Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On the Coffee Table: V for Vendetta

Title: V for Vendetta
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: David Lloyd
Image via Wikipedia

I was first introduced to the extraordinary work of Alan Moore through the film version of V for Vendetta.  For me, the movie was a wonderfully pleasant surprise - can't say I was expecting much, then was completely blown away.  Since getting into the comics hobby a few years back, I have found Alan Moore to be just about the most dependable name in the medium.  The Watchmen, Top 10 and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have all ranked among my favorites.

Given all that, I really should have been better prepared for the original comic book version of V for Vendetta.  Mind you, I expected it to be good.  I did not expect what I would call the most satisfying graphic narrative work I have encountered thus far.  I've been on the lookout for a benchmark against which I could measure all others.  I believe I have found it.

First published in the early 1980s, V for Vendetta is set in a near-future England.  Nuclear holocaust has destroyed much of the world and Britain is a fascist police state.  V is a masked, anarchist terrorist staging his own private revolution.  While he is certainly the central character and driving force of the narrative, most of the story is told from the perspective of others: Evey, the girl V rescued from the streets, as well as those within the establishment who are baffled in their efforts to stop V's attacks.

So, what is Alan Moore's genius?  I am far from the only one who considers him the best comic book writer ever.  What is his certain something?  Attention to detail is a very big part of it, I think.  Moore's approach seems that of a great screenwriter.  The big story is built upon the strength of individual scenes.   Words matter - all of them.  Characters matter - all of them.  Taking the broader scope, Moore is able to apply a human face to meaty political considerations.  Moore wrote V for V as a response to Thatcherism but rather than simply ranting as most of us would, he created a metaphorical reality with breath, blood and flesh.  He's far from the first to do so but few have managed it so effectively.

Moore's understandable objection to the film adaptation was the fact that his political message was twisted to suit a 21st century American audience.  The book pits anarchy against fascism.  In the movie, it's liberalism vs. neo-conservatism.  The impact on the audience is comparable but the creator's intent is irrevocably altered.  I still love the movie and am eager now to watch it again, but I must concede it's not quite the same story.

24 comments:

  1. I honestly wonder if there has ever been an adaptation that truly did justice to the spirit of the author's intent.

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    1. Some are definitely better than others. The problem in this case is a specific political message that's been twisted. Elements of fascism are still alive and well in Europe - marginalized but not as much as they should be. Fascism is a word Americans throw around with no idea as to what it actually means. The left/right tug-o-war in 21st century USA is different and I'm sure the filmmakers intended to reflect that difference. Thought control is what scares Americans. Talk of racial purity is what scares Alan Moore, and that idea was lost in the film.

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  2. Moore loves semantics. He hates every adaptation of his work, which is funny because most of what he's ever done is adaptation of someone else's work, and they would have plenty of ground to be upset about. While I admire much of what I've read a great deal, I think the real problem here is that he was the first blockbuster writer in comics, and in his head Moore seems to have assumed that he's above everyone else. There are better writers out there who've done more nuanced work. He does in fact have a number of iconic stories, but that doesn't mean he's untouchable. Literature, as he himself knew and perhaps still knows, is at its best when it's very malleable indeed. The best stories are ideas, and ideas have lives that are entirely their own. At a certain point, they no longer belong to the people to who stuck them into particular stories.

    Now, there are certainly instances where a particular writer left an indelible mark that would be particularly hard to duplicate. Shakespeare, for instance, or Dr. Seuss. As many admirers as Moore has for, say, the structure of Watchmen, he doesn't belong in this league. He is more ordinary than extraordinary.

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    1. Fair points. I've thought more about what I wrote in response to Suze's comment, too. The aspect of either film or book that is easy to communicate universally is the brutality of authoritarianism. You could couch the conflict in terms of Coke vs. Pepsi and most everyone would get that.

      Your point about Shakespeare supports your assertion about adaptation, too. Shakespeare has been adapted so many times to so many media largely because the stories themselves are so strong. There is power in the language, though, and tinkering with it too much - or (shudder) modernizing it - can dilute the power of the narrative. That said, West Side Story works awfully well!

      Out of curiosity, whom do you prefer to Moore - among comics writers, I mean?

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    2. Grant Morrison, easily. As funny as it is to say, because Moore has always bucked the mainstream, he's far more mainstream than Morrison has ever cared to be, even in Morrison's extended mainstream work. Yet Morrison can be far more sublime than Moore ever was, in work like We3.

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    3. I've only read one Morrison comic that I know of: Action Comics #1 in the New 52 relaunch. So so. Perhaps I'll give We3 a try.

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  3. Evidently, you have not read enough Moore. Yes, his best books are great, but much of the rest is... um... well, wretched. I mean, he can really just go off into drug territory where the best you can say about it later is, "Well, that was really weird."
    That said, I own the original V comics.

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    1. I'm sure you're right that I've not read enough Moore. I'll reach his limit eventually. With the League, for instance, it is more the gimmickry of the series that maintains my interest than the quality of the writing.

      But V's definitely impressive - my favorite series so far. Watchmen is brilliant, too, but this one really struck a chord with me.

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    2. I think the movie of Watchmen is better than the comic, mostly because of the ending. Issue 12 of Watchmen fell off a cliff and ruined some of the story for me, but the movie manages to avoid that.

      The first League series is great. The second was just a tab above pathetic. I don't know anything about the new series. I didn't even know about it until a few minutes ago.

      I've never thought of him as a great writer. He's a good writer that is sometimes great.

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    3. I haven't seen the movie version of Watchmen yet but it's in the queue.

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  4. Interesting and insightful post. I found the comments interesting as well. Thanks for sharing!

    Nas

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    1. Thank you, Nas. And thank you for stopping by.

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  5. I haven't read or seen V, but the later issues of Moore's Miracleman were similarly steeped in his disdain for ol' Maggie. :-)

    I'm kind of in the opposite place as Andrew, above, regarding the Watchmen movie. I like it a lot -- and the first hour or so is a pitch-perfect evocation of the comic's aesthetic -- but I still think the comic's ending makes more sense. The movie version may have been workable with more effort, but they kept too many plot threads that were designed with the original in mind.

    (Also, if you're a fan of Leonard Cohen's song Hallelujah, just fast forward during the famous scene where the owl-ship spurts fire... just fast forward, man...)

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    1. Thanks for the warning re: Hallelujah. I do love that song...

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  6. I am not familiar with the movie or the comic or anything relating to the title itself. But now I feel that I need to get familiar with it! ;)

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    1. Yup, this is definitely the good stuff! I'd say start with the book.

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  7. I love the film, but haven't seen the book (or any other comic books since I was a kid)

    I agree that films rarely match up to the books.

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    1. I hope you'll check it out. Thanks for stopping by, Patsy, and for following!

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  8. I saw the film which I thought was mediocre. It would be interesting to read it though (ads to massive reading list).

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  9. I hadn't realized I didn't comment on this! I've read the novelized version of the film and it's absolute crap. I've thought about reading the comic version of it, but to be honest, I'm not all that interested in reading it. After seeing the film, then reading the novel I was just kind of annoyed. I can see where Moore would object to the film, since yeah, it does follow a 21st century version of society. I definitely don't recommend the book -- it's all over the place, so much is given away too soon, and the characters just don't connect. Thanks for sharing this one!

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    1. Novelization of the film?!!! Gotta say, I hardly see the point of that. No, I don't expect I'll be reading it. I appreciate the warning.

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  10. "I did not expect what I would call the most satisfying graphic narrative work I have encountered thus far." This is very high praise indeed! Must check this one out.

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    1. Yup, this is the one I've been looking for. I hope you will check it out and let me know what you think!

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