Monday, September 20, 2010

V for Vendetta

"Remember, remember
The fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason
why the gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot." 
I have just recently begun reading V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore and pencilled by David Lloyd.  I'm going to admit right now that I have broken one of my rules: always read the source material before seeing any adaptations.  I regret to say that I have already seen the movie version.  However, it was a while ago and I don't remember it too well.  I am trying to clear it from my mind as I read, but it seems that the more I read, the more of the movie comes back to me.  We will see how that goes.
Again, I have only just started reading V for Vendetta, and haven't gotten too into it yet.  Before I get into my thoughts about the beginning, however, I want to explain my position before reading.

I have ambivalent feelings towards Alan Moore.  I admit that he is a brilliant storyteller (if a little crazy), but I also kind of hold him partially responsible for bringing on the dark age of comics.  Watchmen, an admittedly brilliant deconstruction of the superhero comic, was really one of the main catalysts that brought about a new era in superhero comics that, in my humble opinion, sucked hard.  The idea that to be a superhero, you had to be dark and edgy for no real interesting reason, carry a gun bigger than your head, kill people without a second thought, and have random crazy sex with everyone.  Okay, I'll admit that after typing that all out, it does sound kind of cool.  But it really, really wasn't.  Comic book writers after Moore took the only thing that was easily imitated about Watchmen (the dark tone), and didn't bother to justify the dark tone with the intelligent and thought-provoking story that Watchmen had.  So instead they created scores of useless, two-dimensional characters that were frankly an abomination against superheroes, comic books, and good storytelling.  (Although, I suppose it wasn't a complete waste.  The Dark Age did give us Deadpool.)

I realize it's unfair to blame the entirety of The Dark Age on Alan Moore.  After all, he was a prominent figure at the time, but he wasn't the only one.  Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is also commonly cited as particularly influential in beginning The Dark Age.  Also, whatever his work eventually led to in the larger world of comic books, he still told amazing stories.  So, I'm probably just a bit too hard on Alan Moore.  But he's a creepy recluse, so I'm sure he doesn't mind.

Up until now, the only work I have read by Alan Moore is Watchmen, which I admit is brilliant.  Potentially overrated, but still a very good book.  I don't think that Watchmen represents the be-all-end-all of comic books.  Yet I still enjoyed it very much and am therefore excited to read V.  However, V for Vendetta was written quite some time before Watchmen, and I am therefore interested to see how Moore changed as a storyteller between his two (arguably) most influential books.

So, unfortunately, I am not reading V in a vacuum.  I am both remembering the film version and comparing it to Watchmen.  So, with that in mind, here we go.

My immediate reaction is the similarities between the character of V and the character of Rorschach from Watchmen.  Both are men who hide behind a mask, not to conceal a civilian identity so much as to become something more than themselves.  By wearing masks, both V and Rorschach cease to be human and become something larger: a symbol.  (I seem to remember that V is horribly disfigured under there, so obviously there is a more practical reason for the mask, but that is of course not the entire reason.)  The difference in masks is telling.  V wears a Guy Fawkes mask, while Rorschach's mask is a flowing inkblot.  The Guy Fawkes mask is of course a symbol of rebellion and anarchy, while the Rorschach mask is more reflective; different people see different things.  So there are definite similarities between these two characters.  I have a feeling that Moore really likes the idea of a mask becoming someone's true face.

Rorschach's story, though, seems to be that a man cannot be a true symbol.  Eventually, the mask will come off, and the human flaws and horrific memories underneath will be exposed.  We live in a world where things are not black in white.  In such a world, a symbol will always be torn down, because people who try to hold up specific ideals and values always turn out to be fallible and weak in the end.  Rorschach himself is a symbol that gets torn down at the end of Watchmen.  He believes so strongly in this system of warped ideals he has constructed that he must act, even when he knows it is hopeless and possibly even the wrong thing to do.  So he commits suicide-by-Manhattan.  Rorschach can't bear to live in a world that isn't black and white, and as soon as he sees that his ideals don't fit every situation in a simple matter, he self-destructs.

Whether this idea will come up in V, I can't say.  I see the beginnings of that idea, but it seems that this will tell a different story.  However, it is just as preoccupied with the idea of people-as-symbols as Watchmen is.  In fact, V's terrorist actions are very symbolic.  His kidnapping of Lewis Prothero is more than just a personal vendetta.  Prothero is a symbol.  As The Voice of Fate, he represents the idea that the government is something to put your faith in, no matter what.  So when V destroys Prothero (in a very awesome sequence, drawn beautifully by David Lloyd), he is tearing down the idea of an infallible government.  This is, as Mr. Finch points out, what makes V so dangerous.  He is an icon that acts as an iconoclast.

Closing Comments:

  • Another thing that is prevalent in both V for Vendetta and Watchmen is the idea of a nuclear apocalypse.  The setting of V for Vendetta is directly after a nuclear winter-type-scenario, while the plot of Watchmen is primarily concerned with impending nuclear annihilation of the human race.  The Cold War was obviously on Alan Moore's mind.
  • I have thus far enjoyed Dan Lloyd's artwork.  Some of his panels are stunning, specifically in those moments where he particularly captures the dark horror of New Britain.  The first scene with Evey in the alley and the scene of V's attack of the train car both come to mind as great examples. He is able to create the perfect atmosphere for this story.  I am also struck by how cool V's Shadow Gallery is, especially in contrast with almost every other location in the story.
  • One bit of bleed through from the movie:  As V blows up the houses of Parliament at the beginning, he mentions an overture.  He is speaking metaphorically, but I can't help but remember how that scene in the movie actually had him rig the PA system to play some triumphant overture (I don't remember what the music actually was.)  That was a fantastic moment, and one you really can't do in a comic book.

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