Archive for V for Vendetta

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

As long as we’re busy observing Guy Fawkes Day (We are observing Guy Fawkes Day, right?), it seems like a good time to talk about another great Alan Moore comic book.

V for Vendetta

Thanks to the 2006 movie, the profile of this story got raised a lot higher than it had ever been. And while I do enjoy the movie a lot, the graphic novel is a much different beast. So let’s review the basics a bit.

Obviously, it was written by the famously brilliant and bearded Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. It was originally published as a ten-issue miniseries in “Warrior,” a British comic book anthology, in 1981. Due to sporadic publishing and production schedules, it took several years for the story to completed — in fact “Warrior” was cancelled in 1985, before the end of the tale could be published. In 1988, DC Comics published the previous “Warrior” chapters, in color this time, then published Moore and Lloyd’s final chapters, finally completing the series. It has since been compiled into a graphic novel under DC’s Vertigo imprint, and it’s available in stores for you to buy right now.

The story is set in a dystopian future in which England is ruled by a fascist dictatorship. There are no known black people, no known homosexuals, no known religious or ethnic minorities. Police powers are absolute. People are propagandized on television and radio by “The Voice of Fate,” an influential and soothing broadcaster, and they are watched at almost all times through pervasive video surveillance. Signs throughout the city proclaim “Strength through Purity, Purity through Faith.” England prevails, and freedom is dead.

There are two main characters. Evey Hammond is a young girl who runs afoul of a government vice squad. She is rescued by “V”, a man wearing a grinning Guy Fawkes mask. V is a virtual superman — terrifyingly fast and agile, a powerful fighter and merciless killer, endlessly patient, cultured, charming, theatrical, charismatic, impossibly intelligent — and completely insane.

We learn very little about V over the course of the story. He used to be an inmate at a death camp, he endured terrible experimentation and escaped after these experiments mutated him and twisted his psyche. He wants the people who held him captive dead. He wants the dictatorship destroyed. He doesn’t want to replace it with a democracy or a monarchy or a republic. He is a terrorist and an anarchist. He wants the government — all governments, really — dead. And he nearly never takes off that mask.

Evey is not at all superhuman and not very insane. She is a normal person who has been ground down by years of living in a world without freedom. Her parents were arrested and presumably killed years ago, she has little money and few resources until she meets V. She likes V and sympathizes with his cause, but she just wants to live a normal life. In time, she is captured by the government and tortured. In time, she becomes a freedom fighter, too.

Is this a perfect comic book? No, it really isn’t. There are a dizzying number of supporting characters, and you really cannot keep track of which ones are important and which ones are forgettable cannon fodder until the final chapters. There are times when the art seems a bit muddy — I attribute this to the fact that colors were added to Lloyd’s black-and-white art. And the story drags toward the middle. In a lot of imporant ways, the movie improved the story a lot — the vast number of characters were pared down to a more manageable size and the slow parts from the middle of the story were eliminated.

But don’t let that put you off from reading the graphic novel. This is a story that thrills and excites — it almost blisters your eyeballs as you read it. It smothers you under claustrophobic paranoia, stings you with terror, and shouts with the joys of freedom and righteous violence. V is an enigma behind his ever-smiling mask and ever-mysterious pronouncements, but his razor-sharp style and wit make him a very agreeable protagonist — I hesitate to call him a hero as he can be breathtakingly capricious and cruel — there’s a certain point in the story when most readers are going to be very, very angry at him. Trying not to spoil it, so no details, but while I was reading it the first time, I kinda wanted to kick the crap out of Alan Moore for even writing it, even though I was fantastically impressed with how well it was written and plotted. Evey, meanwhile, is the comic’s true central character, as everything revolves around her ultimate transformation from oppressed cog into enlightened rebel.

It is a highly political work. It was written when British politicians were toying with the idea of putting AIDS victims in concentration camps, when prominent people were talking about stamping out even the concept of homosexuality, by any means necessary. It was written during a period when police forces were becoming more militarized and surveillance was becoming more common. It was written when many Britons truly feared that they were looking at a pre-fascist government. In some ways, the fears of the graphic novel never came to pass — many of the excesses of the Thatcher government were turned away by more level-headed and less paranoid players. On the other hand, government surveillance, especially in England, is almost everywhere, on a level that’s almost impossible for us to believe in America — Great Britain is considered the most heavily surveilled industrialized nation, with security cameras almost everywhere in the larger cities.

There are so many wonderful moments. There’s the shy, bespectacled girl who, finally freed of the government’s omnipresent surveillance, celebrates her new freedom by shouting “Bollocks!” There are V’s methodical and brilliant murders. There is the heartbreaking letter from the political prisoner, Valerie — possibly the best single stretch of writing in the entire story — so good they lifted the entire thing for the movie. There are many, many more great moments here, but you can’t go much further without spoiling the story. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, and I don’t want to deprive you of the joy you’ll know when you find those moments for yourself.

You can find it in comic shops and bookstores right now. You should go pick it up.

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Alan Moore knows the score

A friend of mine suggested recently that I should spend more time here recommending writers and artists worth reading. Fair ’nuff — there are a lot of wonderful creators out there, and it’s always a good idea to steer people toward the Good Stuff.

So let’s start with the Best of the Best: Alan Moore.

Moore is a shaggy, shaggy Englishman, a practicing magician, a worshiper of a Roman snake-god called Glycon, and the second-best-known comics creator in the world, after Stan Lee. He’s known for intricate plotlines, razor-sharp characterizations, and scripts so detailed, a single panel description can go on for a page or more.

Moore has always worked to create comics for adults. That means there’s violence, nudity, swearing, and other stuff that parents may not want their kids getting their hands on. Moore sees the comics medium as something that shouldn’t be mired in juvenilia, though he also recognizes that superhero comics can be a great deal of fun for grown-ups as well as kids.

Here’s some of his best stuff, with short descriptions.


We’ve discussed this a bit already. This is widely considered to be the very best comic book ever created. They teach this one in many universities as literature. If you’ve never read this, you should.

V for Vendetta

A masked, swashbuckling anarchist battles a fascist dictatorship in Great Britain. Not a perfect work — there are way too many characters to keep track of — but the story absolutely blisters the brain with excitement, derring-do, and mad, dangerous ideas. An extremely political comic — Moore wrote it in response to Maggie Thatcher’s hard-right British government.

From Hell

This is a story about Jack the Ripper. Moore comes up with his own solutions for the Ripper slayings, ties it all together with head-trippy stuff about sacred geometry and time travel. Moore did a lot of research into “Ripperology” and includes an excellent bibliography and panel-by-panel endnotes. This comic is violent and absolutely blood-drenched, but if you have any interest at all in the Ripper slayings or in the seamier side of Victorian England, it’s highly recommended.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

It’s a superteam composed of characters from Victorian-era adventure fiction! The British government assembles a covert team of Mina Murray, Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Henry Jekyll, and the Invisible Man to battle Dr. Fu Manchu. A second series of the comic has the team taking on invaders from Mars. Guest stars include everyone from Auguste Dupin, Mycroft Holmes, Dr. Moreau, the Artful Dodger, Mr. Toad, John Carter, and many, many more.

Tom Strong

A modern-day superhero book that takes most of its inspiration from old pulp adventure novels, particularly Tarzan and Doc Savage. The quality is a bit here-and-there, but in general, it’s grand, frothy fun.

Top 10

One of my favorite Moore comics, it’s a hard-boiled police procedural set in a city where everyone — citizens, cops, crooks — has superpowers and wears a brightly-colored spandex costume. It’s a fun commentary on comics in general, plus it has a lot of really wonderful mysteries for the cops to solve. If you like TV shows like “Law and Order” or “Homicide: Life on the Street,” you’ll like this one.


A psychedelic/metaphysical comic about a superhero who is destined to bring about the end of the world. If you’re into new age stuff, magick, Qabalah, or the Tarot, you’ll love this. This comic is also the one where Moore does the most experimentation with visual styles and symbolism. It’s not light reading — it’s a very challenging book that requires fairly deep reading to understand.


A British superhero, similar to Captain Marvel. The original version got its start in the ’50s, and Moore started working on it in the ’80s. In his version, Marvelman ends up taking over the world and ruling as a god. It’s awfully hard to find this series anywhere in the U.S. — the rights to the character and the series are in dispute. (They even had to change the name from “Marvelman” to “Miracleman” when Marvel Comics threatened to sue.)

The Killing Joke

This Batman story presents the definitive origin of the Joker. And it’s the story that started Barbara Gordon on the path from being Batgirl to becoming Oracle, the wheelchair-bound super-hacker. It’s a wonderful comic, one of the best Joker stories ever.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

DC was preparing to reboot the Superman from the beginning back in the mid-’80s, and Moore wrote this story to bring an end to everything in the old Superman mythos. Supes is forced to deal with powerful enemies who destroy his secret identity, turn his old rogues gallery into psychotic murderers, and threaten to destroy him and everyone he loves. It’s a sad and scary story that’s soaked in nostalgia for the lost innocence of DC’s fabled Silver Age.

Saga of the Swamp Thing (especially “The Anatomy Lesson”)

When Moore took over this comic, the Swamp Thing was a low-selling comic on the fast track to cancellation. In the space of just a few issues, he turned it into one of DC’s best-selling and scariest comics. “The Anatomy Lesson” revamps Swamp Thing’s origin and re-introduces the character as a terrifying monster. Highly recommended — go hunt it down.

Terra Obscura

This one was just plotted by Moore, but it’s still great fun. A simultaneous spin-off from “Tom Strong” and a series of superhero comics from the ’40s, this series featured a bunch of characters with a strong Golden Age flavor but modern personalities and characterizations.

Most of these stories are still in-print in various anthologies and trade paperbacks. You can go out and buy them today. In fact, you should, because they’re all wonderful reads. Git after it, kids.

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