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V For Vendetta

There are comics that I don't feel I have the right to review.

These are the comics that are either of such incredible caliber that my humble college-student-opinion has no place in passing judgment, or they have been written by the living legends of the comic industry.

Call me gun shy, but I don't think I have anything resembling the right to comment on Will Eisner's urban fiction or Warren Ellis' comic genre deconstructions (odd how they have the same initials, hmm?).

V For Vendetta is one of those books that I could never get up the nerve to review. One of the greatest stories ever told in comics, it always surprises me when I ask fellow fanboys and comic aficionados if they've read it, because every two out of three have not done so.

Since Alan Moore, writer of the aforementioned V, will retire from comics on his 50th birthday this year, why not get cyclic and review one of his works from the beginning of his career and key my fellow fanboys into this great piece of literature?(note that I didn't just say "comic literature" -- it's that good.)

In 1988, a nuclear war rocked the world. America is a wasteland, and one of the only surviving principalities is Great Britain.

But this is not the Britain of old; instead it has become a police state, a totalitarian regime run by the Leader, who holds power through the various agencies that make up the "Body" of the British government. The Hand is the police force; the Eye is the secret observation branch of the government. And the Voice is the only source of information in the country, broadcast live through radio.

All ethnicities other than white are long since gone, placed in "Resettlement Camps" from which no one returned, homosexuals having been resettled before them. Welcome to the 1990s.

When a terrorist calling himself V blows up Parliament, a mad rush begins to find him and put a stop to his killing spree. V murders one official after another, seemingly without pattern. He has a hidden purpose, one that will change the world around him and rectify some of the sins of the past.

And he will drag everyone else with him through Hell in the process.

Moore began the story of V in 1981 as a strip in the British Warrior magazine, finishing it in 1988 after a five-year publishing gap due to the magazine's cancellation.

When he'd begun the strip, Moore was working off some wrong assumptions about the political future of England: it had been predicted that the Conservative party would be defeated in the upcoming elections, and Moore built off that, using the advent of nuclear war to push his story into such an extreme scenario.

As he points out in the introduction to V For Vendetta (written in March of 1988), it wasn't that far of a stretch. Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative, was entering her third term of office as Prime Minister and was proposing concentration camps for AIDS victims, and the government on the whole was publicly seeking to end homosexuality even as an abstract concept. Moore even talks about leaving the country for fear of what minority might next be legislated against. He says, "It's cold and it's mean spirited and I don't like it here anymore."

And that's just the freaking introduction.

The entire story is a high concept piece about what it means to be "free," both of mind and body and Moore also touches on the meaning of "identity." It's about the characters making choices in a world where choice is pretty much outlawed.

We actually see the very early indications of Moore's obsession with mysticism and magic in characters like Evey, the young and innocent girl V takes into his confidence to help him with his crimes. She is the character we're rooting for; the one we're hoping gets out of this grotesque situation unscathed.

But she doesn't. She goes through Hell and comes out a different, stronger character than before. She evolves throughout the entire book until she comes to the point where she is ready to accept her part in the final step in V's ultimate plan (and I'm so not telling what that is, go buy it).

Moore's entire cast is ingeniously devised, from the often impotent and disquieted Leader, to the detective Mr. Finch who, while trying to hunt down V, begins to question the validity of a government that sponsored such horrible crimes like the Resettlement Camps. I have never read a story that spoke so much to the human condition. Moore doesn't leave any subject untouched, it's all here: racial bias, gender violence, emasculation, homophobia, and fascism. And the list goes on.

The artwork by David Lloyd beautifully augments Moore's script. It's stark in its depiction of a post-nuclear London and colored so well that the mood of the scene never fails to come across. Lloyd is extremely adept at lighting effects, casting shadows from strange angles and having them lay across the scene so specifically that you are reminded of some of Hitchcock's cinematic feats. And his characters all emote expertly. The pain and anguish aren't in the word balloons; you see the characters feel every horrible thing that happens to them, and you delight when they get a pure moment of joy.

I love this book, flat out, no question. This is the kind of literature that books get written about, trying to explain the meaning this or that concept or deciphering a cryptic message from the author.

I've read Watchmen a number of times (double digits by now), and it is still Moore's pinnacle, but V For Vendetta will always be the one that makes my head hurt after reading it (a good thing for me and the fine people at Tylenol Inc.). Go out and get a copy of this book. Any comic shop worth its salt should have a copy (and so does Amazon - ahem - editor) Buy and enjoy. I need to go, because now I have a headache.

V for Vendetta

Robert Sparling

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