"I will not hear talk of freedom. I will not hear talk of individual liberty. They are luxuries. I do not believe in luxuries. The war put paid to luxury. The war put paid to freedom. The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die, the freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow them that freedom? I think not."
Graphic novel, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. It was originally published as a ten-issue miniseries in "Warrior," a British comic book anthology, in 1981. Due to sporadic publishing and production schedules, it took several years for the story to be completed -- in fact "Warrior" was cancelled in 1985, before the end of the tale could be published. In 1988, DC Comics published the previous "Warrior" chapters, in color this time, then published Moore and Lloyd's final chapters, finally completing the series. It has since been compiled into a graphic novel under DC's Vertigo imprint, and it's available in stores for you to buy right now.
"V for Vendetta" is set in a dystopian future in which England is ruled by a fascist dictatorship. There are no known black people, no known homosexuals, no known religious or ethnic minorities. Police powers are absolute. People are propagandized on television and radio by "The Voice of Fate," an influential and soothing broadcaster, and they are watched at almost all times through pervasive video surveillance. Signs throughout the city proclaim "Strength through Purity, Purity through Faith." England prevails, and freedom is dead.
There are two main characters. Evey Hammond is a young girl who runs afoul of a government vice squad. She is rescued by "V", a man wearing a grinning Guy Fawkes mask. V is a virtual superman -- terrifyingly fast and agile, a powerful fighter and merciless killer, endlessly patient, cultured, charming, theatrical, charismatic, impossibly intelligent -- and completely insane.
We learn very little about V over the course of the story. He used to be an inmate at a death camp, he endured terrible experimentation and escaped after these experiments mutated him and twisted his psyche. He wants the people who held him captive dead. He wants the dictatorship destroyed. He doesn't want to replace it with a democracy or a monarchy or a republic. He is a terrorist and an anarchist. He wants the government -- all governments, really -- dead. And he nearly never takes off that mask.
Evey is not at all superhuman and not very insane. She is a normal person who has been ground down by years of living in a world without freedom. Her parents were arrested and presumably killed years ago, she has little money and few resources until she meets V. She likes V and sympathizes with his cause, but she just wants to live a normal life. In time, she is captured by the government and tortured. In time, she becomes a freedom fighter, too.
Is this a perfect comic book? It is not. There are a dizzying number of supporting characters, and you really cannot keep track of which ones are important and which ones are forgettable cannon fodder until the final chapters. There are times when the art seems a bit muddy -- I am tempted to attribute this to the fact that colors were added to Lloyd's black-and-white art. And the story drags a bit toward the middle.
But don't let that put you off. This is a story that blisters the eyeballs. It thrills and excites. It smothers under claustrophobic paranoia, stings with terror, and shouts with the joys of freedom and righteous violence. V is an enigma behind his ever-smiling mask and ever-mysterious pronouncements, but his razor-sharp style and wit make him a very agreeable protagonist -- I hesitate to call him a hero as he can be breathtakingly cruel and capricious. Evey, meanwhile, is the comic's true central character, as everything revolves around her ultimate transformation from oppressed cog into enlightened rebel.
There are so many wonderful moments. There's the shy, bespectacled girl who, finally freed of the government's omnipresent surveillance, celebrates her new freedom by shouting "Bollocks!" There are V's methodical and brilliant murders. There is the heartbreaking letter from the political prisoner, Valerie -- possibly the best single stretch of writing in the entire story. There is so much more, moments it would take too long to explain, moments that would spoil the story for you. I don't want to spoil the story for you, and I don't want to deprive you of the joy you'll know when you find those moments for yourself.
It is a highly political work. It was written when British politicians were toying with the idea of putting AIDS victims in concentration camps, when prominent people were talking about stamping out even the concept of homosexuality, by any means necessary. It was written during a period when police forces were becoming more militarized and surveillance was becoming more common. It was written when many Britons truly feared that they were looking at a pre-fascist government. A decade ago, we could all agree that Moore's Thatcherite paranoia got a bit ahead of itself but still created an exciting fantasy. If you see anything in the description of the government in this story that you see replicated out in the real world around us... I'm sure that's only your imagination. England, as they say, prevails.
You should read it.
"Remember, remember the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and plot.
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot."