Throw together an English Roman Catholic terrorist from 1605, a 1930’s noir atmosphere, a damsel who is only somewhat in distress, a government that makes Ingsoc look humane, some psychedelics, some fortuitous but random evangelical proof texting of The Collected Works of William Shakespeare, some references to the mass killings of the twentieth century, a bit of Ray Bradbury, Max Ernst, and Patrick McGoohan, a rather tame lesbian romance, a fictional 1980s that went exactly against what actually happened, and two young cocksure perfectionist English artists who wanted to avoid mimicking their American counterparts. You probably still would not end up with the disturbing masterpiece that is V FOR VENDETTA. J
A penny for the English guys.
Written in the first third of the 1980s but not published as a graphic novel until 1988, V FOR VENDETTA broke into the cultural mindset of the intellectual rising generation like nothing else.
For someone growing up in that decade—with New Wave, Blade Runner, Reagan, Rush, New Wave, Macintosh, Red Rain, and Nuclear Winter—V FOR VENDETTA took the extreme desires and fears of a whole generation and made them into a coherent (mostly) tale.
If John Hughes captured our most adolescent suburban libertinism, V FOR VENDETTA made them into our most terrifying libertarian nightmare.
The story, written jointly by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, takes place in the late 1990s. In 1983, a Labour government replaced the Tories, kicking out the American nuclear missiles, thus leaving the U.K. free from destruction. Soon, the Americans and the Soviets went after each other, leaving America, especially, in ruins.
The resulting economic turmoil in Europe led to the rise of a National Socialist/Fascist government in Britain. Though the leaders personally gave into every lewd pleasure in and out of the bedrooms, they outlawed homosexuality, non-whites, and non-Protestant Christians. Those who weren’t deported or executed found themselves in prison camps, the playthings of progressive eugenicists, willing to see the body contorted in every possible manner to “perfect the race.”
Under the slogan “England Prevails,” the fascists maintain control through mass surveillance as well as through armed thugs known as “Finger Men” who have the power to kill, rape, and pillage at will, all in the name of England. Signs litter the streets with the hypocritical propaganda: “Strength through Purity; Purity through Faith.”
Of the internment camps, one of the most brutal was the Larkhill Settlement, out of which emerged the anarchist anti-hero, V. The authors intentionally keep his identity hidden, as he represents an idea more than an individual person. Still, the reader does come to know that V had been interned and had survived the experiments. In some way, never explained, the experiments made him more human than human, endowing him with extraordinary powers of resistance to bodily harm, astounding concentration and memory, and near perfect agility. It would, however, be better to describe the final product of the experiment as the creation of a Batman rather than a Superman. The only one of the test subjects to live, V gained the favor of his captors, set the camp aflame, and departed.
The main story takes place years after the destruction of Larkhill. Now, one by one, every person who ever worked at Larkhill is being systematically murdered. Though, the more appropriate term would be “assassinated.” V, of course, is proudly the killer. He not only kills his victims, but he does so with immense poetic justice. Each person assassinated—reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno—dies according to his or her vice.