Admittedly, I am a latecomer to the cult of Alan Moore. I was barely aware of him back in the late 80s/early 90s, and other than Killing Joke, my introduction to him was actually in the superb D.R. and Quinch series for 2000 A.D. I missed out on the original releases of his Swamp Thing run, V for Vendetta, and The Watchmen.
Later, I rediscovered Moore with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I was already a fan of Kevin O’Neill from his work on Marshal Law (which is still one of my all-time favorite comics and fantastic satire), so I immediately jumped on the new series. Over the years, I’ve slowly been winding my way back through Moore’s definitive work, viewing it for the first time with a somewhat different perspective than most who read the comics upon initial release.
While not the best of Alan Moore’s work (The Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Killing Joke are far better tales), V for Vendetta still stands up as an amazing piece of comic book art after all these years. Many of the political and social themes (as well as David Lloyd’s artwork) may not seem that revolutionary now (or for literature in general), but one has to view the series like a Black Flag album or a painting from Joan Miró. Compared to other releases of that time (and in many cases of the ensuing decades), it stands well above the competition.
I do tend to agree with Moore that the series works much better in its original colorless incarnation, was serialized in Warrior magazine in the UK during the 1980s. The concept of the stark, black and white artwork used to tell a tale of endless moral gray areas works so perfectly. And in many ways, it sub-references the original pulp mystery origins of the series when Moore and Lloyd thought it would be set in the 1930s gangster era. The lackluster coloring by DC Comics, who published the series here in the U.S. under their Vertigo imprint, almost detracts from the story.
But up until this time, there had never been a comic series like V for Vendetta. This was the comic book equivalent of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” offering up a satirical and dystopian viewpoint that masks a very serious political argument. Moore and Lloyd were reacting to Thatcherite Britain, parodying its more grotesque sins including xenophobia and ruling by conformity.
In addition, the countless literary allusions, the use of iambic pentameter for V’s dialogue, and the unflinching portrayal of a society that is falling apart at its very core is still head and shoulders above most comic storytelling.
One fact hit me reading all these years later: there isn’t a single hero in V for Vendetta. No one is heroic, not even V. While his anarchist quest could be regarded as noble, it still results in murder and ultimately the complete destruction of British society (holding to the idea that the old society must be destroyed so a new one can be built in its place). Other than Judge Dredd or the Punisher, there was nothing this grim and cynical in comic storytelling of the 1980s and early 90s. It took guts for Moore to craft such a storyline and to do it with such a creative and artistic flourish. Even if you disagree with Moore’s viewpoint, you are dragged into his political arguments, forced to take sides, much like the characters trapped in the storyline, are left to question your own pre-determined moral judgments. That is the mark of a great storyteller.