The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

V for Vendetta

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

This sturdy adaptation of Alan Moore’s classic comic suffers from following in Orwell’s hallowed footsteps



Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Though I don’t consider myself an expert on comics, I will be so bold as to say that I find V for Vendetta to be beautifully written and sadly overrated. I say both these things because I don’t want to dismiss out of hand a story with passages as beautiful as the heartbreaking, written-on-toilet-paper autobiography that Evey finds and reads in her jail cell. I don’t want to dismiss out of hand a story that, for all of the uncomfortable parallels with WTB America that puffy right-wingers like to attack it for, is deeply and proudly about the British experience, right down to the Rolling Stones tune that ushers in the closing credits. I also don’t want to dismiss out of hand a story that has a scene as powerfully written (and well played in the movie) as V’s execution of the repentant female doctor who had a hand in the massive government conspiracy at the story’s center that led to the fascist, near-future England she inhabits and the despicable government program that brought about V’s disfigurement.

So why do I think it’s overrated?

{jgibox title:=[What does "WTB" mean? (click to read)] style:=[width:320px;]}Worse Than Buchanan. Not to be overly political in a review of a comic book movie, but I didn’t feel like typing the president’s name.{/jgibox}

V for Vendetta belongs to a peculiar genre in literature – the alarmist, Orwellian, dystopic future genre. Notice how built directly into the description of that genre – which inlcludes books like 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World, comics like V for Vendetta (and to a lesser extent, The Dark Knight Returns) and a glut of movies like Equilibrium, V for Vendetta and the 1995 film version of Richard III – is the name of its progenitor, George Orwell. I can think of only one other genre that bears its father’s mark so deeply: fantasy, specifically Tolkeinian fantasy.

These genres have the same problem woven into their natures: They all have one great novel that simultaneously defined and transcended the genre – and a shitload of bad imitations. I’m also no expert on romance novels, but some romance novel fans I know have said that the romance genre suffers from a similar ailment, with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as its unattainable, often-imitated, never-duplicated standard-setter.

But there’s a deeper problem with these genres, and very few writers in these genres understand why their repeated efforts to write the next great Orwell dystopia, Tolkien fantasy or Austen romance keep failing. Writers in these genres not only keep trying to write the same novel as their genre’s progenitors, but they also don’t even bother to map out any new thematic territory – and that’s if they even explore a theme at all. I’ve read some bad fantasy novels, and they’re thematically barren, filled with the usual rum-pum-pum clashes between good and evil and peppered with dorky bells and whistles (magical items no doubt plucked from the role-playing games they’re based on) that sink the book’s value to slightly above an episode of G.I. Joe. They’re just big commercials.

Then there are the sadly overrated works like V for Vendetta, which admirably set out to explore a theme – and wind up exploring the same damn thematic territory as its progenitor work.  

For the record:

We know that evil will triumph if good people do nothing.

We know that a lazy, complicit news media will allow the slow rise of totalitarianism.

We know our governement lies to us.

We know that mixing church and state is a terrible idea.

We know that it’s important to guard our civil rights even when the government asks us to abridge them in the name of national security.

And we also know that we have always been at war with Eastasia, and that we have always been allies with Eurasia.

I’d also like to call for a moratorium on the use of pseudo-Nazi flags in all Orwellian dystopia novels, comics and movies. Yes, yes, yes – we get it. You hijack a religious or martial symbol of some kind and weave it into a stark banner using the colors white, black and red, and voila! You got Nazis! (The overt and clumsy use of this imagery sours my opinion of the otherwise excellent Richard Loncraine film of Richard III.)

So for my money, V for Vendetta explores no new worthy thematic territory in the Orwellian dystopia genre, but it most certainly reinvigorates the Batman wing of the Museum of Superhero Comic Book Storytelling. There are many wings in this museum, to be sure, but I would wager that the two most storied are:

Earthbound gods. This wing includes displays about Superman, Captain Marvel, Thor, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Hulk. Favorite themes include “Fuck, I Can’t Save Everyone,” and “Why Can’t I Get Laid?”

Extraordinary humans. This wing includes Batman, The Punisher, Captain America and Green Arrow. Favorite themes include “Fuck, I Can’t Save Anyone,” and “The Justice System Kinda Needs My Help.”

The V character clearly belongs in the extraordinary humans wing, but more than that, he deserves a place nearby or next to the hallowed Batman display, because V expands upon the Batman mythology – specifically, his relationship with Robin – in fascinating fashion.

OK, so the middle act of V for Vendetta follows Evey’s capture and torture at the hands of the totalitarian government – but it turns out that V had actually captured her and tortured her to test her character. It’s powerful stuff, and it tacitly challenges the mythology laid down in the Batman comics regarding Bruce Wayne’s training of the various sidekicks he’s had. NAMBLA jokes aside, Batman’s relationship with Robin has ranged from the standard master-and-apprentice arrangement seen in his training of Dick Grayson and Jason Todd to the father-and-daughter relationship that Frank Miller so memorably explored in The Dark Knight Returns.

But Alan Moore flat-out introduced rendition, torture and brainwashing into the Batman-and-Robin-esque relationship that develops between V and Evey. True, Evey herself says that she wishes she were a stronger person. True, Evey hints that she wishes she could endure and triumph over a great challenge to her personal character. True, V does not overtly instill the virtue of his message and cause into her brain – but Christ! He starves and tortures her for weeks, and when she emerges, she is nothing short of a disciple.

One striking scene: After the whole torture thing, Evey meets back up with V, and he asks her how she’s managed to escape detection since leaving his protective lair. (Keep in mind that by this point she is an active conspirator with V’s plan and a wanted fugitive.) Evey explains that although her shaved head changed her appearance, her inner, personal changes kept a former friend from recognizing her, even when looking her in the eye. Awesome. V changed Evey’s character, her animus, so much, that her own friend couldn’t recognize her. Her eyes were that different.

I never really knew what I found so unsatisfying about the Robin character until I read and saw V for Vendetta. As the legend goes, Bruce Wayne dropped off the face of the earth to transform himself ito Batman. I can dig that, but I have a harder time understanding why a teenager, regardless of whatever loss he had endured, would throw in and follow such a maniac. V for Vendetta showed me how and why.

(Disclosure: I’m no expert on the early mythology of Batman and Robin, and I welcome any and all flaming from Batman experts.)

Lastly, I’d like to address the aforementioned right-wing puffery that surrounded this movie’s release. Puffy right-wingers attacked this movie because it has a terrorist as its hero, whose heroic actions include the murder of a lot of cops and government officials and the demolition of two government buildings. All of this is clearly a no-no in the post-9/11 world, especially in the wake of last summer’s London bombings.

Although I concede that the right-wing puffery about this movie was insignificant – there were no protests, and the movie has made more than $100 million worldwide – such talk pisses me right the fuck off. It pisses me off almost as much as the right-wing puffery that surrounded the release of The Two Towers, when puffy right-wingers complained that the title of Tolkein’s second Lord of the Rings novel had something or anything to do with the World Trade Center. To be sure, the complaints levied against V for Vendetta are on stronger footing, but I’ll say again: There are no laws against bad taste or bad timing – at least not yet, and I welcome works like V for Vendetta for their earnest calls-to-arms on behalf of liberty and pluralism, and I welcome them even when they explore the same tired thematic territory and especially when they dare to make puffy right-wingers feel uncomfortable.