November 2002

Karin L. Kross


Comicbookslut Recommends: V for Vendetta (Guy Fawkes Day special)

Mention Alan Moore's name and most readers will immediately think of Watchmen, or perhaps From Hell, thanks to the recent movie. Or perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is his groundbreaking work on Swamp Thing in the 1980s, or his current superhero books Promethea, Tom Strong, or Top Ten. Or maybe the Victorian fantasia of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. V for Vendetta, which began life in Warrior magazine in 1981, is not quite as well-known on this side of the Atlantic, despite having been published first as a 10-issue miniseries and then as a trade paperback by DC Comics. While little by Alan Moore can be called "obscure", V for Vendetta could certainly stand to be a little more well-known and widely-read.

Perhaps the quintessentially British subject matter is a bit of a barrier in the U.S. The hero V, after all, takes inspiration from Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the houses of Parliament in the 17th century, and who is remembered every November 5 in Britain by having his effigy burned and having fireworks launched in his name. V for Vendetta takes place in a dystopic post-nuclear 1997 Britain, where an escaped political prisoner who calls himself V wages a (nearly) singlehanded war against a racist totalitarian government. The near-obsession with fascist states is another characteristic theme in British speculative fiction -- refer to the classic of the genre, 1984, or Brian Talbot's Luther Arkwright comics for similar.

V for Vendetta is equally the story of Evey Hammond, an ordinary girl whose life is transformed when V rescues her from a gang of corrupt policemen. From V, she learns about the world that was lost when the fascists took over, and as she comes of age, she becomes the inheritor of his legacy. There are many other stories laced through the tale as well; even the cogs in the government machine have voices, desires, and dreams, many of which come crashing down as V carries out his vendetta.

Moore admits to his own naivete as a writer in his 1988 introduction to the series; while the early chapters in particular are clearly those of a writer still feeling out his voice, Moore's audaciousness and care in storytelling are already in evidence. David Lloyd's art is the perfect complement, his unique and instantly recognizable style evoking a stark, nasty alternate future shot through with occasional moments of remarkable beauty.

Admittedly, it is a little odd and disturbing to read V for Vendetta these days. V, after all, is a terrorist, and that is a very loaded word in the current global climate. Some might wonder at a book in which the hero takes actions unnervingly similar to those universally condemned in the real world -- for instance, the book starts off with the Houses of Parliament going up in flames. To get bogged down in the terrorism angle, though, is to miss the forest for the trees. Ultimately, V for Vendetta is arguably not so much condoning terrorism as it is condemning repression. The world of V for Vendetta is under constant video surveillance, and every conversation has its government eavesdroppers. Consider the controversies over privacy and individual rights that are currently under much discussion these days. V's fight is not to impose his worldview upon others, but to undermine those who would do exactly that. To read V for Vendetta and think about it is also to consider what in your world is worth fighting for.

Yes, it's an intensely political work. But V for Vendetta is also a remarkably well-told tale by masters of the form, who even in the early days of their careers displayed a daring and intelligence that many writers and artists now would be hard pressed to emulate. It is an eloquent, angry book, and though 1997 has come and gone, V for Vendetta's importance has not.

V for Vendetta
Written by Alan Moore
Illustrated by David Lloyd
Warner Books
ISBN: 0930289528
286 pages