Rethinking V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta #4, page 3I 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.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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8 Comments

  1. Nick Ford says:

    Although I certainly can respect this opinion Julian I am not sure I can agree with it.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that people think that it breaks from the mold in some important way. But as you point out it doesn’t really. And maybe that just doesn’t matter if it is a good story, which I think at its core it is. It is really just a story of someone who wants revenge for someone who loved them and showed them the world can be good.

    The ambition is great, the interludes and recurring themes are thought provoking and the main character a mystery but none of it really changes the comic landscape. But perhaps the intent was more to add to the political landscape and using the comic book as a means to an end. I don’t know if that is true but I certainly know Moore was very much concerned about the direction if England (and still probably is) and wanted to reflect where he thought England could potentially go.

    And to his credit he certainly predicted the rise of the surveillance state (especially in England) with cameras around the corner and bureaucracy and stronger government being more predominant (I do not live in England but this is my general feel from info that I sometimes see from people who do).

    I would also argue that people who are “very liberal” and like V for Vendetta probably don’t really *get* the story or Moore’s intentions. Especially seeing that Moore was writing about anarchism and violent revolution against governments and most liberals these days look at Black Bloc tactics like they are crazy.

    Though to be fair I don’t think (speaking as an anarchist myself) that V is a terribly good anarchist. Maybe he wasn’t meant to be (I think Moore wanted to make him a very mixed character) but his torture of Evee and spying on government officials to kill them or gain information isn’t very anarchist to me.

    Nevertheless it is a story I really enjoy filled with odd characters, interesting environment and especially the story of the two female lovers was really heartbreaking and powerful to me.

    I am sure there is so much else to be touched here but I suppose I will definitely say that Watchmen was better and more politically interesting to me (ironically) than V for Vendetta in some ways. Though I still think V has plenty of fodder for cool discussion.

    Sorry this was so long-winded. :P

    • Thanks for your comment, Nick! Not long-winded at all!

      I really appreciate the characters too. And I love having discussions about the role of torture in the work, or its politics — exactly as you’ve begun here. That’s all great stuff. I’m just not sure V works as a graphic narrative, if you will.

      It’s certainly fodder for cool discussion, and I love that discussion! But I think that’s different from being a good narrative, from a purely fictional standpoint. All these things that are fun and important to discuss are epiphenomenons, side effects of the narrative — and fascinating ones. But they’re separate from the question of whether V works on its own terms as a story.

      Just my two cents!

      • Nick Ford says:

        Hey Julian, thanks for the response!

        Hmm. I don’t know about that. Doesn’t a good narrative sort of require great characters to some ddegree? I am not speaking of a 1:1 relation here but maybe something in that ballpark at least.

        For instance I think it would be hard to tell a story if the characters in said story don’t grab you or you aren’t invested in them emotionally (see: Star Wars prequels).

        But perhaps I am mistaken on this.

        I would be interested to hear more specifically on why V does not work as a narrative.

        I thought it was really well written and whole the art isn’t my favorite I like it and think it does a serviceable job. It was just very engrossing to me but maybe that is because I am (and have been for a while) interested in political discourse so that made it worth it to me even if (in essence) it is just a story about revenge.

        Interested to hear your thoughts and glad that last post wasn’t too long-winded. :)

  2. David Balan says:

    I’ve not read Miracleman, but in my personal experience, that sort of emotional distance shows up in all of Alan Moore’s work for me. He’s a fantastic formal writer, but the stories don’t speak to me on an emotional level too well. I never get into the guts of the characters the way I might in other stories. I realize that may just be my personal taste though.

    The most interesting thing about V to me is its original format of publication. Serialized as a once-a-week 7 pages (very 2000 AD) in the Warrior magazine, I think it’s a fun look at how short episodes come together into a long format story. Perhaps that initial 7-pages-a-week format contributed to its choppiness. I haven’t read it in awhile, so I can’t say for sure.

    • David, I think you’re right that Moore’s work can be cerebral. But I do think it often has emotionally resonant moments. That’s just not these stories’ primary level.

      I love those short chapters, though! I just don’t think the whole comes together. Maybe that lack of structure is an outcome of this kind of serialization. It certainly afflicted Miracleman too.

  3. Mark- Cutter says:

    When you say that V doesn’t really work “as a long-form comic narrative all that well” what you really mean is that … in your opinion, using the lens of literary criticism, you don’t see V working that well, but only that lens, isn’t that true?

  4. Mark- Cutter says:

    And isn’t that a poor lens to use to examine a comic book really. Literary criticism focuses too much on the narrative elements and doesn’t have any really good tools to explore the visual elements of comic books. Isn’t it about time we develop tools specifically for comics?

  5. Mark- Cutter says:

    Also isn’t literary criticism kind of elitist? Full of academic language to exclude normal humans, and by trying to make people take comics more seriously, are you not in danger of becoming F.R. Leavis?

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