In which we travel back to the 1990’s, but all is not as we remember.
Although it feels like I’ve I know every scene, I can’t remember a time when I’ve ever sat through the full runtime of 2005’s V for Vendetta film adaptation. Unlike Alan Moore’s Watchman, which I’ve re-read many times over, shared with friends and family (and even enjoyed the Zack Snyder film), V for Vendetta seems more iconic but less welcoming. Where Watchmen is praised for its intricate story, new take on superheroes and broad themes, V seems to become reduced to a series of striking symbols and images.
Telling an alternative history of the 1990’s, V for Vendetta takes place in the aftermath of a nuclear war where a fascist dictatorship governs the United Kingdom. The central story follows Evey, a 16-year-old girl initially rescued from attackers one night by V, an anarchist with plans to bring down the oppressive forces running the country.
As Evey and V bond and share their life stories, we also join Detective Finch who’s tracking V through several murders. Finch’s investigation begins to reveal a shared connection between the victims and a shady experimental “resettlement” camp V escaped from years earlier.
As the two build and unusual and unsteady alliance, V reveals more to Evey, pushing her to her limits and putting a choice before her to accept the world as it is or join his cause. As both V’s plans for revenge against his former captors and desire to lead a rebellion come within reach, an ever-more disillusioned Finch begins to close in. V and Evey must risk everything to fulfil their plans.
The key theme of V for Vendetta is the conflict between fascism and anarchy. Though, while the state is clearly corrupt, evil and self-serving, V is never portrayed as a shining light by comparison. His methods are often cruel, driven by revenge just as much as his desire to liberate the country.
Perhaps most famously, his indoctrination or mentorship of the teenage Evey is difficult to accept from our protagonist. Much like 1984, which the novel owes a debt to, there’s no clean-cut hero here – just a nameless anarchist telling his story.
That anonymity becomes the point with the most famous and enduring image from V for Vendetta – the emotionless, white Guy Fawkes mask. V’s legacy is the movement he begins, giving the formerly powerless citizens a symbol and cause that lends them the strength to stand up to the government.
The novel is clearly a product of its time, written with Britain ruled by a Conservative government under perhaps our most iconic and certainly most divisive Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. As Sam Jordison noted when rounding up the discussion from a Guardian reading group, “there’s no doubt that the evils of the British Tory party and Thatcherism were preying on Moore’s and Lloyd’s minds when they created the book”.
More recently, and also published by the Guardian, David Barnett hedges this view a little when observing that “even at the height of the Thatcher years, Moore and Lloyd thought that something as epochal as a nuclear war would be necessary before Britain embraced fascism”.
It difficult to tell whether Moore thought that the world depicted in V for Vendetta was a fate already sealed or a potential one that needed illuminating for us to avoid it. Either way, his thoughts feel just a relevant today now that the technology to watch us, listen to our conversations and delivered targeted propaganda is more pervasive than ever.
About the Author
Alan Moore is the writer of many famous graphic novels, including Watchmen, V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.