Remember, Remember, the 5th of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.
A rallying call for the disenfranchised of Great Britain to join in arms and take back their country! V For Vendetta is a landmark series from one of the best writers in comic books, Alan Moore, with artwork by David Lloyd. It was originally released in the 1980s as part of the anthology series Warrior, prior to that book’s cancellation. Following that, DC Comics picked it up and published the entire ten-issue series. Influenced by British comics from the ’60s, detective pulp stories, and the British political climate, this story seems simultaneously larger than life and grounded firmly in reality. The idea that a terrorist can commit acts on the scale that V does is unbelievable, but the reactions to those attacks seem all to real. After finishing the book, I was awestruck. It’s rare to read a story that makes you question politics and the world you live in. Stay tuned for my take on the book after this plot summary!
In 1997, several years after a horrific nuclear war, the United Kingdom has become a fascist police state. Ruling the land by fear and force, it controls all aspects of society. Nightly broadcasts by the Voice of Fate remind the citizens that all is well and to obey the Leader, Adam J Susan, the head of the Norsefire party. On one fateful night (November 5th, to be precise), one citizen didn’t rest, broke curfew and caused massive destruction in a single terrorist act. The man, wearing a cloak, hat, and Guy Fawkes mask, wanders the streets that night and rescues Evey Hammond, a young girl trying to make it as a prostitute, from a group of police officers. He shows her his masterpiece, as the Old Bailey building blows up. He then takes her back to his lair and she proceeds to share her life story.
The task to investigate the terror attack falls to Eric Finch, the head of the Nose, the regular police force. Not beholden to the fasscist party, Finch is a dedicated cop who takes his job seriously. We meet other members of Norsefire, including Derek Almond, head of the Finger, the secret police. Another terrorist bombing has Fate in an uproar, as they pander to the public and try to convince them the attacks were planned demolitions. Once the Voice of Fate, Lewis Prothero is kidnapped, they cannot quell the masses any longer, as people begin to worry. V, with the help of Evey adds more bodies to his list, as he takes out a sinful priest, and Dr Surridge, who works for Norsefire. Finch soon discovers that everyone V is targeting used to work at a concentration camp. He warns Almond who tries to confront V but is outmatched.
Finch finds Surridge’s diary and reads it, discovering the horrible tragedies that went on in that place. He suspects V was in the camp, and was a peculiar inmate known as, “the man from room five”. Experimental drugs were tested on the prisoners, most of whom died almost instantly. V was a successful test subject, and coupled with his demeanor and intelligence, they allowed him to grow a garden. Soon he plotted out his escape.
V’s next target is the Jordan Building, where he goes on air as the Voice of Fate and calls for the country to rise up against its fascist regime. Finch arrives at the scene and meets Peter Creedy, a criminal turned cop who now heads the Nose. The two clash over their ideals and Finch is forced to take a vacation.
Evey gets into an argument with V and she is then abandoned to the streets where she meets a criminal by the name of Gordon. He runs a bootlegging operation in a club. Things go well for Evey until he is mercilessly gunned down. She tries to get revenge but is caught and kidnapped, enduring what could be months of psychological and physical torture, only to emerge a much stronger woman in the end. She also learns the fate of actress Valerie Page.
Finch goes to Larkhill, the site of the concentration camp, and tries to connect
to the abandoned facility. He tries to get inside V’s mind to figure out how to catch him. He gets a startling revelation and confronts V for a final showdown. Creedy, now becoming close to Susan, urges him to go public and address his people. Susan, who has become disconnected from the world, always in the room with the monitors, staring down at everyone, decides a press conference would be in his best interest. Behind the scenes, however, a few people are plotting his assassination. While the coup is being planned out, V has his final confrontation, and Evey learns exactly what there is in a name, the power of anonymity and what influence a person can have over an entire country. The book raises a lot of questions, which it then leaves reader to answer. The main one being, which political system is the lesser of two evils, fascism or anarchism? There is no question in my mind that fascism is evil, the atrocities committed in the camps are proof enough. By the same token, V is a terrorist, who uses fear to cripple the city, blows up buildings, and incites riots. Are his motivations for the greater good, or is he using that as a mere justification for his revenge? And of Norsefire, we learn that most people in a position of power will stop at nothing to keep that power or acquire more. We see a lot of underhanded deals go on between the leaders of the country and criminals. We see the corruption of the church, and the mental instability of the leader himself.Each chapter plays out as the story is told from another character’s perspective, so you really get a feel for each of them. V is an amazing character, whose intellect shows through in every panel. The writing is amazing in this series. I am a big Alan Moore fan. I just recently read Watchmen and loved it, but to me V for Vendetta is probably my favorite of his stories. It plays out more like a classic noir story than a superhero tale. The political intrigue really hooked me, and kept me turning page after page.
The influence of this book is still being felt today. Having had a successful film adaptation from Warner Brothers, produced by theWachowski Brothers, directed by James McTeigue and starring Hugo Weaving as the titular hero. The film garnered good reviews and did well at the box office. Fans were split on the movie however, as a lot of liberties were taken with the story. Alan Moore himself has denounced the film, stating
[The movie] has been “turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country… It’s a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives which is not what the comic V for Vendetta was about. It was about fascism, it was about anarchy, it was about England”
However David Lloyd, artist of the book, enjoyed the film and stated:
“It’s a terrific film. The most extraordinary thing about it for me was seeing scenes that I’d worked on and crafted for maximum effect in the book translated to film with the same degree of care and effect. The “transformation” scene between Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving is just great. If you happen to be one of those people who admires the original so much that changes to it will automatically turn you off, then you may dislike the film — but if you enjoyed the original and can accept an adaptation that is different to its source material but equally as powerful, then you’ll be as impressed as I was with it.”
Having watched the movie first, I wasn’t too impressed, and now after reading the book, it makes me dislike the movie even more. The performances were good, Weaving is always excellent, but the story just didn’t click with me.
The comic is available as a trade paperback, which hopefully you can secure at your local comic shop. It’s not recommended for younger readers, as there is quite a bit of the ol’ ultra violence. Huge recommend on this story, as it utterly captivated me.