V for Vendetta: A Retrospective (Part One)

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Posted November 1, 2013 by Jake Morris in Nerdy Bits

V for Vendetta

There are a select few stories told in the format of a comic book or graphic novel that are widely regarded as classics in the medium. A classic, a term thrown around casually in the modern age, refers to the memorability, the power in the story and most of all the ability to transcend multiple areas of entertainment.

There are not many that can hold a candle to such a classification, but of those that are to be considered classics, their names are known worldwide. You do not have to walk far to find someone who has heard of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns or Maus. In the case of this article, a retrospective look back on a classic, V for Vendetta is absolutely one of those books. Held in the highest regard for the story’s message, dense material and political focal points, Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta is a piece of work that further broke the mould in showing the capabilities of the medium.

Filled with literal, metaphorical and allegorical motifs that commented on the state of society in England at the time, V for Vendetta delivered a controversial look into a future where the justice system had become a sharp straight line through the rulings of a country that had deep lying roots in various cultures. Absent were the tights, bombastic names and extravagant world of superheroes, in their place stood a statue of totalitarian power; a fascist outlook in which a government truly controlled every aspect of its citizen’s lives.

The first of the three books that make up V for Vendetta focused on the introduction of England and its current predicament. England, under the ruling power of Norsefire and its leader Adam Susan, was a country in isolation. No longer connected to the outside world due to mass floods and countless wars that had engulfed Europe, America and Africa in death and despair, a fascist government hellbent on dictating and blurring the lines of justice rose to power. It is through such a state of authoritarian control that the vigilante, V, is brought to the fold and is altogether a far different ‘hero’ than what is normally seen in the world of comic books. Alan Moore himself has stated that V is certainly not a hero, and through his actions of murdering past members of a chemical testing institute, it becomes difficult to differentiate where the line between justice and crime lies. However, through the female protagonist introduced, Evey Hammond, the story follows her journey from oppressed member of society to a promising beacon of hope in the fight for true freedom.

Deeply rooted in the rich history and culture of England, V for Vendetta offered a twist on the tale of Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up parliament. V, arrayed in black cloak and garments utilises the immortal face of Guy Fawkes in the styling of his mask. Alan Moore’s inclusion of such an anarchic moment that is ingrained in British history makes sure that the world takes note of the 5th of November.

In the book’s opening, Alan Moore provides a bridge between fiction and reality as he introduces the notion of the Voice of Fate. The commentary from The Voice of Fate, the government’s voice in addressing the public, is very much reminiscent of the way George Orwell integrated the Big Brother concept in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Except in this case, the lengths of subjugation that Fate goes to is evident and is more of a commentary from Moore on the state of how much information, we as the general public, need from a higher power. It is a powerful thought that although only covers one or two pages, lives long in the memory as the story progresses. The weather report is exact, down to the very degree and the hapless female lead of the story (Evey Hammond) sits there and takes it all in.1422509_10151962610280395_1996623562_n
Evey is portrayed as rather weak and perhaps even meek, the first handful of expressions we are given from David Lloyd’s art suggest uncertainty in a face that is full of beauty. Youthful but blissfully ignorant to the happenings around her, Evey is in fact a reflection of the reader and society as a whole, intended as the vehicle for the journey in which the story takes the reader. While Evey is young and naive, she is old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong, and therefore recognise the injustice that surrounds her. The fact that she doesn’t is made clear in the beginning to establish a starting point from which she can grow, and she will experience this growth from the moment that first page turns to the reader laying their eyes on the back cover of the book.

The introduction of the vigilante, V, so soon in the books beginnings is an interesting choice from Alan Moore. As Evey is encountering corrupt Fingermen, a form of secret police in Vendetta’s world, V swoops down to save the day. The decision to nip villainy in the bud before it can show its ugly face is a display of intent from Moore. With his cancellation of villainous acts early on, the idea of stamping out the wrong doings of the government is signalled from the start. However his methods don’t necessarily conform to what would usually be considered the actions of a hero, such as killing a number of Fingermen and several murders that appear to be motivated by revenge, therefore it is easy to see V as more of a villain or a necessary evil. Justice within the book is a common topic and the character of V is a figment of the grey area found within justice and liberation. As a country depicted through black and white lenses, V is pushed to act outside of those boundaries. Throughout the story it is V who commits murder firsthand and it is a simple label to account for his actions. No matter how right his actions may be in the bigger picture.

In his introduction, V states that he is the “black sheep of the family”. He is divorced from society as he believes in something that can’t exist within the current regime. He is a figure of anarchy who is intent on tearing-down the current system, so that a new ‘just’ system can be born in its place. Bringing in V at that specific moment is important to the visual idea of Evey’s plight. She is pushing herself into prostitution due to the severe problems she faces, but it is the intended view that Moore wishes to show. If Evey is intended to be the face of society in the story, then the idea of her turning to prostitution is a commentary on the compromises people are willing to make, and the dark corners they turn to in times of need.

Within the world of V for Vendetta, the government’s complete control of the day to day lives of those living under their regime is portrayed almost in jest. The departments that they are split into display a literal identification of what it is that they do in order to keep people under their ruling. The police force is headed under the ‘Nose’ section of the regime, with Moore playing on the idea that the police like to stick their noses in everybody’s business. The main character representing the police is Mr. Finch, an intelligent detective whose desire is to know every piece of information relevant an investigation, perfectly representing the police’s nosey motif.

Similar themes are carried throughout, such as the ‘Eye’ being the main sector and much like its name, the people working there keep a close watch over everything. The idea of the Norsefire government and in particular, the ‘Eye’, may be attributed to George Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ in which a totalitarian government use surveillance to not only control and observe a country’s actions but also to invoke fear. Although Orwell may have suggested themes such as this decades before V, Alan Moore brought the use of surveillance to the forefront. The world of today is very much observation-centric, with the digital age being used for different forms of interaction. V for Vendetta was perhaps not a prediction but more a warning as to the dangers that society risks falling into if the desire to track everyday movements was fulfilled.

Interestingly, the ‘Mouth’ sector focuses on the rather flamboyant character of Roger Dascombe, who appears to be far less uptight than the other notable members of the party. The idea of a man who works for the vocal side of the government acting in such a manner is a significant concept when observing how outspoken Dascombe is in his opinions. A concept that suggests the ‘Mouth’ can secrete whatever opinion it wants as such a department holds utter power over society in which case, the public are oblivious to such attitudes and so is Adam Susan and other party members when seeing Dascombe’s demeanour.

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The relationship between Evey and V is one that must grow in order for Evey to reach an eventual state of acceptance before she can stand up to the oppression that is forced upon her. Evey’s growth relies on her understanding V’s methods and motivations, and coming to terms with the severity of his actions against the totalitarian methods that the government thrust upon the country. Evey and V’s relationship, despite following a similar path in the story, does not bring about the same changes for the latter mentioned character as it does for the former, as V does not undergo a form of growth. This is attributed to the ideology that both characters represent. Evey, the innocent and youthful member of society shrouded in fascist authority is a living body that can change. She is an entity that breathes. Whereas V’s anarchic persona is rigid and immovable; he follows a clear-cut path that he believes is the only option to achieve the desired result. This is never more clear than when the two characters share emotional scenes, with Evey’s expression constantly shifting and V’s remaining constant. The intention behind the mask is not just to leave V faceless, but also to display his lack of development as a person. Instead V is portrayed as a force of nature, one of change that is there to guide the vehicle (Evey) in her journey.

In guiding Evey, V is also tasked with educating her in the specifics of how authority negatively affects the culture that the world is built upon. Though simple in context, the first use of V educating Evey is shown through the guiding tour of his home, The Shadow Gallery. A gallery of lost art and culture from a range of countries and religions, it is very much a lingering shadow cast from the decadence of the old regime in which luxury was not a privilege, but essential to enjoying life. Evey’s pronunciation of ‘duke box’ instead of ‘juke box’ signifies how deep the roots of military and conflict linger in her mind; as war sits on the knife edge of her subconscious, leaving no room for the wonderment of the world at large.

It is only in Evey’s admittance to the traumas of her past that she rises above the worries haunting her. Moore writes “her nightmare is over” suggesting that the denial of past atrocities brought upon not just her family but also the world, has brought her to her knees. Standing up to those memories is the moment Evey is able to move on, to build a better world. Much like a country does as it analyses the negatives that currently reside in society.

1380543_10151962611185395_197826118_nThe first third of V for Vendetta, at its core, is an exploration of two warring elements of justice that each take up a single side of a coin. On one side is anarchy, wishing to defeat the authority and repression and on the opposing side, fate. Fate is the beloved element of power in which the Leader, Adam Susan believes in. Through Susan’s following of fate, fascism shadows the government at large and drives the party to claim ownership over the lives of those living under their power. In what might be the most powerful sequence in the first third, Alan Moore and David Lloyd deliver a contrast in both Susan and V.

Adam Susan’s declaration of love for his country is described in a monologue of poetic dialogue such as “I believe in strength. I believe in unity.” And as he explains the freedom owed to his people, he states the only freedom left to the people is the freedom to starve, die and live in a world full of chaos. The freedom that he believes is owed to the people is much different from the freedom that he permits.

Susan’s obsessive love for fate is never more obvious than when he starts to lose control; as anarchy infects his world of order he blames fate for dealing him a cruel hand, turning its back on him and therefore betraying him. Does this show that unpredictability, anarchy, is the more truthful way in the mind of Alan Moore? The foreshadowing of Susan’s narration makes it seem so.

V’s declaration follows Susan’s and focuses on his conflict with justice, named here as Madame Justice, and how the justice system has swayed from its true path. The disdain V has for justice is conveyed through a beautifully crafted couple of pages in which V dramatises the situation. As he displays his disappointment in the way of justice’s switch to another entity, and in how it has betrayed him, V reveals his new love; anarchy. Moore’s depiction of fate, justice and anarchy as if, in the eyes of the two characters, they were living beings adds a feeling of levity to proceedings. They are not just two characters who are flesh and blood, they signify something more, something that although conflicting, is still passionate. The use of V stating “justice is meaningless without freedom” contrasts Susan’s stance but perhaps in V’s perceived more calm delivery, Alan Moore is suggesting that it requires more than just a passionate heart and mind to rule correctly…

1452036_10151962612910395_1950642791_nAt one point Derek Almond, who is very much a crueller and less subdued version of V, heads to meet the caped vigilante and kill him. What follows is a quick touch of dialogue from Almond, in which he mocks V for his use of knives and karate moves, stating that they are merely gimmicks. Almond perceives that due to his possession of a gun, he has the upper hand in the situation, but it instead displays the complete opposite. Through Almond’s speech, it is clear that his reliance on having a more superior weapon is in actual fact a hindrance to him and results in V murdering him before Almond can pull the trigger. Alan Moore’s depiction of Almond’s surly attitude and his ridicule of V’s weaponry is more a commentary altogether. The placement of power is a facade in which a person, or the government, believes they hold an advantage. Power is more or less a lie, one that betrays the one in power once they begin to rely on it. V’s gimmicks although deadly and granting the ability to kill, also require conviction. A conviction that must be carried out with absolute focus and without reliance on a simple weapon, instead the weapons effectiveness depends on the user. It becomes a metaphor for freedom rather than anarchy, as freedom requires the conviction of the person who desires it. Reliance on someone else, depicted here through Almond and the gun, can always bring failure.

As the first third of the book comes to an end, the reader is given a sequence of conversation between Finch and Adam Susan, in which they discuss the notes found in Dr. Delia Surridge’s diary. V, having left the diary for the police to find upon discovering Surridge dead, allows the connection between all murder victims to come to fruition. The conversation however results in Finch and Susan debating the validity of the book. Their doubting of the truth stems from a form of paranoia because of the consequences of the truth. Control of the system has been lost in regards to Norsefire’s understanding of events and it offers a thought on what power and control turn to once both are tested, do they buckle and admit defeat or simply brush it off as if no problems persist? The ending glimpse of Adam Susan’s wondering eyes leaves a lot to be revealed in the larger story.

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Be sure to check out part two of this V for Vendetta retrospective in the coming days with part three due for release on November 5th.
Thanks for reading.


About the Author

Jake Morris

When is Deadman going to get a film? Never, you say? Well, I'm just going to sit here and sulk. Comics, films, stuff... I like it aaaaall.