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Saturday, 5 November 2016

Comics Explained: V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta
November 5 in the United Kingdom is Bonfire Night marking the anniversary on a failed plot to assassinate King James I and VI, and blow up Parliament. It is also the opening of Alan Moore's and David Lloyd's fantastic graphic novel V for Vendetta. V for Vendetta was published in the late 1980s by an imprint of DC Comics called Vertigo, and it happens to be my second favorite comic by Alan Moore, (the first being Watchmen). The novel is set in a dystopian England in a 1990s where the UK managed to avoid annihilation during the Third World War, but at the cost of a fascist regime monitoring the public in an Orwellian way. Unfortunately the film adaptation, (although good in of itself), changed the idea that Moore wished to get across making the protagonists fight for liberty which has made many people get the wrong end of the stick in what V for Vendetta is truly about. Let's though first delve into the story of V for Vendetta.

Book 1: Europe After the Reign
November 5 1997 in London two figures get ready to go out at night. One is a dingy apartment while the other is in a room covered in film posters and book shelves. As they get ready the government radio, The Voice of Fate, informs the public that a heatwave is on the way, meat rationing may come to an end, a terrorist ring had been discovered in Birmingham, and that the census forms have to be filled in. Financially strapped sixteen year old Evey Hammond goes out and solicits a group of men for sex only to find out they are Fingermen, a Gestapo like organization. They inform Evey that prostitution is illegal and then proceed to molest her until a figure steps out of the darkness wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, a cloak, and a hat speaking strangely. Quickly he grabs Evey and takes her away but leaves a bomb behind which kills one of the Fingermen. Upon a rooftop Evey thanks the figure for rescuing her. He tells her it is a special night saying: Remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I have no reason why the Gunpowder Treason...should ever be forgot. Big Ben and Parliament then explode as fireworks shoot up in forming a V in the sky.
A new Gunpowder Treason
The government meanwhile meets to discuss what happened. The Leader, Adam Susan 'The Head', has branches of government surveillance, (the Eyes, the Ears and the Nose), tell him who did the bombing but they have no answers. Derek Almond, head of the Finger police force, visits Roger Dascombe, head of The Mouth (propaganda), to oversee covering up the destruction of Parliament. While there he sees Lewis Prothero, the Voice of Fate. Fate is the computer system which rules the country for Susan and the government uses Prothero to pretend to be the computer, and is so good that people honestly believe him to Fate's actual voice. While this is happening the figure takes Evey to the 'Shadow Gallery' full of contraband items. On his shelves are banned books like Frankenstein, The Iliad, I am Legend and The Divine Comedy while Evey is in wonder of a duke box playing 'Dancing in the Streets'. The scene then cuts to a train where Lewis Prothero is regaling some old stories to his bodyguards. Suddenly the train stops and the power goes out. When Prothero turns on his lighter he finds his bodyguards dead and a man in a Guy Fawkes mask sitting in the carriage. Eric Finch of the Nose investigates this and finds that the guards were choked to death, and a V in a circle had been carved on the carriage wall with a single rose left behind.

We go back to the Shadow Gallery where Evey is crying as the figure left suddenly. They have a formal introduction and the figure turns out to be called V. Evey tells V about her childhood. She lived in London and lived through the Third World War. We learn more about what happened to the world: Africa was wiped out, Britain survived as it had American missiles removed, weather fluctuations caused by the bombs led to the Thames Barrier bursting, Evey's mum died from poisoning when the sewers flooded and floods destroyed Britain's crops, and riots broke out as the government fell. Then a far-right group called Norsefire took over and restored order, but established a totalitarian regime. As Evey's dad had been in a socialist group when he was younger he was arrested and Evey was sent to a workhouse. V tells her that she is safe with him; safe from government cruelty. Meanwhile, Prothero wakes up in prison uniform outside a mock Larkhill Resettlement Camp. V arrives to give him a tour and marches him past Prothero's collection of dolls, (all in prison uniform), and they pass the medical wing with numbers on the doors. Prothero once worked at Larkhill and realizes V was the man behind door five. V then takes Prothero to a oven with some of his dolls inside and proceeds to burn them despite Prothero's wails. As the daily broadcast seems strange to the public Prothero is found with his face painted like a doll, and muttering the word mama. Later, V arrives at the Old Bailey where he talks to the statue of justice, (not wearing a cloth over her eyes), saying that she is a harlot and he has a new mistress: anarchy. He then blows up the Old Bailey.
V and Justice
When he returns to the Gallery Evey begs V to take her with him on his next outing. We then cut to Westminster Abbey where Bishop Anthony Lilliman is giving a sermon denouncing the terrorism. However, it turns out he is a pedophile and has been having girls come to his room. Today it transpires that Evey is the girl. As V is killing Lilliman's guards Evey smashes a lamp across Lilliman's face as he tries to grope her. V then arrives. Eric Finch and Derek Almond later arrive at Lilliman's residence finding a rose, a V carved on the wall, and Lilliman dead by ingesting sacramental bread laced with cyanide. At the Shadow Gallery Evey is distraught that he used her to kill Lilliman which he consoles her on while at his home Derek Almond hits his wife when she disturbed him looking at evidence. We then cut to Dr Delia Surridge who had worked at Larkhill and is friends with Finch who has flashbacks to a man standing in fire. In the night Dr Surridge wakes to see V standing in her room and she thanks God that he's come for her expressing remorse about her medical experiments at Larkhill. V informs her that he had injected her with cyanide as she slept and as a last request she asks to see his face; something which she remarks as being beautiful. Almond, meanwhile, realizes that Surridge is the next target, and after drunkenly abusing his wife leaves to get V but upon arrival he is quickly killed by V. Finch finds Delia's diary revealing a horrific tale of medical experiments on ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and political opponents at Larkhill which kills all but five patients. In the diary she expresses both hatred for Lilliman and Prothero, but also fondness for the patient in room five who is allowed to keep a garden. However, she notes his tendency to pile certain chemicals, fertilizers and powders together is odd. One night there is a massive explosion and, we find out that the patient had been making mustard gas and napalm to escape. 

Book 2: The Vicious Cabaret
Book Two opens with V performing magic tricks for Evey and then dancing with her. Evey even starts to wonder if V is actually her father. He takes her to the surface, reveals he is not her father, and vanishes leaving her alone. Rose Almond, Derek Almond's wife, starts going into depression as she realizes how alone she is now that her abusive husband is no longer there. Later, V infiltrates the headquarters of the Mouth and plays a video both revealing himself to the world, and chastising the public for allowing Norsefire to go unchallenged for so long. Armed police fire on V, but it turns out to just be a costume. In reality V had dressed Dascombe as himself and let the police shoot him. At the scene Finch meets the new head of The Finger, Peter Creedy, whom he punches when Creedy makes a remark about his friendship with Delia. Finch is then given forced vacation. 
V and Dascombe
The day after V's broadcast we find out that Evey had become romantically involved with an older man called Gordon who she is living with. As they regularly attend a cabaret they come into contact with Creedy, (where we find out the government uses retirement homes to murder pensioners), Scottish gangster Alistair 'Ally' Harper, (where we also find out that Scotland declared its independence and now Norsefire is leading a brutal war of conquest against it), and Rose Almond. Rose had been pressured into a relationship with Dascombe after Derek's death but with Dascombe killed she wad forced to work as a dancer at the cabaret. Thanks to Gordon's bootlegging he comes afoul of Ally Harper who kills him. Furious she goes to kill Harper but is kidnapped. After waking up from a surreal dream she finds out she is in a government cell with only a rat for company. She is shaved, tortured and waterboarded. However, in a crack she finds a letter from an actress called Valerie Page who gives details of her tragic story. Valerie was born in Nottingham and fell in love with a girl. When she came out to her parents was forced to move to London where she became an actress meeting the love of her life, Ruth, on the set of The Salt Flats. Ruth was kidnapped by Norsefire and later they came for Valerie. 

One day the guards tell Evey that they'll execute her if she doesn't tell them who V is, and where he is. She refuses. Instead of being killed she is given freedom. Her guards turn out to be mannequins with radios, the rat was in a cage, and the entire prison was in the Shadow Gallery. She launches a tirade against V calling him evil and sadistic. In response he told her that he set her free; England was the true prison, Gordon was simply stabbed by another inmate, and that by refusing to talk she had freed herself. V also tells her that Valerie was a real inmate of Larkhill. Evey slowly forgives V. We then find out that V has hacked Fate and has been slowly driving Leader Adam Susan insane. 

Book 3: The Land of Do-As-You-Please
Book 3 opens up with an insane Susan begging Fate to say that it loves him again. As this is happening V is conducting over the skyline of London. Suddenly the Post Office Tower, (home of the Ear), and Jordan Tower, (home of the Mouth and Eyes), both blow up killing the head of The Ear, Brian Etheridge. Before the government can respond V is on the radio telling the people that the people will not be watched for three days. Riots break out all over Britain. V tells Evey that it is chaos and not anarchism, the Land of Take-What-You-Want not the Land of Do-As-You-Please. As this is happening the leader of the Eye, Conrad Heyer, is being convinced by his abusive wife, Helen, to use the discord to become Leader. Creedy and Ally Harper instead are using their street thugs to suppress revolutionary protests in the hope that this would give them good standing to lead a coup. However, Helen Heyer is also meeting with Harper to use him to propel Conrad Heyer to power. Meanwhile, Finch visits Larkhill and takes LSD to relieve his lost past and put him in the place of a Larkhill prisoner. He breaks down in anguish about the genocide of ethnic minorities and homosexuals that Norsefire did, and finally realizes what V is about. His assistant, meanwhile, realizes that all along V had been hacking Fate giving him forewarning about Norsefire's actions, as well as slowly destroying Susan's mind. V stacks of dominoes knowing that end is soon near...
Finch realizes that V's hideout is in the abandoned Victoria Station. Helen Heyer starts having an affair with Ally Harper to get his allegiance in the upcoming power play which V manages to record, and send to Conrad. As part of Heyer's plan Harper's thugs then kill Creedy. Susan decides to actually go out and meet the people realizing that if he wants to be a stern leader he has to show himself. At first he loves it being greeted from his car by rapturous applause from the public. Rose Almond, however, is in the audience and has broken down from the life under the regime. When Susan goes to shake her hand she pulls out a gun she had bought to kill herself with and fires. Finch goes down into Victoria Station seeing a carriage lined with roses...and V. He fires but sees no blood. V then replies in possibly my favorite ever comic book quote: Did you think to kill me? There's no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There's only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof. 
Evey and V
V leaves but Finch spots a trail of blood realizing that he had mortally wounded V. Finch resigns from the Nose as a power play following Susan's death starts. In anger Conrad Heyer manages to murder Ally Harper but is badly cut by Harper's razor. Angry Helen leaves her husband to bleed to death. In the Shadow Gallery V dies asking for Evey to place his body in the carriage for a Viking Funeral. After debating whether to look under his mask she places his body on the carriage. Evey dresses up as V and addresses the public as Downing Street blows up. Evey manages to rescue Finch's assistant from the explosion and introduces him to the Shadow Gallery...

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.

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