Alan Moore & David Lloyd's V For Vendetta has, in the twenty-plus years since its initial publication, become one of those seminal works of the genre, like American Splendor, Maus, Dark Knight Returns, or any other you care to name...but sometimes it seems like it maintains the lowest profile of all of them, fitting considering its anonymous protagonist. Perhaps it's because it was done so long ago, at the beginning of Moore's career, and he's done so many noteworthy works since that it has gotten lost in the wake of Watchmen, From Hell, or Promethea, to name but a few...or perhaps it's because there are so many things going on in V's complicated narrative that many are daunted by it (I know that's the case with me, when I contemplated writing about it)...who can say. I have a feeling that this will change with the release of the upcoming motion picture adaptation, which Moore has already gone on record as disavowing any connection with, as he tends to do...and while I can understand, given Hollywood's track record with his intellectual properties so far, as someone who doesn't give a toss about whether it's "eggs in a basket" or "eggy in a basket", I'm not so sure that the basic concept won't hold up to the less than genteel treatment of the filmmaking community in general and the Wachowski Brothers in particular. But I'm getting ahead of myself- having had my curiosity provoked by the not-bad-looking trailer for the V film, I decided that it was high time I finally got around to picking up the source material and reading it for myself, so I could make an informed decision. And I know I won't be the only one who chooses to do this, so I would imagine that if DC promotes the thing at all, then sales of that 15-year-old trade collection will go up and renewed speculation will be cast upon it.
So for once, I'm going to be ahead of the curve!
Anyway, I'm sure many of you are familiar with the story, but just in case I'll try to give you a nutshell description. V For Vendetta was originally published from 1982 to 1985 in the British comic Warrior, which folded before Moore and Lloyd were able to bring it to some sort of conclusion. Then, in 1988, DC wanted to capitalize on Moore's US success with Swamp Thing and Watchmen, and invited him to conclude the series in a 10-issue series that reprinted the Warrior chapters, then Moore's all-new conclusion. V is set in a near-future dystopian London, where the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust has created a totalitarian one-party form of government in ol' Blighty, complete with the standard suppression of free thought and what the Powers That Be consider deviant lifestyles, i.e. non-Aryan homosexual. There is also State-run television and radio and experimentation on undesirables, in short, everything one needs for the perfect 1984 slash Nazi-ish regime. And it's one of those undesirables who escapes and becomes the terrorist/anarchist Codename V, a person of undetermined gender who makes it his/her own personal life's work to poke holes in the balloon of this tyranny via explosions in key landmarks of Great Britain a la Guy Fawkes, and systematic executions of ranking members of the fascist hierarchy.
We first meet V when, on his way to blow up the Houses of Parliament, he rescues young Evey Hammonds from being raped and possibly killed by a group of police whom she unknowingly solicited for sex to make some money to survive on. Bombing done, he takes Evey to his lair where she tells him her life story, helpfully providing the reader with the whys and wherefores of the world they live in. As V continues his campaign, it's apparent that Evey is being groomed to carry on his work, even though he lets her walk away at one point in the narrative and even try to live a normal life as the lover of a criminal who cares about her just the same. Which is not to say that this becomes a cliched romance, or a dreary Stockholm Scenario...Moore's smarter than that. Anyway, for a complete synopsis, with spoilers, you can go to the Wikipedia entry, which will save me the trouble of completely rehashing the book for you!
Moore really lays on the sociological and political commentary throughout the course of this book; it's a testament to his genius, even early on in his career, that he's able to leaven it with appropriate dramatics- such as the case of a letter, found by Evey when she's apparently captured and interrogated by the Party, from a presumably deceased lesbian actress named Valerie, (places and names which start with "V" are a recurring motif) which inspires her to resist her captors. It's simultaneously an indictment of prejudice and hatred, an inspiring character moment, and advances the plot since this Valerie had significance to V him/herself. And the book is full of moments like that- male chauvinism and tyranny and female self-worth are examined in the subplot with Rose Almond, widow of a policeman who was killed by V, to name another example. And while he's doing this, he gives us a fine adventure yarn, with V and his machinations- he's a lot like a socially conscious Batman or the Shadow as he manipulates and executes the oppressors of his beloved country. It's wonderful that Moore never lets us see V's face- it reinforces the mystery and also plants the suggestion that anyone could rise up and oppose suppression and tyranny.
On the negative side, the scientific and social notions in its very premise are flawed; Moore admits as much in his preface in the trade. Not a big problem, but it's a chink in the armor. The "musical" interlude in which V plays and sings the song "This Vicious Cabaret" really brings the narrative to a grinding halt...but then again I tend to not care for that sort of scene in the first place, and you might not be bothered by it. Fortunately, it's brief. Also, the narrative shows the signs of its initial serialization and the gap in between the demise of the Warrior issues and the DC-commissioned conclusion- there are so many characters and so much which is going on both overtly and covertly that it came across to me sometimes as somewhat disjointed and episodic- not so much as to be a major liability, but somewhat distracting just the same. The jacket fits just fine, but the stitches are showing. I was also finding myself at a loss, upon occasion, when trying to remember which middle-age white guy was which- I had to go back and re-read a chapter or two once or twice. Some blame for this has to be assigned to artist Lloyd, who didn't go to a lot of effort to provide clearly distinct visuals for many of these characters, going instead for a generic comic-book man/woman style. Which is not to say that all the characters are done this way, but enough to where I wish he'd tried a little harder on that account.
Otherwise, though, Lloyd's contribution is outstanding. And I say this while freely admitting that it was my perception of his art style that kept me from picking this up in the first place, when DC published it in the late '80s- something about the style which didn't appeal to me at the time, and you all know how important the visual aspect of any work of sequential fiction is to me. Anyway, I'm a little more tolerant now than I was then- and I will say that Lloyd turns in a mostly excellent job, rendering this in a thickly-inked style that suggests a chiarascuro approach. His depiction of the title character himself is brilliant- a caped figure, dressed like a swashbuckling hero from an adventure story or movie, and sporting a Guy Fawkes mask, giving him a definite air of mystery and panache. He's never going to be included in a list of good-girl artists either; his females are all awkwardly proportioned, gawky people, and this may be intentional in an expressionistic way, don't know. I haven't seen too much else by Lloyd, other than an issue here or there of titles like Global Frequency or Hellblazer, and I don't remember them at all so it didn't leave much of an impression, obviously. Lloyd is a solid craftsman and flashes moments of brilliance in this book, though- he doesn't cohere with Moore as brilliantly as Dave Gibbons did on Watchmen, but it's difficult to imagine any other artist doing a better job on this story. Maybe it's just the way I tend to perceive this sort of work from across the pond, but I got that definite Avengers/Prisoner/Hammer Studios feel. In fact, according to Moore, it was Lloyd who first approached him with the concept in the first place. Good call!
All things being equal, this is quite a outstanding graphic novel. I wish it had been tighter in places, that's no fault of the creators, though. There's a lot of food for thought in V For Vendetta, and sadly, its scenarios are still not all that far-fetched- especially here in the U.S., with its repressive and narrow minded policies and the general nationwide mood as it skews towards rejection of any sort of divergent lifestyle or religious choice and its xenophobia. Bet your life that the Bush administration would not be happy with Codename V working his havoc in this post-9/11 world. And, if the movie can channel this notion in any way, it might just be an aesthetic success if not a box-office one.
If you haven't done so already, I definitely recommend reading V now, so you won't be discouraged if the movie follows in the footsteps of other Moore adaptations. Kinda wish I had done so a long time ago.