Wednesday, 1 July 2015

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

V For Vendetta is a comic book written by Alan Moore and drawn by David Lloyd.

It's 1997. A nuclear exchange between America and The Soviet Union in 1988 has destroyed most of the world. The only country to avoid being a target and survive the war is The United Kingdom. In the chaos after the apocalypse, a brutal fascist government calling itself Norsefire has taken over the country. Exterminating all undesirables (non-white people, leftists, homosexuals), they rule with an iron fist. There is however an Anarchistic revolutionary with superhuman powers who opposes them. He is known only as V, his face hidden by the now iconic Guy Fawkes mask. The story follows a young girl by the name of Evey Hammond, who is witness to V's conflict with Norsefire.

This premise sounds like pulp fiction and indeed, it very much is, as Alan Moore himself acknowledges in an essay included with the comic.  But it is definitely pulp fiction for intellectuals. Moore and Lloyd achieve a  synthesis of high and low culture that reminds one of Thomas Pynchon, though one more slanted against the low, pulp side of the spectrum. Indeed, Moore acknowledges Pynchon strong influence on his writing by having V read one of Pynchon's books (No points for guessing which one).

The premise is of course also outdated, which Moore of course had to acknowledge even before the story was finished.  During the time of the comics creation, scientists discovered that a nuclear war is probably not survivable, due to the climate effects it would have, the so-called Nuclear Winter.
The reason why The UK survives in this story is due to a Labour victory in the 1982 elections, which leads to a withdrawal of US missiles from the country, thereby not making the country a target in the war that follows. As Moore notes in his introduction, this "should tell you how reliable we were in our role as Cassandras."

This doesn't hurt the story in any significant way, because it still works as a story and it's themes are still relevant today. And Moore was completely right about one thing: The Surveillance Cameras. Moore's prediction of an England watched over by millions of cameras is still chilling to read, because it came to pass.

Essentially the story is a clash of ideologies, it's V's Anarchism contra the Norsefire government's fascism. And Moore comes down definitely on the side of anarchism. But what makes V For Vendetta great is the very human complexity of it's conflict. While Moore may endorse V's anarchism, he is more ambivalent about V's violent methods and the character and his actions are depicted with ambiguity. The horrific nature of V's violent actions is vividly conveyed and is not glossed over. We view V not through his eyes, but through the eyes of the real main character, Evey Hammond, who is often understandably horrified by what V does. The reader is essentially left to draw their own conclusions.

Similarly, the Norsefire government are not a one-dimensional bad guys.  Moore depicts them as human beings and thus with nuance and certain sympathetic aspects to their characters. They believe, not without reason, that their rule has saved England from the chaos after the war (one wonders if this is Moore's comment on the reactionary politics of most post-apocalyptic fiction. In most SF novels, Norsefire would have been the heroes). Even their leader, Adam Susan, in the end becomes more of a pitiable figure than a loathsome one, despite having led a genocide. The police detective Edward Finch, who is given the task of hunting down V, is if anything a more sympathetic character than V himself. In this aspect, Moore surpasses his influence Orwell's 1984, which depicts it's totalitarian villains with little or no nuance and sympathy.

The powerful, often deeply moving writing of Alan Moore and the wonderful artwork of David Lloyd makes this a unique experience and one of Moore's foremost works.

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