Review by Roy Boyd
V for Vendetta is set in a dystopian 1990’s Britain, a police state run by the fascist Norsefire party. Much like Orwell’s 1984, which is an obvious influence, surveillance cameras and listening devices abound, and the populace live in fear of their government, which attempts to pacify them with mindless drivel on TV and never-ending propaganda. Anyone that can’t be controlled is disappeared, and concentration camps have seen to the obliteration of undesirables.
However, an experiment in one of their ‘resettlement’ camps went horribly wrong. The subject escapes, shown in a spectacular flashback scene, and begins to wage war on the people who imprisoned him. This takes the shape of dressing as Guy Fawkes and, with surgical precision, going after all the people who were at the camp, before widening his scope to include the entire regime. He also tries to educate the masses to accept responsibility for their actions and manages to find time to train his own replacement, sixteen year old Evey Hammond.
V for Vendetta was Alan Moore’s first complex work, and one of the earliest examples of anyone trying to do something challenging, mature and literate within the superhero genre. He would, of course, do much the same thing again with Watchmen. There are many themes and motifs running throughout the book, and though Moore raises lots of questions, he presents no easy answers, letting the reader decide for themselves whether V is a terrorist or freedom fighter.
This book contains supplementary material that has already appeared in the previous collected version, including introductions by Moore and artist David Lloyd, and some of Lloyd’s preliminary sketches. It also contains a couple of standalone filler stories (here moved into the body of the book and presented as an ‘interlude’). In an attempt to justify the ‘Absolute’ label, and the hefty price, this handsome volume, which comes in a slipcase, also contains material that wasn’t included in the previous version, such as alternative sketches for covers. It also reinstates silent full-pages between chapters, the first time they’ve been seen since their original publication, and inserts the covers from the DC run between chapters.
It’s plain to see from the background material that this was a truly collaborative effort, and Moore says, in his Behind the Painted Smile essay, also contained in this book, that Lloyd’s idea of having their character dress as Guy Fawkes was “the best idea I’d ever heard in my entire life”. He may have been resorting to hyperbole, but there’s no denying that Moore’s never-more-energetic writing and Lloyd’s understated but accomplished artwork combine to create one of the most impressive works of the genre.
V’s mask has increasingly been worn by anti-government protestors throughout the world, and has become a defining image of the 21st century. It’s hard to think of any other comic that has had that kind of cultural impact. And deservedly so.