V for Vendetta
Written by Alan Moore
Art by David Lloyd
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Ah V. The English superhero. Of course he’s a got a black cape and a silly hat. We didn’t end up with an Empire because of our snappy dress-sense lol.
Confession: of all the “major Alan Moore books” I think this one is my least favourite / one I’ve read the least times. I mean yeah it’s got good bits – but overall the impression I have of it is that the whole thing is kinda… stodgy? Like something you should read because it’s historically significant rather than because it’s actually fun. I know that I should probably be the last person to say this but the phrase that keeps coming to my head is that it’s kinda like – a Library book (whoops). Not only because it seems like it’s mandatory for every library in the country to stock at least one battered copy (shelved next to Maus and The Dark Knight Returns) but also because it’s all so tightly packed and dense that you can’t escape the feeling that you’re reading something that’s supposed to be good for you / intellectually edifying. I would not be surprised if someone told me that they taught this comic in school because it has that kinda “Set Text” feeling you know? (“What does V tell us about Anarchy. Discuss.”).
The cool thing about Swamp Thing or Watchmen is that there’s still something nice and trashy about them you know? Swamp Thing is literally about a… Swamp Thing. So it’s always got that kinda edge to it. But spending time with V I can’t escape the feeling that I’m like – watching the opera or something (lol). At the risk of sounding like a frustrated teenage boy I mean – come on! He blows up the Houses of Parliament (!!!) right at the start and you hardly see it. It’s just this tiny little panel and then nothing… I thought comics were supposed to be a visual medium Alan? I want to see explosions! Wreckage! Splash pages!! Come on!!!
My copy has got introductions from both Alan Moore and David Lloyd both of which are interesting in different ways. The Alan Moore one was written in 1988 and ends with this: “I’m thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. It’s cold and it’s mean-spirited and I don’t like it here anymore.”
Of course the instant knee-jerk reaction to this is – ha. If he think that this is bad then he should see 2019. But then I thought about it again and I wasn’t so sure because yeah obviously the world is on fire and this country in particular seems to be slowly eating itself apart but I’m guessing it was worst in a different way living in Thatcher’s Britain. I mean I was only a kid all the way back then but I do remember the… colour of it? The overall bleakness and monolithic grey that hung over everything and the total lack of any other possibility. Just a boot stamping on a human face etc etc. And if anything the problem now is the opposite: too many possibilities and not enough centre. Now it’s more like a human face being stamped on by lots of different types of ants…
David Lloyd on the other hand describes V for Vendetta as a book “for people who don’t switch off the news.” I imagine this sounded very cool back when he wrote it and I can imagine my teenage self nodding along and punching my fist saying “yeah.” But nowadays I wonder if not being able to switch off the news is a big part of the problem…?
The other thing that stuck me reading the first few pages is that it’s funny to read a book which actually has a “proper” fascist government rather than just a shitty one. Of course “fascist” is a word that a lot of people like to throw around a lot. And I dunno – but there’s something almost – reassuring (?) to be dropped into the world that has the real unadulterated thing rather than ours where it seems that most of the time I hear it people are just using it to mean “I don’t like you.” (But what do I know?)
And it’s funny starting this book as we’re doing Children of Men for the Film Club: it’s fun visiting nightmare versions of your country for a bit you know? Maybe things aren’t as bad as we think? Or at least – not yet…
What do you think?
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I read bits and pieces of V when it first came out in warrior magazine. At the time, the thing that struck me most about it was the wilingness to play with structure, something that was so unusual in mainstream uk comics back then. Having every chapter begin with the letter “V”, the main protagonist called Eve being Vee backwards phonetically. There was a real sense of exuberance in exploring these limits back then, doing something that hadn’t really been explored, trying on literary pretensions for size and finding that they fit well enough.
David Lloyd’s art, with its stodgy unfashionable people and noir-like shadows was a great fit for the story. It’s a shame that the vertigo reprints onwards decided to colour it in. They did a decent job, sticking to a muted palette, but the art is so much better in black and white, especially as he gained confidence in book 2. It’s a shame, especially as I suspect the decision to colour was economic rather than aesthetic. There were a lot of indie comics titles around in the 80s published in b&w for cost reasons, and hence a general feeling of colour == better/more proper.
Final note on the writing and air of experimentation – that song at the beginning of book 2. Alan Moore tried to bring songs into his comics several times around then (an episode of bojeffries springs to mind), never wholly successfully imo, but this one worked better than most. Some of the lyrics are still stuck in my head decades later:
There’s filth and fire and human grime,
In monochrome, for one cheap dime,
But at least the trains all run on time,
Though they don’t go anywhere.
Hmm, there’s another reason why they shouldn’t have coloured it in 🙂
Storywise, it comes across as rather adolescent in places (which is fine, that was the target audience, and I loved it as a teenager). The fat fascist who cares more for his dolls than real people, and V’s revenge of burning the dolls in a gas chamber is classic teenage revenge against stupid grown ups and their hypocrisies. But it’s obviously struck a chord, as witnessed by the adoption of the mask by the occupy movement. There’s a line between the anarchist sentiments of this book and the protest movements of our time like occupy and extinction rebellion (neither of which I’m dismissing as adolescent, to be clear).
Weekend at Arnie’s
That’s interesting that you read it as it came out, Dave – knowing only the later collected version, I had no idea it was ever in black and white!
V was the first Alan Moore comic I read and is still probably my favourite, even though I think Watchmen is a much better book. Maybe it’s that Watchmen is too good, and V for Vendetta has that slightly janky, early work feel; feeling somewhat uneven myself at the best of times I have a strange sympathy for that. Where Watchmen fits together like a perfect, well… watch, V for Vendetta feels more like it wasn’t fully formed in the early issues (something Moore admits to in the introduction, iirc – or am I imagining that?). The first few chapters are absurdly verbose to the point that they’re like a parody of those old comics that are all explanatory text squeezing a tiny picture of Aquaman punching out King Kong (I don’t read many comics) – stodgy, yes, untrusting. But as it goes on I think the author gets to grips with what he actually wants to say and how to say it without a novella stuffed down the sides, and it begins to come alive.
There is something really spellbinding about the way V treats politics as neuroses without dismissing either. Fascism, far from a collectivist or unifying force, becomes the ultimate end of loneliness: a total inability to talk, to relate, to love the other without compromise. Finch, the last detective, unable to process all he’s lost, turns to fascism because it’s the only structure that can give his life some semblance of meaning, burying himself in police work and telling himself it’s all the same whatever government it’s for. The rest of the regime apparatchiks can see their relationships only in terms of power, control, status, gain, all personal, all entirely individual; which is why none of them really believe, why when the government falls they all die pointlessly in an ever-decreasing spiral of coups and counter-coups. Susan, the Leader, the true believer, is gradually shown to be not only impotent in every way but insubstantial, so much lesser than the system he’s created – a system which in any case will not outlive his death – all the murderous evil of his regime tied inescapably to the profound loneliness at his core, the completely failure to perceive the other as real. The pathologies that make them fascists are also the threads that unravel them, the little flaws that V exploits to bring them all down. Only Finch confronts and accepts his own monstrosity. Only Finch walks away.
V himself is, in many ways, the least interesting character (all right, maybe the paedo priest), and I think Moore understands that; particularly as the story goes on he’s less a character at all and more a kind of spirit, appearing where he shouldn’t, knowing what he shouldn’t, haunting fascist England. Maybe that’s why Evey can forgive him for torturing her, which has always stood out to me as particularly cruel; spirits sometimes inflict spiritual trials.
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Yeah, it was only books 1&2 that came out in warrior, before the mag folded, iirc. And then years and years before the vertigo versions finished book 3, so it was stuck for a long time with Evey just getting out of “prison” and finding it was all a set up by V 😐
I agree, Alister, Watchmen has that perfectly even feel all the way through, you can tell that it was conceived as a whole. Whereas V is rough, figuring it out as they go along, both the writing and the art. Like I said, the development of the art, really embracing the chiaroscuro, between books 1&2, is quite something. (With book 3, the only one drawn with colour in mind from the start, the art seemed more pedestrian, I thought).
Ps. Another random fun fact here. Moore was/is a big fan of the reclusive american novelist Thomas Pynchon, one of whose books is titled “V”. I suspect that’s not entirely coincidental.
Now you’ve mentioned it originally being in mono, it’s so obvious!
I took a quick poke with photoshop, but it’d be a huge job to restore it.
Something else that’s struck me as very monochrome (see what I did there?) is the villains – I’m still reading, but I’ve been struck by how cartoonishly eeeeevil the badguys are. There’s really no humanity to them at all, they’re just big ol targets. Comparing it to the more complex morality of watchmen really makes it feel a bit childish – I’d love to read a rewrite done when Moore was more developed. Though that sort of thing never seems to work as well as it should.
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Yeah, it’d be a job to retroactively de-colour them. There are plenty of the old b&w pages online, though – here’s a nice one from book 1, just look at that brickwork and the paving slabs in the top two rows, the beautiful abstract water in the final panel, the charcoal-y edges to V’s cloak in the bottom left panel. Black and white really, really suits it, on all sorts of levels.
Yeah, I see what you did there, and agree, the villains lack depth, especially the laundry list that he’s bumping off in book 1 (with the possible exception of the surgeon).
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Ok. I’m still not done reading it (I know I know) but here’s some unvarnished thoughts so far…
It’s funny rereading something you haven’t read in years and having it strike you in all sorts of new ways.
The petition for V to be formally recognized as the first queer superhero starts here.
I agree that the book has a “slightly janky, early work feel” and also agree that it’s part of the charm. In fact reading it this time I couldn’t help but read V’s voice as having a gruff Northampton feel. Wouldn’t it really be so surprising if the ultimate climax was having V’s mask being removed and finding this face looking out from underneath?
I thought that maybe all the showboating and oh-so-direct politicizing (I mean there’s literally a scene where the dude has a chat with the statue of Justice) would put me off now that I’m a respectable adult that’s more into nuance and ambiguity but if anything I think that I might have enjoyed it even more this time around. At the risk of sounding like “that guy” most of the entertainment that I come into contact with nowadays (comics and all) has all be so completely defanged that the only real political conversation people seem to have anymore is whether or not the representation is of the “right sort” or not…
Speaking of and picking up on Rat’s comment about how “cartoonishly eeeeevil the badguys are” the thing I’m looking forward to is how later on the book Moore kinda swings around to this. I mean I totally at the start all of the bad guys seem to have been shipped in from the Two Dimensional Bad Guy Factory – doing evil stuff because that’s just what the bad guys do right? But towards the last third of the book (this is how I remember it anyway – like I said I haven’t really got there yet) Moore does start to flesh out the fascists in interesting ways so that they’re less cardboard cut outs and more like real human beings… Of course the interesting thing about that is: that’s kinda the thing that’s seemingly frowned upon these days no? See: The main cut and thrust of the Joker uproar about how shouldn’t be exposed to incel mentalities or whatever:
But the truth is that entertainment doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and a movie with the message this one hammers home again and again — that life is nasty and short; that no one cares; that you might as well burn it all down — feels too volatile, and frankly too scary, to separate from the very real violence committed by young men like Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck in America almost every day.
Which in of the same kinda register as people complaining about Sam Rockwell being a racist cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri or all that stuff people were saying about Green Book, not to mention all of the Kylo Ren discourse and also on etc etc. Namely: there are some points of views that shouldn’t be represented in our media. It’s ok to have fascists as the bad guys – but if you start to treat them as human beings and understand what makes them tick then that’s a step too far…
So I guess what I’m saying is: maybe people prefer their bad guys cartoonishly eeeeevil? Which does kinda make sense and not just for political reasons. I mean: I think when I read V as a kid I do remember feeling a little bit… disappointed(?) when the book slipped out from the straightforward “good versus evil” thing and into the more “everyone is human” thing. I mean the former makes for a much more stark kinda fun story: it’s a lot easier to kill someone when you don’t feel like they’re human after all.
Barbican Comic Forum
Unlike some of you I was reading it with fresh eyes this week. I knew the story and have a distant memory of watching the film years ago but I can’t remember ever reading the book. I definitely agree with what David said about the book taking on many literary pretentions and I can kind of see how that may turn people off: seeing it as an inaccessible textbook to be filed away at the back of the Barbican library. For me, that’s what makes it great. I see it more as a graphic allegory (trademark me) than a graphic novel, which to be honest is right up my street: a book so steeped in symbolism that it’s almost academic. But when showboating to that degree it’s true that most writers will sometimes have to give up an element of plot and character development.
Despite its flaws these techniques were ground-breaking. When working my way through a rabbit hole of videos online this week I ended up watching Grant Morrison Talking With Gods and at one point he said V was one of his major inspirations to get into comics. I can’t remember the exact phrase he used but it was along the lines of “yes! this is the way comics should be”. I wonder how many other breakthrough writers were thinking the same thing at the time. I guess Moore was changing the landscape of comics by using these literary techniques. Like Dave said, there must have been a sense of exuberance in exploring those limits which others started to tune into.
The thing that stands out most to me is how prophetic it was. Going back to what Joel was saying about Thatcher’s Britain: I was there too but like Joel I was too young back then to understand it properly. I’ve learnt since that it was a pretty messed up time; I’d say a lot moreso than now. The massacre of Sharon Tate was the catalyst for the end of the free love movement (interestingly referenced in this book) and the zeitgeist was punk. Britain was a troubled country, there was poverty, mass dissatisfaction with the youth, the streets were dirty, national powercuts, Thatcherism had caused strikes across the country. Moore himself was attending marches with the Anti-Nazi League. Anarchy, not England, prevailed and the mood was anti-establishment.
So, Moore decides to cash in by writing a cautionary tale on the dangers of the totalitarian state and just like Orwell or Huxley sets it in a dystopian future to allow himself more ‘distance’ to talk about these subjects freely. About midway through reading I watched another cool documentary called The Mindscape of Alan Moore in which Alan describes how he intentionally used security camera imagery to depict a fascist state. That made me wonder if modern readers realise that? Maybe they actually wonder why there aren’t enough cameras in it, or no facial recognition ones for that matter. Today a camera on every corner isn’t unusual but back then it would have been unthinkable to many. People valued their liberty too much.
Whilst we’re talking about one dimensional characters, then why stop with the villains? V – we literally learn nothing about him, other than he’s a bit of a nutter. I kept thinking there’s more to that, which is why I really connected with what Alister said about him being more of a spirit guide. His morals are questionable yet as readers we’re asked to identify with him. There’s a HARDtalk interview online where Alan says he wanted to play with heroes who in other times may have been regarded as terrorists, which is a really interesting dichotomy: where is the dividing line between heroism and terrorism? Despite his snappy English costume he’s no superhero. He’s just a psycho with and ends that justifies the means. It’s a totally punk sentiment. Like a call to arms, celebrating the psychopathic. Here’s a guy who shows no form of emotion when he kills, nay tortures, his victims some of those including his friends. And quoting the Manson family all along the way.
It’s interesting V’s first two targets are Church and Media too. The story of Lewis Prothero, The Voice of Fate, controlling the masses through sanitised media. Lovely symbolism with his penchant for doll collections I thought: a malleable populace that he can control. There’s a long literary tradition of dolls symbolising human’s desire to become gods which I thought Moore might have been drawing on. And a paedophile priest… enough said.
Giving V that mask was a stroke of genius in my mind. I think Alan’s original concept was to make the protagonist a marionette-like psychopath, which isn’t too far from the actual result. In the back of my copy it has a cool little prose article titled Behind the Painted Smile which says: “My idea concerned a freakish terrorist in white-face make up who traded under the name “The Doll” and waged war upon a Totalitarian State sometime in the late 1980s.” I really like this idea. He was probably drawing on pop culture themes of the time about cyborgs and psychopaths. It was David Lloyd who took it a step further and later developed that concept into a dapper chap wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. Lloyd wrote to Moore that it would make him “look really bizarre and it would give Guy Fawkes the image he deserved after all these years. We shouldn’t burn that chap every Nov. 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!”. The story goes that Lloyd originally said this as a joke, but Alan decided to follow through… or maybe Alan’s just trying to take all the credit by telling it that way.
What I like about the mask is that it’s void of emotion, it dehumanises him. Literary boffins sometimes say that there’s an implicit alternative persona that the costume permits its wearer to assume and so by wearing it he is both becoming inhumane (no emotion) and a political activist (Guy Fawkes). Also, through the mask his real identity isn’t ever revealed. That’s the crucial point. He’s no one, which means he’s potentially everyone. Very interesting play in this genre in particular because a superhero normally wears a mask to hide his identity but with V it’s going further: anonymity to the point of being nobody and therefore everybody. We never find out who V is. It doesn’t matter. He’s nameless and faceless. V represents a sentiment not a person. There is nothing behind the mask because all we’re given is the mask. Spirit guide.
What’s somewhat reassuring is that whilst the dangers Alan warned about have in many ways become a reality, so has the backlash. I recently read another interview with Alan where he said the emergence of the Anonymous movement was kind of like watching his characters come to life and jump out of the page. I really like this idea: an idea or principle that is so strong in word it literally metamorphosises in front of your eyes, takes life and climbs out of the page. He said:
“I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn’t it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It’s peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction.”
It’s a wonderful concept isn’t it? Life imitating art like that. It’s the story that became a reality without anyone noticing. It’s almost as though the old wizard conjured it into existence through his words. He’d probably have you believe that he actually did.
A couple of big influences on V for Vendetta that often gets overlooked these days are Thomas M Disch’s pretty good sci fi novel Camp Concentration, about a military installation where prisoners are injected with a form of syphilis that turns its subjects into geniuses before it kills them and Koestler’s darkness at noon which features an interrogation sequence very similar to what Evey goes through. Both are well worth checking out if you’re interested in the ideas in the book and want more in a similar vein.
Maybe this is a sign that I’m going crazy but I just got to a bit of the book where I was like “hmmmm V sounds a little bit too much of a fuddy-duddy for my tastes…”
Namely well – this bit here:
And yes obviously ha the notion of “elections” has taken on connotations and emotionally charged meanings that not even Alan Moore could have predicted back in the 1980s but still there’s something about this point of view that kinda sticks to the back of my throat and turns my guts. I don’t know if anyone reading this watched the Russell T Davies Years and Years thing? I mean if I start ranting about it is possible that I’ll never stop – but there’s a bit of it in particular that kinda makes the same kinda argument where a granny does this monologue to camera and says that the people to blame for the state of the world is basically – you.
And well yeah – I don’t buy it.
I mean when I was younger I thought that the basic problem with the world was basically individuals. And I think that’s something that you mostly get from the stories you read. Most of them after all being about heroic individuals doing heroic stuff and taking down the bad people who are making the world a worst place. V for Vendetta itself is a story that’s about this – all you need to do to take down a corrupt fascist system is one good masked man who knows exactly what to do.
But growing up and becoming more jaded and cynical and old I kinda think that kinda stuff is missing the point. The real problem are the systems that we’re born into that barely even give us control over our own lives (how many of you reading this are at work right now?). And so yeah blaming people for electing the wrong leaders (or as in our case right now: the leader from like 3 leaders ago – lol) is kinda like blaming the chickens in a factory farm for being born there. When really I feel like our energies would be better spent on trying to find a way out…
(Don’t know if I believe that doors are already open – but well: it’s a nice thought isn’t it?)
I’m not sure I see any meaningful difference between “we can find a way out” and “we can change the system”. That’s what V is arguing for, after all – not just electing better leaders but doing away with leaders altogether. Which is not to fault your point about individual heroics as a comforting fantasy; whether you read V as flesh or spirit, it is an individual story – another political fairy-tale. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. As G.K. Chesterton said, the point of fairy-tales is to show you the monsters can be beaten.
It reminds me a little of the simulationist argument from people like Musk: we are trapped in a system totally beyond our control, but somehow we have the power to escape? No, there is no escape. There is no green valley over there where we chickens can live happily ever; there is only what we can build in this one, on the same ground the farm stands on now.
And if we have the power to get out, we have the power to change what we’re in. If we have the power to change it, we must accept some responsibility for our inaction. Yes, the systems we are born into push us relentlessly towards choices that are, basically, evil. Yes, individual action is never enough. Yes, most of the world is out of our control and in the hands of sociopathic ghouls. But unless you take a hard line determinist view (to which I’m not unsympathetic), we still make choices, every day, that compound or oppose the evil we are born into. You can write off or explain those choices any way you like and sometimes you might be right – but we make them nonetheless.
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There are definitely subtleties to this, to whether the cage is part of the system, or something we’ve constructed for ourselves.
Here’s a real world example of that tension – the “extinction rebellion” movement that’s arisen in the last year or so as a response to our collective inaction around the global environmental situation. In brief, they’re advocating breaking the law in order to persuade world leaders to take real action. And they have good arguments to back it up, citing Gandhi, Pankhurst and Martin Luther King as historical precedents, where law abiding protest wasn’t enough. And they’ve proven to be disciplined at breaking specific laws to meet their stated goals, being able to withdraw on command, and not descend into general purpose looting, etc. All very nice and middle class compared to its pal, V, in the comic we are discussing. (The suffragettes, if I’ve got my facts right, were the only historical example that XR quotes, who went as far as planting bombs.)
Anyway, about that cage. There sure is a big faceless system of environmental destruction that we are embedded in from birth, in out transport habits, food, clothing etc. etc. To which extent, the cage is external. But there’s an internal cage too – I’m a strong supporter of the extinction rebellion, and I’ve done nice things to help them – making a video here, art for banners, donating a bit of money. And I buy their line about civil unrest, and the importance of breaking the law and getting arrested as part of the process of changing the world for the better. But I’ve really struggled with putting it into action, and I recognise that there’s a deep seated habit in me of wanting to please, to do what I’m told. There’s the internal cage right there, the one that V/Moore is urging the viewers to break out of. I know that if/when I do step out, the external cage won’t vanish, but that’s not a good reason for staying inside it, either.
So, it’s both. Definitely both.
Does that make sense? Resonate with anyone else here?
Islington Comic Forum
Interesting you mention Years and Years, I thought there were a LOT of V for Vendetta influences in it. Indeed the first episode of Years and Years worked pretty effectively as a prequel to V for Vendetta (with the near nuclear strike, etc…) although it went off in a slightly different direction after that.
Barbican Comic Forum
Comrades, I’m no fan of a blame culture, but…
If you take it literally then you could read that Alan’s actually arguing for the dismantlement of government altogether. Yeah, never going to happen. Less literally he’s just arguing for political action through the ‘spirit’ of V (by the way, has anyone considered there’s a Tyler Durden thing doing on with V?)
However, in a broader response to the determinist view: I believe that if you have strong views on some kind of social injustice or some impending danger and you fail to take action then, well, it is your fault. If not you, then who? (I’m looking directly at you by the way Joel). Yes it’s hard to change the world, possibly impossible. And I appreciate that we all have our circumstances defined by the decisions of previous generations. But if nobody tried then guess what: nothing would ever change. That’s how I read the message of V for Vendetta. I don’t think anyone’s advocating donning a Guy Fawkes mask and torturing members of the government (I feel as though I can speak for Alan on this matter) but if you feel strongly about something then you should make your voice heard no matter who you are or what cage surrounds you/ sits inside you.
Slight digression but does anyone remember when Russell Brand tried to get involved in politics a few years ago and the wheels of the media machine turned against him? Honestly, I’m no fan of Russell’s politics and you could just say that it was because he’s a bit of a clown, but it works well as an example. That’s a pretty scary thought though, right? Perhaps nobody wants to put themselves under public scrutiny like that which is in effect a controlling force of the State. But then again what about Greta Thunberg: a 16 your old girl who is travelling the world and getting her message heard by millions. Oh yeah, she’s also recently been subject to some pretty insidious media coverage. Forget that.
Personally I actually don’t think that the real world is controlled by cartoonishly evil ghouls. I’ve too much faith in humanity. Maybe I’m naive but I’ve never met anybody who I thought was inherently evil, so it’s hard for me to believe that the government and corporations are controlled by a cabal of megalomaniacs. My world view is that most arguments just aren’t binary; it’s mostly just shades of grey and all a bit chaotic. Most good things (e.g. increasing industry> creating jobs> reduction of poverty) have negative consequences (e.g. impact on the environment). Yeah, greed can get in the way but you could even go so far as to say that greed is the driving force that fuels social growth and without greed society’s growth would stunt (oof, controversial).
Sometimes the people in charge make a bad call and sometimes those people don’t have the foresight of what the long-term implications of their actions are; perhaps that’s because nobody else spoke up at the time because, hey, it wasn’t their fault. There is no omnipotent force in charge, good or evil. Thank God (Garth Ennis recently taught me that was bad). Society is a diverse group of opposing forces and we each act as a foil to the rest of society. That means it’s your responsibility to make your voice heard and if you don’t, well, then that’s your fault. You.
I’ve rambled for a bit here so let’s get back onto comics. This is exactly what Alan was doing when he wrote V. He raised public awareness of a sensitive subject and as a direct result we as a group are now thinking and talking about it, joining thousands of people who have done so before us. ‘Art’ has a duty to raise awareness of politics to the public eye and comics, particularly British comics, do that so well. Or at least they did.
2000AD used to have a reputation for being a seditious and political comic. I watched a rather sad interview with Pat Mills the other day where he said that the current company that owns 2000AD no longer has the appetite for publishing the types of seditious stories that made it great. That’s why he’s no longer allowed to write Dredd, he says. And if 2000AD are saying that let’s just forget about Marvel or DC. That made me think, yeah, I probably did learn a lot of my politics from 2000AD when I was a teenager, even if I didn’t realise it at the time.
Another sad thing I saw (you may know this already) Alan Moore officially retired from comics this year. So did Kevin O’Neill! Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis must be getting on a bit I’m sure. So, will comics lose their potency for political commentary with the demise of that generation of writers? I don’t know much outside the mainstream world of Marvel and DC comics. Are there any modern writers bringing contentious subjects into the public’s eye in the same way Alan did with V? And, now that 2000AD has lost its appetite for sedition where is that voice being nurtured?
Are we doomed to a future of light and frothy Manga and sterile Hollywood fodder? (or as I’m now going to call them: The Voice of Fate)
You guys know more about comics than I do so you tell me.
Good Morning, I hope it’s alright to join in.
I’d read V for Vendetta before and picking it back up I was expecting to be in for some hard work but I was quite surprised how easy it was to flick through. I remembered it being a very edgy, adult, convoluted, clever, political thriller. This time round, not so much. And I think this comes down to the two different ages I was when I read it.
I think the younger me was intrigued by the sleaze filled Orwellian dystopian London it painted. Top that off with an all knowing, anarchic, anti fascist British angel of death going round flicking the v’s to the establishment and I was definitely sold. But now it seems a bit more like adult problems being approached and dealt with by a childish imagination. Nothing’s really thought out and there’s a lot we’re just expected to just roll with.
Let’s take V himself for a start. The anarchist that he is. With his Shadow Gallery full of cultural treasures I could only dream of filling my Brexit Bunker with. As I understand it, the anarchists don’t believe in personal property, which would truly make it an embarrassment of riches but then maybe that would explain the blushes on V’s mask. To be fair the anarchist horse is a pretty twitchy one to tie your wagon to in the first place but they are all pretty hot about a leaderless society so if that is a definite, why is he training Eve as his protége? Surely the work will be done? If he’s on about giving the power back to the people, why does he seem to enjoy mocking and blaming them for being in this predicament? And it’s not like he was planning to hang about and see how it turned out either, his meticulous planning and expert playing of variables included walking into a bullet, engineering himself a Viking funeral and setting up said protégé so I don’t think he had much faith in the plebs creating a brave new world. And speaking of Evey, if V’s revolution does succeed in creating a society where everyone is equal, then there she is with her education and inherited wealth in a sea of proles meaning she’s the only aristocrat. And she’s descended from him, her not so secret benefactor. So I’m not sure I buy him being an anarchist. And I think poor Evey suffered enough anyway. More on that later.
In fact more on that now, it’s more than a bit of a reach to expect Evey to find out it was V behind her torture and just be cool with it. In fact be grateful for it. It’s possibly a bit cynical but I don’t really see this stuff about Evey’s torture being a pathway to a smug nirvana that was inside all along but more like a catharsis for V to recreate his own personal torture and inflict it on someone else for his own amusement. It’s more like the cycle of violence than stairway to heaven. But then if you are creating the new breed of snob and there’s only one of her, she’s got to have that gulf of feelings for the common man and a good grasp on bullying.
I remembered him being in the mold of Batman, a handy fighter and five steps ahead with his sweet black outfit, high boots and cape. The knives were cool too. And amongst all the American comics, it was good to see a sharp looking British costumed hero dishing out the beatings. I think the Guy Fawkes thing worked well and think it’s fitting that the mask has been taken on by the Anonymous Movement, like life imitating art imitating life. However reading it again, I found he comes off much more like the Joker. It really hammered it home when he recreated Larkhill with Prothero in uniform and minced about in his barbershop quartet outfit, much like Joker and his booby-trapped funfair hideouts. I think I’ve explained why V’s plans for utopia and his torture of Evey are a little hypocritical but don’t you find pretty much everything about him to be quite childish? Even as a concept, it’s like a child has reimagined Batman. He’s got immense fighting skills, stealth and fitness but we have no idea where he learnt them. He has a Shadow Gallery and limitless resources but we don’t know where from. It’s like Moore couldn’t be bothered to figure out the Bruce Wayne part and just made it familiar enough to wing it just taking the best bits. Moore has said that he’s supposed to be an enigma, but V has got a whole backstory as his revenge for it is what the whole story is about. And then what’s the main basis of his plan? Kill the leaders of the various government departments because then it will all come crashing down. Great plot if you’re a bit younger and you like the idea of sticking it to the man, but in reality it’s not about the man at the top, it’s about the system in place. The king is dead, long live the king. He’s hardly hindered by Batman’s non-lethal code as he’s definitely not shy when it comes to killing, or picky either. His lack of remorse and penchant for violence appear to be more like a child lashing out at who is telling him ‘no’ and to become fodder, part of the herd. His whole carefree mayhem and remorseless killing is much more like the Joker in his childish retaliation against the norm.
On second reading, his whole character is like an ill-thought out childish fantasy of kicking back at the adult world. The alternative future London as it was written back in 1988 presented the strict authority of a dour Orwellian landscape free of creativity or choice. Adult fears of an adult future. And what more satisfying escapism than to imagine a single man tearing it apart while singing the Rolling Stones? And wait, hasn’t this all already happened anyway? Aren’t they living in the result of the whole system crashing down? Aren’t they the ashes that Norsefire rose from? The fascists won. Hate won. V is just setting it up to happen again with Evey in his place who remember had the answer in her all along.
Except that last bit, which I think is another example of winging it or glossing over the bits that need thinking about, I do really like the book. I really like the way it provides a fascinating representation of human nature. When Alan Moore was writing in his government spyware to the backgrounds I doubt he would of considered people in the present would pay for and welcome these devices into their homes in exchange for convenience. Please don’t spy on me Alexa. That and the other bits lifted from ‘1984’ and ‘Brave New World,’ set a good world for Moore to set up his dominoes but it’s his examples of human nature I felt resonated the most on revisiting it. I loved the detective, he said it all. Just completely oblivious to the fact he was very much a cog in the machine and nowhere near as different as he imagined from the fascists he fooled himself into believing he could distance himself from. Even better that he had no idea of the horrors his ex girlfriend the good doctor would gift upon her victims back at Larkhill. But a great detective, right? I just think it makes him kind of human. It’s been said that the characters are very two dimensional but I felt the the stuff they do is more important. Like Finch, the detective I found Helen Heyer absolutely awesome. What a bitch. The dolls were a nice touch, very eerie and hardly subtle, the peado priest, the rapey policemen who introduce us to Evey and the rest of the sleaze all make for shitty people doing shitty things throughout regardless of the self made cage of a police state built on hate for the other in which they live.
I suppose the clue is in the title, V isn’t really about mayhem, he’s got a vendetta and equally similar to the Joker he’s got a ‘do as you please,’ attitude in his cavalier and lethal madness but with Bat Skillz too. He’s sort of the both of them mixed up and thrown into an Orwellian future London for the lolz. I definitely found it to be a satisfying bit of childish escapism served up cold and fast but if you were to slow it down and look at it then it falls apart pretty quickly. It’s definitely entertaining but I don’t think he’s the messiah although if it plants a few seeds it will have done it’s job.
To infinity and down the shops
I still haven’t finished rereading V for Vendetta and I realise that I’m running out of time. Evey has woken up with a cell with a rat and what happens next I dread to think… (but seriously: it’s very interesting how much foreshadowing there is when you know what’s going to happen: proper Fight Club style – of course it seems so obvious stuff …).The funny thing is that I don’t think I’m going to be able to finish it before the deadline because I need to finish another book for a book club I’m running on Tuesday but the thing that’s interesting (especially after reading James’ post of which I’m a big confirmed fan and 100% in agreement with) is that the other book I’m reading is the perfect example of how to do anarchy right.
It’s a non-comic book I’m afraid but please don’t let that put you off – it’s called The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia and it’s written by one of the best writers of all time: Ursula K. Le Guin all the way back in 1974 which I’ve got to admit seems kinda crazy to me as when you read it – it feels like it’s been beamed back from the future.
Ok. Maybe not the cover.
I’m the sort of person that doesn’t really like giving too much away about things that other people haven’t seen yet (“And then they find Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box…!!”) but it’s interesting comparing the story shapes between the two books – The Dispossessed is quietly mind-blowing in all sorts of ways but the shape of it is very calm and almost tranquil. It’s mostly just this dude travelling around and looking at stuff and mean yeah there’s rockets and alien cities and stuff but there’s not really much in the way of blowing stuff up or or swords through doors or kidnapping people and making them think that they’re going to die. And you know: maybe there’s a connection between this? Maybe the actual form of a story helps to decide it’s politics? I mean yeah you can take the Batman template and have change some of the details – but if your story is mainly about someone going around using violence to try and create a better world then you’re always going to be a bit fucked before you start. (Pay attention kids: this is why punching Nazis isn’t as smart as you think it is: and but also – probably exactly where you got the idea that it’s good in the first place).
In terms of what other people have said about changing the world – well: it’s interesting right? Comparing the treatment of Russell Brand to Greta Thunberg is interesting tho. Like Russell Brand was more of a threat before he was actually anti-establishment and wasn’t afraid to get involved in campaigns that were making a material difference to people’s lives. While Greta is a bit more: let’s get the establishment working properly and climate change and stuff. Don’t get me wrong – I mean I agree with Greta Thunberg’s message of how maybe we shouldn’t keep destroying the planet until no humans can live on it anymore (seems smart) but correct me if I’m wrong but it seems like mostly it’s just about making people feel inspired (and getting mad with the people that were always going to disagree with you anyway). The best term I’ve heard used to describe this is “Discourse Fetishism” but maybe that’s a conversation for another time…?
Or in other words: instead of fairytales that show you that monsters can be beaten – I guess I’m more in favour of fairytales that show you how to beat them. And it’s not by pining all your hopes on a single hero with a mask.
And credit where it’s due – (and omg am I the first one to mention the godawful movie?) but I think this is one of the things that the film gets right:
Our only hope is collective action.
Weekend at Arnie’s
I love The Dispossessed, but does it show us how the monsters can be beaten? Can any story do that when – arguably – the monsters never have been beaten?I mean, I agree that The Dispossessed is probably a more compelling anarchist text than V because you don’t have this one crazy guy who fixes everything (it is still a fairly individualistic story, but the tension between Shevek’s personal preference for solitude and his collectivist ideals complicates that in interesting ways); rather, everyone is just kind of muddling through, figuring things out, testing the limits. But the anarchists in The Dispossessed conveniently already live in a functional anarchist society, on a scale that has no precedent in human history, under circumstances that are hard to imagine without total social collapse in our own world (give it 50 years or so). The book is at best ambivalent and at worst fatalistic about the prospect of achieving that kind of equal society where it doesn’t yet exist. Remember, the people on Urres try collective action – and they are slaughtered.
Ultimately, I think V for Vendetta is similarly ambivalent. There is that panel near the end with Finch walking away into the darkness, on the abandoned highways of England, the future very much uncertain. This is also why I think V the character is more god than mortal. Unlike a superhero, there is no face under the mask, there is no personality beneath the cloak, there really isn’t anything to him except the idea. Even Superman has a human side; V might express human sentiments, but there’s no Clark Kent hiding in there. In that sense, I think it’s less a comic about one superhuman individual saving the rest of us through an increasingly implausible solo penetration of the state, and more a kind of divine intervention. V’s purpose is to wake the people up, to remove the fear and tacit acceptance that prevent collective action, that allow fascists like Norsefire to do murder their neighbours and friends. You say you like the scene in the film where everyone stares disapprovingly at Parliament until it blows up – what I like about the comic is thatwhen the regime starts falling apart, England erupts with riots, lootings, uprisings, mob violence (and Mob violence). The revolution is not neat or well behaved. Collective action is often ugly and messy, and – at the risk of coming over all Michael Ironside in Starship Troopers – a bad enough riot tends to change more than the biggest protest march. The trick is punching together.
One thing that’s interesting about both The Dispossessed and V for Vendetta is that events are largely out of the main characters’ hands. Evey is a bystander until this sort of supernatural force gives her the opportunity to act. V opens a door; she walks through it. V cripples the regime; the people kill it. Shevek is caught up in movements that no individual could really be said to have started, whether it’s the ill-fated protests on Urres or the revolution-within-a-revolution on Anarres. I think you could tell a version of V for Vendetta that replaces the eponymous terrorist with a computer error or a bad harvest (or the Vietnam War, as in The Dispossessed); but Moore is a superhero writer, so he imagines that catalyst as a superhero, and as Joel points out there are some obvious limits to that. Maybe this is where I’m a determinist after all: for the most part it is impossible to know whether the actions we take will do any good in the grand scheme of things, whether they will add to the actions of others and become a tide that turns history, or whether they’ll peter out to nothing. There’s no way to know if your collective action will end with anarchy in the UK or with machine guns.
I think I misspoke (mistyped?) when I said that I was more into fairytales that show you how monsters be beaten: or maybe rather I didn’t go far enough… as well one of the central brilliant insights of The Dispossessed is that it doesn’t really have any monsters in it in so much there’s a human face wearing black and muttering evilly about world domination or some such thing. In fact the only monster that exists in the book is Ideology (namely the ideology of those people who live on Urras – but then maybe I’m being too simplistic about things but whatever…). But yeah I’m not sure if The Dispossessed was the first place I encountered it but this insight basically changed the way I see everything and is totally to blame for the reason I don’t get invited to parties anymore LOLBasically – no one is born evil or wrong or twisted. Everything we think is learnt and taught to us by the world that we’re brought up in and everything is basically dependent upon the type of society that you’re raised by. And if you’re looking for the real evil it’s in the ideas that people are taught and how they’ve been made to see themselves and other people. And if you’re looking to change their ideas then the only real solution is talking to them at length and trying to understand why they think the things they do and trying your best to show them that there are other options but well you know – it’s a long slow painful process.
There’s a big triumphant moment towards the end of V that I can’t help but hear being said in Hugo Weaving’s voice. You know the bit I mean right?
And yeah it’s a big glorious moment because V is obviously the good guy – fighting all the evil in the world. And everyone knows that the good guys are the ones with the ideas while the bad guys just have tradition and uniformity and doing what they’re told so we take heart in the idea that you can’t kill an idea with a bullet. But reading it now and looking at the world and thinking it over I feel a lot less hopeful. Because yeah as much as it pains me to admit it – bad guys have ideas too. Their ideology might be completely repellent and wrong and destructive but in the words of Walter Sobchak: at least it’s an ethos.
However it means that you can’t kill it with bullets or punching or any other type of violence – instead well yeah: it’s talking and understanding and empathy – yes even to the people that have no empathy for other people and well yeah: isn’t that the ultimate test? It’s a lot harder to be nice to people who aren’t being nice to you – but then maybe that’s the point of being nice? I don’t know.
Of course the big problem with all of this stuff as I’m sure has been remarked upon before is that peace-making and understanding is really boring and not particularly suited for storytelling. I mean we’re always told drama is all about conflict right? So it’s tough to see a way in which you can make stories that would help to foster this kind of understanding because – who on earth would want to watch it? Not enough punching and explosions…
Wham. Bam. Thank you Ma’am.
Like: maybe there’s a connection between the two? Maybe we’re addicted to stories about violence because our society is violent? And maybe we won’t be into stories about reconciliation and peace until after the revolution.
I think peace and understanding can make for interesting stories, though! I’m watching throudh Star Trek TNG at the moment, and one of the things I love about it is how often the major conflicts are resolved through figuring out the other side’s point of view and really trying to avoid violence. Not every ep sticks to that, but there are lots of really good ones that do.
I’m really sold on the Fight Club interpretation of V. It definately adds something if you choose to read it as V is Evie – or maybe V is multiple revolutionaries (“His name was Robert Paulson”) which is why shooting him doesn’t work. When you get an army of V’s, that’s literally all the revolution becoming V.
When i read The Dispossessed, my favourite moment was in the creche – a kid is crying because another kid stole his patch in the sunlight. The crying kid is the one who’s told off, for thinking of a patch of sunlight as ‘his’. I thought that was such an effective way to show how alien the culture was to ours, through a tiny incident that tells you so much about the world.
It’s an interesting counterpoint to V, definitely.
Barbican Comic Forum
Hai yay yay
I finished the book for the first time in around 8 years, having read it around 8 years before that. Moore has an interesting position within comics, in that he is a big enough figure that you eventually get around to his works, repeatedly. To me, they’re almost a benchmark for where your head’s at in comparison with when you last read it.
This time round, I found it amazing how I hadn’t noticed things. I hadn’t noticed how impractical it was, primarily. A man in a mask prancing on rooftops to talk to Lady Justice…a man growing roses, cutting the heads off to make a point. It’s all devoid of practicality; the theatricality is the point, to paraphrase V himself. It’s exactly the kind of thing that I forgive myself for not noticing as a teenager (less so as a man in his mid-twenties) and yet, seems to glaringly obvious here.
The one thing that appears to have been talked around but not dealt with above is that V is, as far as I can tell, a cipher for Moore. He’s the writer within the story; he even goes so far as to give himself both the perfect ending and neverending life, through Evey. I think the lacunae within the plan, as far as it goes, are also interesting; they’re the bits he can’t control. Even if he lived, V wouldn’t be the figure people would unite around. Evey might be, as she’s of the people – but we obviously don’t see the difficult second act after the revolution has happened.
There are interesting parallels with The Dark Knight Rises, where the Mutant revolution is overthrown and turned to Batman’s side. Re-reading V, this reminded me of that but the “let it burn and dream of the replacement” vibe did make me think of Fight Club (as mentioned above).
Maybe the real tragedy of V is that, at present, I can see the trappings of being a company man but I can also see the benefits. Maybe next time I’ll identify with one of the initially one-dimensional baddies who get fleshed out just enough; perhaps I’ve grown from being Evey and admiring V, to laughing at V…and maybe the next step is just hoping to God that nobody is nuts enough to become V and overthrow the nice little thing we’ve all got going on over here which, y’know, isn’t that bad reeeeeally…