V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
(2006-03-28) Very few writers in the comic book industry have been able to transcend societal opinions and presumptions of the medium in the way Alan Moore has. Responsible for several of the most seminal pieces in the history of the industry, Moore’s ability to offer insightful and often cutting commentary on the state of the world through the medium of comic books and graphic novels has lead to much wider recognition, both for the medium and Moore himself. Nowhere is this more evident than in his treatment of British politics through the influential V for Vendetta. Whilst many hold Watchmen to be Moore’s greatest work as well as the most significant for the industry, it is my opinion that V for Vendetta is even better.
‘Classic’ is a word used to define something that lasts, something that maintains relevance whatever the time or fashions. V for Vendetta is a classic because it is as relevant now, as it was at the time it was created. The themes that underpin the storyline hold significance both in the UK and globally in the present day much in the same way George Orwell’s 1984 does. Politics will always be a grey area, a ripe target for commentary and analysis, but until V for Vendetta no one had approached the topic in the same way Alan Moore did.
The message of V for Vendetta is strong and clear, it doesn’t matter who the individual is, only the ideas they represent. This is true of the comic book as a whole and thus attempting to adequately summarise V for Vendetta, let alone examine the myriad theories, philosophies and ideologies within, is impossible. Therefore I offer only the briefest of reviews, in the hope of spurring your interest into reading it.
The titular V is one of the most instantly recognisable characters in comic book history, wearing as he does a white mask with painted smile and flowing black wig under a hat. The mask covers severe burns suffered in a concentration camp run by the government and regime he wishes to depose, whilst also gaining revenge – the Vendetta of the title - on those who performed medical experiments on him during his incarceration in the camp. Set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, alternative-future London where a single-party fascist government has gained power, V for Vendetta explores what Moore calls in an interview with Giant magazine ‘a good tradition of villains and sociopaths as heroes.’ Beginning by blowing up the out of use Houses of Parliament, one better than Guy Fawkes on who V is styled, V’s actions throughout the story are ambiguous in their morality, forcing the reader to question whether V is heroic, mad or a combination of both. V is enigmatic, brutal, intelligent and highly complex, making him an intriguing protagonist throughout the story, as the reader is never quite certain what he will do.
V for Vendetta is told mostly through the eyes of characters other than V in the story; sixteen year-old Evey Hammond and detective Eric Finch chief amongst them. Evey Hammond is a teenage girl who decides to make ends meet by becoming a prostitute, however her first solicitation as a lady of the night turns out to be a Finger, a member of a special police unit known as the ‘Fingermen’. Facing rape and death at the hands of the Fingermen, Evey is saved by V who takes her into his confidence. Detective Finch is the man detailed with apprehending V before he disrupts the iron-tight grasp the party has on the country. Between the two of them Moore explores a rounded vision of V that is both compelling and disturbing, following him as he pursues his vendetta and attempts to set the country free.
Reading V for Vendetta is like peeling back the layers of an onion. At the core are the dual themes of control and freedom, how a society balances the two without ever allowing one dominance over the other, yet each layer on top of this duality adds to the storyline, creating a deep, profound piece that challenges the reader to think. Stylistically the artwork by David Lloyd is quite heavily noir influenced, with dark colouring, sometimes too dark, and heavy lines that contrast powerfully with the whiteness of V’s mask. Whether intentional or not, many of Lloyd’s characters have indistinct faces that seem to merge with the environments placing emphasis more on the storyline and it’s themes than the stylistic elements. Moore’s dialogue is at times overly long and action is thin on the ground. What action there is though, is spectacular placing emphatic exclamation points on the ideas and themes discussed. V for Vendetta is a thinking persons’ comic, shorn of the thinly disguised plots and colourful explosions that are served up as regular fare in the industry. V is dark, oppressive and anarchic, leaving a lasting and powerful impression on the mind.
Owen Jones © 2006