Sunday, April 8, 2012

Books: V for Vendetta

Continuing my attempt to write something about every book I read.

V for Vendetta starts off with a bit of a puzzle.  By page three of four, V has blown up the Houses of Parliament, an event you see for about one panel.  Apart from laying claim to Guy Fawkes' legacy (the blowing up bit at least, not the catholicism), this sets up an immediate question.  Even if it were just a jump-start for the character and story, it should be more dramatic.

My friend Dom's comment is that it is because V is very un-comic book.  The art eschews spectacle.  Most panels are close-in of a couple of characters.  Typically there's little movement other than characters walking around, and what physical action there is is short and sharp.  He also pointed out to me that the original was in black and white, making such spectacles harder.

Another factor is that in the Britain the comic portrays, Parliament no longer exists as a political body so lacks significance for the regime and the people.  But if this is the case, why is it a target for V?  The important point is a rejection of the political past.  V is not attacking the existing regime so that the England can return to enlightened parliamentary democracy; he is a lot more radical than that.

All that aside, I think it's simply something that is not handled especially well in the comic.

Anyway.  V for Vendetta is unusual in its explicit advocacy of a political ideology.  Large-scale anarchism seems particularly difficult to fit into any recognisable fictional narrative structure, as it's inherently decentralised, not centred around key characters.  A story which features a superhero, of a kind, must strike a particularly fine balance between this individual driving events and showing the empowerment of the broader populace.

The masterstroke of V is to make the hero both an individual and also faceless and replaceable, someone we could all be (a statement with multiple meanings).  All the same, I'm not sure how convincing it really is.  Had V not had truly exceptional capabilities from the start, then surely things would have been very different.  He is only replaceable once his plan has reached fruition.  The script of the play has run its course and the audience are left to take up the actor's roles, but where would they be without that prologue?

Moore's psychological view of liberation is (surprisingly?) a fairly crude one.  There are two processes.  One is the exposure to the masses of the regime's weakness.  This is straightforward and unoriginal.  In the comic's terms, show the system is a charade, and let everybody become an actor.

The other is that which liberates V, Evie and Rose Almond - being abused until their fears are stripped away to a fearless core.  I'll just pick up one issue with that - that empirically it is a very questionable idea.  While Libya and Syria provide contemporary examples of people who say that they have simply been pushed too far and found dignity and freedom stronger urges than life and fear, the holocaust provides us with the example of learned helplessness.  I don't think many go through incarceration and torture and come out psychologically stronger than before.

A strident call for anti-authoritarianism and independence, then, but a problematic model to follow.

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