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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #309

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November… (The gunpowder archive and plot.)


309. V for Vendetta

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Well, I couldn’t very well let Guy Fawkes Day pass by without doing a column on V for Vendetta, could I?

I think it goes without saying that Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta is one of the best graphic novels of all time. It’s publication history was spotty– two-thirds of it appearing in Brit anthology Warrior before disappearing for a time, only to be finished and collected by DC– but the completed product has proved to be amazing.

Why’s it so good? It’s a rich, complex work with loads of characters and layers. Hey, it’s Alan Moore– what do you expect? The book’s about a lot of things: anarchism vs. fascism, transformation, terror, vengeance, belief, dominoes, bulletproof ideas, and the 22nd letter of the alphabet. The hero, V, is a terrorist, but we identify with him and root for him, even as he blows up buildings, incites riots, invigorates the people, and weaves a tremendous web that unites every character in the book.

The main character, however, is Evey Hammond. She is the reader’s eyes and ears into this strange world, one that our reality seems to be mimicking more and more each year. We follow her through her encounter with V, her journey out into the world, her fears and loves, her kidnap and torture, and her rebuilding of self. Evey is put through hell but emerges out the other side a new person, a person with purpose. Well, that’s one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it is to see V as a manipulative bastard that turns her into something to suit his own needs. I like the former idea, though.

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This comic has an extremely intricate plot and is loaded with characters who are all important, whether they seem so or not at first, or whether they get much screen time or barely any at all. He also fills the pages with wonderful moments, including the flashback origin of V, the vicious cabaret, the heartbreaking story of Valerie, or the haunting, acid-trip journey that Finch undertakes. David Lloyd’s art is extremely effective at conveying the soul-crushing atmosphere of fascist London, the shadows of society, the power of V, and the emotions of the characters. The word “moody” was invented to describe the artwork. It’s a deep, dense work.

V for Vendetta pretty much defined cinematic comics: there are no thought bubbles, no sound effects– only action and dialogue. Many comics today try to replicate cinema, but they don’t seem to do it well. The graphic novel was translated to film by the Wachowskis a couple years ago, and they did a fairly fine job. They took shortcuts, of course, and the book is better, and fuller, but the movie’s good, too. It’s just different.

Moore and Lloyd’s V for Vendetta is going to be on everyone’s list of “best comics ever” for years to come because of the sheer magnificence and power of the work. Really, I could go on and on, but there’s no point. If you read it, then you know, and if you haven’t read it, my words will do naught for you. Go, read it now!

And remember the words of V:

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Be sure to check out these nifty V annotations the next time you read through the book.


This is a brilliant book, no doubt. My only surprise is that this made the list before Watchmen. In fact, I just went and checked the archive to see if I’d missed that.

I did like the movie, but my favorite scene in the book (V’s anarchist soliloquy in front of the statue of justice) was left out. In fact, it seemed like the movie tended to downplay the anarchist element – I can’t remember the word ‘anarchy’ occurring anywhere in the movie.

[…] No, I haven’t gone on strike; I’ve just been extremely busy. Yesterday’s Reason is up now, however, and it’s on one of the greatest graphic novels ever made, so be sure to read it. […]

This is an amazing book. And it’s one of my ‘gateway’ comics I give to people who don’t normally read comics. I’ve gotten a couple converts out of it too. :)

V For Vendetta was a graphic novel that changed my life. It opened my mind to new possibilities and new ideas. The Valerie chapter may be one of the most moving things ever written. It is probably my favourite graphic novel of all time.

One of the amazing things about it came out of its form and structure. The book was written in 7-page chapters in a weekly comic, and rather than being a limitation, the 7-page chapters was its strength, packing more storytelling and nunaces in them than most monthly comics before or since.

And the greatest thing they did when they finished the story in 1988 was DC didn’t make the same mistakes Eclipse made with Miracleman and not only kept David Lloyd as an artist (and indeed employed one of the original letterers from Warrior) but they kept the 7 page chapters even though the book was now a monthly 28 page comic. As a result, the whole book is seamless in collected form (even if David Lloyd’s art became more stylized and used a thicker line in the intervening 6 years).

I’m always amazed at the positive reaction of fans to the movie. But that’s another comment all its own…

The graphic novel was translated to film by the Wachowskis a couple years ago, and they did a fairly fine job. They took shortcuts, of course, and the book is better, and fuller, but the movie’s good, too. It’s just different.

You see I don’t agree with this. I think the film adaptation is a great film and one of the worst adaptations ever made.

As a movie judged on its own merits, I think it holds up rather well. It’s a fast moving, visually sumptuous feast that is a diverting, intelligent film in the same way the first Matrix movie was.

As an adaptation…I’m bugged by the dialling down of the politics–Moore wrote a brilliant meditation on what anarchism is and the slide democracies make toward fascism. What we have instead in the film is
this pseudo-revolutionary veneer that doesn’t really say much of anything at all. Rich Johnston loved pointing out the irony that an anarchistic tract has been rewritten to have thousands of people wearing Guy Fawkes masks. Don’t even get me started about the recasting of Larkhill from a concentration camp were anyone not white, British or straight was sent to…to I’m not sure what it was in the film because they neatly avoided any of that.

I’m sure this is part and parcel of moving a story written in the age of Thatcher to post 9/11 Bush– we’ve moved from an age of neo-cons motivated by ideology to greaseballs willing to achieve ideological ends to serve their own avarice so hence there’s this utterly extraneous B-plot full of conspiracy theory that just seems to be there to pad the plot, just like Stephen Fry’s character.

But that’s not what bugged me so much about the film. What bugged me is that they got V all wrong.

What really annoyed me was not so much V’s character (I could deal with him being humanized somewhat; I even wasn’t all that bugged by V being in love with Evey) but V’s *dialogue*.

Moore gave him unbelievable charm and made him compelling. Here he’s an enormous gasbag, wheezing on pretentiously in those oh-so-tedious Wachowski brothers diatribes that made the latter Matrix movies so unbelievably tiresome. With Moore, V talks with wit, in phrases that have double meanings, double entendres, and is smart and funny. Here, V might as well be a cardigan wearing undergraduate philosophy professor never quite achieving tenure.

Compare the TV broadcast V makes in both: the graphic novel is not only a million times wittier, it’s even more *visual*.

The version in the graphic novel has V talking to the human race as though it were an employee under review talking in front of images of humanity at its best and worst (and then juxtaposed with the military storming in on the TV station) saying things like:

Please don’t think I’ve forgotten your outstanding service record, or about all of the invaluable contributions that you’ve made to the company… fire, the wheel, agriculture… it’s an impressive list, old-timer, a jolly impressive list. Don’t get me wrong…

But well, to be frank we’ve had our problems too. There’s no getting away from it.

Do you know what I think a lot of it stems from? I’ll tell you? It’s your basic unwillingness to get on within the company. You don’t seem to want to face up to any responsibilities or be your own boss…

Compare this with the dialogue in the film:

And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.

And okay, so maybe what the graphic novel does is has a political tinge the movie doesn’t adopt, why not at least use something that uses the same sort of tone and use of metaphor? (Or even do something more visual: V just sits in front of a desk in the film) Instead V just lectures people and I have no idea why anyone watching even pays him heed because there’s nothing interesting being said except useless exposition.

And it’s like that in scene after scene. After a while, I just started muttering under my breath “Oh, just shut up”.

It’s almost exactly like Sam Hamm’s aborted adaptation of Watchmen where the key scenes with Roscharch have all the poetry ripped from them to make them sound like boring movie dialogue. And it’s the same problem I have with a lot of film adaptations. It’s this idea that the adaptor is somehow smarter than their source material. I’d probably trust a lot of the excisions and restructuring and recasting more if they’d occasionally just use Alan Moore’s fucking brilliant dialogue instead of mucking it about so pedantically.

There are other things that perturb me, but I can forgive a lot of these things by virtue of the fact that they included “Valerie” (even if, again, the Wachowski brothers have to add unnecessarily florid phrases like “My mother told me that God was in the rain”). And Stephen Rea’s Finch is great in how he shares the same DNA as his graphic novel counterpart even though the characters have totally different functions. I just wish more of the movie could have been like that.

I have a lot of great friends who think the film’s a great adaptation– including one who wrote a book on Alan Moore– but I think they’re paying more attention to the visuals or the inclusion of Valerie or the fact that V isn’t unmasked. In the graphic novel, V is the most interesting, most compelling, most mysterious figure. Here he’s a dork. And that broke my heart because that could have been fixed so easily by trusting the source material more.

So, Graeme… why don’t you tell us how you REALLY feel about the comic & movie when compared side by side.

I have not read the graphic novel. I have been meaning to for a long time, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

However, I did see the movie, and I own it on DVD and have watched it many times, and I absolutely love it. It’s one of my favorite movies ever. So I can’t say how it stands as an adaptation. But as a film in its own right, I think it’s a classic.

Don’t even get me started about the recasting of Larkhill from a concentration camp were anyone not white, British or straight was sent to…to I’m not sure what it was in the film because they neatly avoided any of that.

Did they? Valerie was certainly locked up because she was gay.

Did they? Valerie was certainly locked up because she was gay.

Sorry, I probably didn’t explain myself as well as I could.

In the graphic novel, Larkhill is a death camp. It’s where ‘undesirables’ like blacks, Jews, homosexuals and others are rounded up, put into forced labour and ultimately culled or experimented on. It’s known by the populace which tacitly agreed to (in the same way other citizens gave tacit approval to similar such schemes in the real world.) as part of a drive for racial purity by a fascist government that the people put willingly put into power and support in a banal, apathetic way.

In the film, Larkhill is a part of a clandestine conspiracy whereby social deviants and dissidents are experimented on in bioterrorism experiments that ultimately helped the baddies to fool the populace into gaining power. The citizens remain blithely unaware of its existence and are simply being duped by its government.

It’s emblematic of what I call the dialling down of the politics in the film. Moore’s story is about fascism and anarchy, and democracy is seen as something that can be good but can also slide into fascism very easily, by a public who elected and supported a system that commits mass-genocide. The film is about freedom and democracy, where a populace is duped and controlled by the people governing them.

(Look at the two speeches I quoted in my other comment and you can see this– V in the graphic novel is castigating humanity, saying ‘Who elected them?’, V in the film is railing against the principalities and powers and inviting people to join him)

And while being gay was classified as being a ‘social deviant’ and there was remarks made about the Qu’ran being a forbidden text, the whole racial purity thing is conveniently side-stepped (though it’s implied at the end with a black man being among the dead like Valerie who are seen unmasking). Alan Moore was not pleased by this (or the shift in political emphasis) and I can see why.

[…] By the time H-E-R-O came out, I was in my 30s. I had collected tons of comics by then, read the great masters of the field (Moore, Eisner, Miller, McCay, Kirby, Krigstein) and experienced the amazing capabilities the medium has to offer (Maus, Watchmen, V For Vendetta, Dark Knight, Sandman, The Invisibles, early MAD). And yet, if my house was on fire and I had only one thing from my comic book collection to rescue, it would probably be the entirety of Dial “H” for Hero in Adventure Comics, Superboy and House of Mystery. Because that was the series that made me a comics fan in all its obsessive and fan-rific glory. And if that’s not a reason to love comics, I don’t know what is. […]

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