V For Vendetta is a comic written by Alan Moore and drawn by David Lloyd. It started publication with the first issue of Dez Skinn’s Warrior way back in 1982, and this is an important detail. It makes it one of Moore’s first continuing works, and indeed, should be approached today as the developing work of a then, young talent finding his voice. This is why early episodes don’t quite feel the same as later episodes, especially those written after the strips lengthy hiatus after Warrior folded and DC Comics picked up the property.
In the early episodes of the strip, V is close to being a superhero. In fact Skinn had plans to create a ‘’Warrior Universe’’, which led to Alan Moore, and Steve Moore (no relation) to form a chronology (George Khory’s book, Kimota!, prints this and it’s an oddity to say the least) of how say, V would tie into Axel Pressbutton, or that V was actually one of the Marvelman Family (hence why in the early episodes V is super-strong and very, very fast). Thankfully this idea was ditched and instead of a superheroic style strip of revenge set in a fascist UK, V For Vendetta became a strip about idea and ideologies. Fascism was set against anarchy. The idea of the individual being set against the many was here but also, the character of V, and his almost apprentice like companion Evey, was to create a symbol. As Evey eventually realises, it doesn’t matter who V is under the mask, but it’s what the mask represents that’s important. The fact that V by the end of the story has torn down the UK’s fascist state and replaced it not with an anarchist state, but a chaotic state, is deliberate; as V thinks for a person, or people, to find out truly who they are, they need to be broken down and rebuilt in his image. We see him do this with Evey, and at the end we see him do this to the people of the UK.
V doesn’t suffer want to do good or evil. Once his revenge is out the way in the early episodes, he moves on to larger things and this is reflective of Moore developing as a writer. V For Vendetta is probably Moore’s first real serious work, a piece that’s often academic in its discussion of philosophies. It’s a comic that the reader can read and enjoy fresh today as they did in the 1980’s, as the themes are still important in the contemporary world. Yes, there are anachronisms but again, the early episodes were some of Moore’s early work, plus this was written at a time before the Falklands War when Margaret Thatcher was deeply unpopular and the opinion was she’d not win a second term.
Sadly we know how that turned out.
This brings me onto the other thing V For Vendetta is: It’s a look at the politics of the UK, though Moore’s said since that it’d not take a nuclear war to have the UK slide into fascism. He’s right on that. But the strip is about the nature of the British psyche and the people on these islands. At times Moore hasn’t got much faith in the people but again, the context of when this was written is important as it’s now a historical work giving those who weren’t alive at the time a glimpse into how one of our important cultural figures thought.
In short V For Vendetta is a complex work that stretches out over a number of years and publishers. It’s a dense book that deals in serious themes and ideas. Which is where the 2006 film comes along and fails to understand what it’s adapting.
James McTeigue’s film on the surface isn’t a bad film. It’s a decent action/adventure film, but as a political work in its own right or an adaptation of an important work it fails. Again, it’s worth nothing the context of the time it was made in the post-9/11 days when George W. Bush was deeply unpopular, but in effect by transposing this to be about Bush’s America and the single lone hero standing up against the baddies simplifies a story to a childish degree. It’s as if you read Moby Dick and think it’s just about a guy fighting a big whale, or Gulliver’s Travels and it’s a funny book about little people and giants.
The film version doesn’t seem to be interested in discussing anarchism, which is the entire point of Moore and Lloyd’s comic, in that it’s to engage the reader in questioning what systems work for people. After all, the fascist Britain Moore created works: It’s a grim, joyless place full of corrupt individuals, but is the chaos Moore leaves the UK in at the end actually better than what it’s replaced?
In the film, V’s a tortured Phantom of the Opera type that saves Evey (whose starting point here isn’t that she’s a working class girl trying to whore herself to make money, but is now a middle class girl working for a TV station) from rapists and then recruits her into his fight against the fascist state. Even though the film takes entire segments of the book and adapts them nearly verbatim (the ‘Valerie’ scene being the film’s best scene by a mile) by making V a thinly disguised hero of the American Liberal Left, the film leaves behind the intellectual debate Moore had in the book as the film reduces things to a series of slow motion fight scenes, and a final scene that is as far removed from anarchism as possible.
That final scene of thousands of masked people in V masks standing in front of Westminster as V heroically lays down his life to overthrow the British fascist government may have inspired Anonymous, but it misses the point Moore was trying to make by a mile: Moore’s V would never have led the people. He’d have left them to their own devices to find out what they became. In effect the film V isn’t an anarchist, but he’s an authoritarian liberal (in the American sense rather than the Nick Clegg/Willie Rennie sense) imposing his vision upon the people by telling them to do as he does. In doing this the intellectual core of the comic is lost and the film is no more than a small cry of rage from liberal America against Bush’s time in power.
All of this is a pity. The cast is excellent, and the film looks great. However, the film isn’t an adaptation of a great comic, rather than something that tries hard to respect the source material and same something unique itself, but instead comes out half baked. It’s simplified political message and binary morality does the comic an injustice and if I was Alan Moore, I’d have taken my name off this as he did.