Monday, 17 March 2014

V for Vendetta Review (Alan Moore, David Lloyd)

V for Vendetta is one of those books that has the reputation for being one of the greatest comics ever written and frequently appears on “graphic novels everyone must read” lists. It’s a celebrated classic by the most acclaimed comics writer of all time, Alan Moore, and is one of the few books many non-comics readers have read. But why is this so feted? V for Vendetta is a badly written, even more poorly conceived pamphlet espousing anarchism as the ideal political system featuring non-characters in a moronic dystopian future world with a storyline of the most convoluted revenge. 

The setup: when nuclear war breaks out, the environment goes to hell, flooding and black skies etc., and Britain suffers so badly that democratic government falls to pieces. Fascism rises and the country becomes a military dictatorship, banning things like art, music, and public freedom just because, and everyone is ok with this. Even when concentration camps (called here “resettlement camps”) start popping up and people get shuttled there to die and be experimented upon. One of these poor souls experimented upon survives and takes the roman numeral on his door as his name – V. This man quietly builds up a hideout of contraband and weaponry as he prepares to tear down the government and begin a revolution.

Ok, the nuclear war thing was a product of its time. V for Vendetta was written in the 80s when the Cold War was going on and everyone thought the nukes would start flying at any moment. But the extreme left wing reaction of Moore’s to Thatcher’s Conservative government is also outdated, comparing her policies to one step away from things Hitler would enact (and how dreary is it when western politicians get compared to Hitler?). 

So the setup right away dates this book and makes its proclamations of future dystopianism seem utterly ridiculous and hysterical - which they are. But the rise of fascism in Britain is completely unbelievable. People in Britain will protest at the drop of a hat - a cutting of benefits in certain public sector jobs, an unfair tax, and so on. That NOBODY would protest or stand up against the dismissal of democracy, the rise of fascism, concentration camps, strict curfews, the loss of basic freedoms, and insane amounts of prejudice and random violence from the people supposedly in charge? It’s the fantasy of a lunatic. Or an extreme left winger like Moore. Or both. 

But it serves it’s intended purpose which is Moore’s idiotic belief that anarchism is the answer. Look, fascism clearly doesn’t work, but giving up on democracy because of Thatcher? Madness. 30 years later and we’re still standing - dare I say, even better off with her time in government? My point is that anarchism is definitely not the right political system, but to Moore it is the perfect form of everything. Under anarchism, people are free to be themselves, live in peace, enjoy things they like, etc. - oh if only we had a political system in place for such things to exist. Oh that’s right we do: democracy. But democracy has to fail because Moore believes anarchism is the answer and so paints democracy as bad and anarchism as good. 

Nearly all of the characters in this book are ciphers. V isn’t a character because he doesn’t have characteristics - he’s just Moore’s mouthpiece for his political rantings (when he’s not quoting literature or rock lyrics). And interestingly given Moore’s recent views on superhero characters being juvenile and examples of stunted emotional growth, V, arguably Moore’s most famous creation, is a superhero himself. He’s a character who’s basically invincible until he’s meant to die in the script, and can dispatch enemies and execute his plans perfectly as if there were no obstacles in his way (and is there anything less interesting than a hero who gets his way every time? Where’s the conflict?). 

Evie isn’t much of a character either. She’s a helpless dull girl who gets caught up in V’s campaign against the government, “learns” that anarchism is the greatest thing ever (after being tortured by V), and then parrots said nonsense back to the people at the end. The detective character, Finch, is equally boring. He meanders about uselessly following V’s footsteps, always too late to stop him, until the end when he’s supposed to be a competent detective. Oh yeah and through Finch we discover that apparently if you take psychotropic drugs in abandoned places where bad things happened, you literally time-travel and the past comes to life around you!

The Leader is also an awfully constructed “character”. You might remember John Hurt’s performance in the V for Vendetta movie as a brittle old ranting tosspot but the Leader of the book is a very quiet and unremarkable man who sits in front of screens murmuring to his underlings. Guess what Moore’s revelation about him is? If only the Leader had known love in his life, he wouldn’t have become a dictator!!! 

Moore’s writing is generally quite tedious but his work in V is the most turgid his prose has ever been. The pages are simply glutted with captions and long-winded speeches, slowing down what little action there is to a snail’s pace, and removing any kind of reader-interpretation from Moore’s overly stated scenes. And the problem with having characters you don’t care about means you don’t care about anything that happens to them in the story. Certain scenes are meant to be emotional and powerful like when Evie stands naked in the rain, “free”, after enduring V’s tortures. Except I read that scene and felt nothing. It was two non-characters making empty gestures. 

The story is repetitive: V kills someone who was at Larkhill Resettlement Camp, goes and tells Evie about the wonders of anarchism, Finch shows up and uselessly tries to figure out who killed the person, the Leader looks at a screen and stares at a screen. Repeat this a dozen times and you’ve got the book. 

There’s an interminably unfunny scene where V “talks” to Lady Justice, the statue, taking on both personas as he argues for why he’s fighting against fascism. And here’s the thing: is anyone reading this book going to actually favour fascism? I don’t, you probably don’t - I don’t imagine anyone reading this does! So what a daring position to take: a stand against a failed political concept that everyone is already against! Hearing an argument - made numerous times - against fascism is like listening to a child who’s just discovered Hitler and the Nazis and is telling everyone what a bad thing they were. DUH, we already know, stupid! It’s like saying “killing people is wrong” - agreed, and? 

Because this is the viewpoint of V for Vendetta, criticising the book gives the impression that you’re for oppressive/far right government, which I doubt anyone reading this is (I know I’m making a lot of assumptions but I’m sure most people aren’t this stupid - quite the opposite belief that Moore adopts in this book). I’m not a fascist, I’m not pro-fascism, I’m not against people liking all kinds of culture or being who they are - I just don’t like this crappy comic. It’s like this book comes prepackaged with an automatic response mechanism: dislike this and you’re immediately a bad person. 

The book is written from a childish viewpoint - assuming that people would be docile against such oppressive movements and it wouldn’t occur to anyone to rebel in any way even when family members and friends are literally being beaten in the streets, taken to death camps, and experimented on. Give the people some credit! If that kind of blatant villainy started happening, they wouldn’t need a Velvet Underground quoting superhero like V to tell them to rebel, they’d already be doing it! 

And really, nobody thought to check the underground to see if that’s where V was hiding? Hmm, we’re expecting an attack on the seat of government, Parliament. Well, we’ve checked everywhere except the underground - but he probably won’t be coming from there. I mean, there are rails leading directly to Parliament which he could use to equip a train with explosives on and send it straight to Parliament but he probably won’t do that so we won’t check! You see what I mean? It’s like a halfwit wrote this drek! 

The bad plotting, non-characterisation, terrible writing, and obnoxiously moronic political posturing is like listening to a teenager wittering on ceaselessly about something that could only make sense to someone who shared his worldview, not to anyone with a considered opinion who thought for themselves. Which makes me wonder about the overwhelmingly high ratings this book gets - is it purely because Moore anticipated the “surveillance state” where CCTV cameras are everywhere, that this is rated so highly? I’ll give him that, but to ignore everything else about this book and call it a classic is ridiculous. I applaud the sentiment of personal freedom, celebrating culture and embracing other cultures, and accountable government by the people and for the people, but I detest the way Moore’s gone about it in this near-unreadable book.

V For Vendetta New Edition TP

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