Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and plot
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
should ever be forgot.
V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, was originally published in the 1980s, but my recent reading revealed that it still has strong current relevance. My rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
In a future Britain, war has led to societal collapse, and a fascist government has taken control, using fear to rule via surveillance programs and detention camps for undesirables. Enter Codename: V, a terrorist with a penchant for bombs and knives who dedicates his life to overthrowing the government and restoring freedom to the people through anarchy.
V typically wears a Guy Fawkes mask, referencing a member of the Gunpowder Plot that attempted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, 1605. V clearly sees himself as a contemporary Fawkes and does in fact blow up several London landmarks including Parliament and 10 Downing Street. The Guy Fawkes mask has recently been co-opted by the hacker group Anonymous, which loosely shares V’s anti-censorship/pro-civil liberties views. The masks are frequently seen at protests, making a statement in addition to hiding identities.
The 2006 movie adaptation tones down the fascist-anarchist themes, instead targeting a US audience that was learning how to live in a post-9/11 world. I absolutely love this movie, and I think it’s one of the best comic book movies ever made. The cast, particularly Hugo Weaving as V, is wonderful. There are some changes from the source material, some good, some not.
Take the character of Evey for example. We meet her in the first pages of the graphic novel as a sixteen-year-old going out to begin prostituting herself; she then forms romantic attachments to two adult men over the course of the story. To me, this screams “female character written/seen through male perspective.” (I don’t think the other females characters fare much better in this regard.) Hence I prefer Natalie Portman’s version of Evey, questionable accent included, because she has more independence and agency to start with. But does that perhaps lessen the necessity and impact of the “re-education” that V puts her through?
Similarly, in the graphic novel we get a much better picture of the workings of the government. Each branch is detailed: the Mouth sends out propaganda, the Ear does surveillance, the Nose investigates, etc. And the Leader, very much a flat character in the movie, is given some interesting development. But the movie also streamlines many of the government characters and plots that I found a bit confusing in the novel. After a bit, a lot of white men in suits start to look alike. Detective Finch also gets a slightly more heroic character arc in the movie, which I think lends more optimism to the ending.
Now, I posted this today specifically for several reasons. First, because Saturday is the 5th of November, so that felt appropriate. Second, because the US is about to have an election, and this story has a whole lot to say about the relationship between the government and its people.
Those following the presidential election here will understand why I did a serious double take on the second page, where a minister in the fascist government espouses his desire to “make Britain great again.”
Can you believe that something written in the 80s has such relevance today? V for Vendetta is explicitly saying that the politicians that use this kind of rhetoric are also the kind that rule by fear, the kind that curb our civil liberties, the kind that persecute minorities for the sake of “strength” and “unity.”
Further, if these are the politicians in power, V asks, whose fault is that? Only our own.
So I will conclude by simply saying: please go vote next Tuesday and have your say in our government, without having to blow up anything at all.
One last, more frivolous note: I’ve started reading comics on my Kindle Fire, and it’s really pretty good. You can double tap a panel to enlarge it, which is super important in a comic like V for Vendetta where there’s all kinds of details in the backgrounds. I also have access to a lot of digital comics for free from my public library through Overdrive; if you live in Ohio, check it out here. I think I’m going to try Fables next.