The government on display in the book is, quite literally, the result of a Far-Right takeover of the country where the average citizen allowed it to happen. The views within the book make clear that such ideologies are an absolute evil and should never be tolerated; and was clearly what Alan Moore and his contemporaries feared may come of their country if Thatcher was allowed to remain in charge. Yet, as it is with real life, the book does question how far one should go to combat said evil.
As the book goes on, V kills a lot of people and causes the deaths of who knows how many others. For the most part, however, these deaths appear to be justified because the people he kills are…well, British Nazis. But as the book goes on it shows more of these characters in a three-dimensional light. These are, in fact, people with families and children whose lives have been destroyed by V’s action. There is an extended subplot, for example, about a woman who was married to one of the government’s higherups. This man was killed by V in the first act of the book leaving her without financial security and forced her into less scrupulous actions in order to survive. As the series goes on and we see the full scope of the consequences of V’s actions due to subplots like this, we see him less in the light of a revolutionary hero and more as a mentally unhinged lunatic who just happened to be fighting the right people. And this is something the creative team clearly wanted us to take away from the book.
By the time the book reaches its end, it becomes clear that V doesn’t regard himself as a hero and has no place in whatever, presumably better, world he has created. It’s at this point where the chaos of Britain begins to spiral out of control and V makes the decision to stand down and let his nonviolent protégé take over the mantle. And this is, sadly, the message that tends to get a little lost in the imagery and “fight the power” themes of the book which it is perhaps better known for. Would a better future have been possible without V’s actions? Probably not. But the book doesn’t even seem to know if it will anyway. By the time the book ends it’s left rather ambiguous as to whether or not his plans will work out in the end, resulting in a satisfying narrative that none the less leaves things open for interpretation.
In the end V for Vendetta has remained one of Alan Moore’s best-known works for a reason. It’s next to impossible to sum up why this is the case in just a single, conclusionary paragraph, but the article speaks for itself. The 5th of November will have come and gone by the time this article has been released as will the election, but, given our political climate and the current state of the comic book industry, it is probably more relevant now then ever. If you haven’t given it a read, pick up a copy as soon as you are able to.
Have you read V for Vendetta, do you have thoughts to add on? Sound off in the comments. Did this peak your interest to watch the equally well received film? Would you like to see a review on the film come this time next year? Be sure to let us know, and be on the look out. Remember to Subscribe by Email or Follow Us on Social Media.
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