I don’t think V for Vendetta works.
I’ve always admired the comic. David Lloyd’s artwork is quite beautiful. I like the themes. As a writer, I especially admire the odd chapters that change perspective somehow, like the music chapter.
But V breaks the form a whole lot less than I remember. And although the story’s got lots of clever bits, it’s neither all that emotionally involving nor a mechanism of clockwork precision. The pages are choked with captions. It’s telling that Lloyd’s art works best in the splash pages DC inserted between chapters; it’s often quite stunning, but it doesn’t convey the story forward very well. In both the writing and the art, there’s a kind of static quality.
Even dramatic moments get sapped of any energy. Oh, look, V’s blowing something up and delivering a melodramatic soliloquy. This ought to be wild, fun stuff. It’s a little like making the flamboyant Joker your hero. But on the page, it all feels so static and distant.
V has some great sequences. And Lloyd’s artwork is always beautiful (here as elsewhere). I agree with the story’s politics, although I’m not sure it adds anything to that debate. Like I said, I admire the comic quite a bit — not only for its politics and for breaking the form (that music chapter alone!) but also for being this kind of long-form quasi-art-comic version of a dystopian vigilante. That’s great. It’s ambitious. Okay, so the chapter titles starting with “V” is overdoing it, but so what? It’s pretentious in the best ways. Kudos to V. But it’s more a noble, long-form experiment with some memorable sequences than an engrossing storytelling masterpiece, which it simply isn’t.
Looking back, I don’t think I ever felt differently. In college, I had friends who thought V was better than Watchmen. They were invariably ultra-liberal. Watchmen‘s not as precise a clockwork as it pretends to be, but it’s engaging, both intellectually and emotionally, and it works as long-form storytelling in panels in a way that V doesn’t.
I also don’t think V compares favorably to Miracleman. The two were printed in Warrior together, and the dichotomy between the two has always worked this way: Miracleman (then “Marvelman”) was more popular (and the more traditional, super-hero) work, but V for Vendetta was the more sophisticated one. I don’t think that’s true. Miracleman does have a lot more focused a narrative. But if you read the two side by side, Miracleman‘s no less ambitious, when it comes to breaking up chapters with unique narrative devices.
I want to consult Watchmen once in a while; I think of it often. I frequently consult Miracleman. But I almost never take V from the shelf. I only did so this time because I wanted to refresh my memory about which different narrative perspectives and devices were used. Mostly, they weren’t.
If you want an Alan Moore work that does break the form consistently, check out Greyshirt, with artist Rick Veitch, from Moore’s Tomorrow Stories. It was part of Moore’s America’s Best Comics work, which has failed to receive the same critical or commercial success as Moore’s 1980s work. But Greyshirt is a marvel. No, it’s not a single, continuing story, but — piggybacking on Will Eisner’s Spirit — it does the “every chapter’s different and experimental” thing better than V for Vendetta or Miracleman.
But as for V for Vendetta… Sometimes, you can be beautiful, you can be noble and experimental, and you can be influential…. without really working as a long-form comic narrative all that well.