V for Vendetta (1982-5)

By Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Warning: there are spoilers in this review, by reading this I assume you are familiar with the works of Alan Moore, or at least will not be offended if I discuss the ends of a few of his books.

 

“Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. ”

v-for-vendetta

As the cold air creeps into our homes, and the smell of pumpkin spiced confectioneries seems to permeate our everyday lives, I figured that today would be the perfect day to look back at a literary classic that is relevant to this very week (November 5th to be precise). It’s the story of a future Europe riddled with fascism and the one man (?) willing to try to change everything for the better. If that means razing it to the ground to start over, that’s par for the course for our hero. Of course, I’m talking about Alan Moore‘s dystopian masterpiece V for Vendetta.

Remember, remember!

The fifth of November,

The Gunpowder treason and plot;

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot!

Most of V for Vendetta originally appeared in black-and-white between 1982 and 1985, in Warrior, a British anthology comic published by Quality Communications. That publication went under in 1985, leaving the story unfinished. DC comics came to the fans rescue and encouraged Moore to complete his work, an act that seemed awesome at the time, but has led to years of litigation and sour grapes between the two parties. I’m not going to touch on that too much, but it’s hard to consider that if Moore had his way, V for Vendetta wouldn’t be the cultural lightning rod that it has become some 32 years after pen touched paper.

It’s hard to write about any version of V for Vendetta in 2014 without stumbling over many modern uses of it’s iconography, most notably with the modern anarchist-driven protest movements led by the self-styled “hacktivists” that go by the name Anonymous. It can be argued that they have slightly missed the point in their use of the iconic Guy Fawkes masks and other homages, but one cannot ignore their passion for their hero – the antihero named V. Artist David Lloyd has been quoted saying: “The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I’m happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way.

Protesters Camp Out In Front Of European Central Bank

Before I get too far, I wanted to drag out my soap box for a minute. Notice, I said “literature” up there and not dismissive things such as “comic book” or “graphic novel”, because, as pretentious as this must sound, I feel that this is one of the many examples of sequential art that can easily be considered a classic of modern literature. Even today, comics somehow still have a near hundred year old stereotype as either a silly or childish storytelling medium. This is, of course, the established art community trying to resist new mediums, much in the same way that video games get the cold shoulder by critics and art lovers alike. I challenge anyone to hold in one hand a popular book such as 50 shades of Gray and in the other a copy of V for Vendetta and come to the conclusion that the former is in some way a better piece of literature. Just because something has pictures in it, it doesn’t immediately mean it’s inferior. Love him or hate him, Alan Moore has been one of the few comic writers to break this elitist barrier and gain even the slimmest amount of recognition by the non-comic media.

The story of this book is pretty complex, but it mostly boils down to the story of a girl named Evey Hammond, and how a chance encounter with a domestic terrorist (or a freedom fighter?) changed her life. It’s Bonfire Night in London in the far off future year of 1997 (I always love joking about dates in sci-fi, don’t mind me). A down on her luck young girl named Evey has resorted to prostitution due to her inability to find a job, and makes the mistake of soliciting men who are undercover members of the state secret police, called “The Finger.” These men plan, not to arrest her, but to rape and kill the poor girl until a cloaked figure calling himself V steps in and takes care of the situation. V is a well-spoken, seemingly intellectual, anarchist wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, a long black coat, and a tall old-timey hat, all fashioned to look like the infamous Guy Fawkes. What follows is the story of how V slowly dismantles a fascist regime through both ideas and bloodshed.

V-for-Vendetta-3

The backdrop for this dark world revolves around uprising of the villainous white supremacist group Norsefire. Sometime in the late 1980’s there was a large-scale nuclear war that ravaged the Earth, and while Britain was unscathed physically, it led to economic and social scars. After something like 5-6 years of lawlessness and rioting, a group stepped up with claims that they could bring stability back to Europe, this was of course with a cost. Norsefire implemented a by-the-numbers Orwellian nightmare upon the populace including mass surveillance and re-education campaigns. Racial and political cleansing was soon instituted, leaving most of the populace afraid to do anything that would remotely put themselves on the state’s radar.

To understand how Moore thought up Norsefire, one has to look back at the British political climate in the early 1980’s. Many were scared that the conservative ideas of politicians such as Margaret Thatcher were leading towards the acceptance of ideals usually held by radical groups such as The National Front and The British National Party. These groups were after political offices, and many felt that any success they might have would pave the way for something akin to Nazi Germany. As a result, many anti-fascist and anarchist groups popped up to “fight” the dangerous ideologies behind these Nationalistic parties, and it seems Alan Moore was very active in those scenes. Alan Moore was interviewed back in 2000 by a site called Blather about his creation of Norsefire, and here is a snippet about what he had to say:

“Well, exactly. You know, like originally, when I thought “Oh, I’ll make fascists the villains,” it was precisely so that I could sort of do a bit of propaganda, I mean, remember at the time I think I was still – I mean, this was 1981? 1980-81? – I mean, I was still involved with Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League, things like that – but it doesn’t do anybody any service to actually just do a load of cartoon Nazis, you know, with funny monocles and cigars and accents […] they’re just caricatures. “Ve ask ze questions”, you know? Whereas in fact fascists are people who work in factories, probably are nice to their kids, it’s just that they’re fascists. [Laughs]. They’re just ordinary. They’re the same as everybody else except for the fact that they’re fascists. Like, in order to really -I mean, I’ve read somewhere that – I’m sure I’m not going to get this exactly right but the basic quote is something like – “Total understanding is total love.” It’s something [like that] or vice-versa. ”

V-for-Vendetta-2

One of the more refreshing things about the character V is that he is no hero. In fact, he does some pretty deplorable things in order to further his cause. I liken him to other villain-protagonists like Dexter, Light from Death note, or even Tony Soprano. In the comic at least, it becomes pretty evident that V’s time in the Norsefire concentration camp system may have shattered his mind completely. As readers, we are challenged to determined if he is sane or psychotic, hero or villain, due to his morally ambiguous acts. At one point he goes as far as torturing one of the former guards of Larkhill concentration camp in just about one of the most messed-up ways imaginable.

The man, Lewis Prothero, was once the site Commander of the camp, and was promoted to a role not unlike that of a news pundit. He basically takes information from a state computer system and broadcasts it to the masses. V kidnaps Prothero from a train and dresses him up in old Larkhill clothes. Prothero wakes up, and very quickly is driven insane by a combination of an overdose of the same drugs that were used to experiment on V and the shock of seeing his prized doll collection burned in a mock recreation of mass killings of camp detainees that he oversaw. Usually when V does stuff like this, he is seen wearing a more grotesque mask that is similar to a clown.

V-for-Vendetta-1

I actually plan on reviewing the 2005 film based on this comic, but I do want to point out that much of V’s “dark side” is absent from the movie version of the character. We do see him getting revenge on folks, but it’s in a borderline heroic way. Many see the film, and do not realize that there is a duality to the character that makes him very unlikable at times. For example, V’s entire reason for taking Evey in was to use her to get at a priest known to be a pedophile (Evey is only sixteen in the book), one can assume that she was going to be left to get raped and killed along with the priest, that is had everything gone to plan. This is one reason I mentioned the misguided idolization by internet hackers earlier – to them V is a modern hero, but the book says otherwise. To V the ends justify the means, and he is just as willing to inflict all manner of atrocity to end the reign of the Norsefire leadership. The only difference is that V is willing to die, and has no plan to lead if he meets his goals.

Moore later revisited this idea with another character in his book The Watchmen. One could say that the character Ozymandias is the main villain of the piece, but when you think about what he actually did it becomes a gray area that involves testing your own morality. Ozymandias did commit mass murder on a terrible scale, but he was working towards a “good” result. He planned to stage an alien invasion to bring the world together and stop an impending a nuclear holocaust. It could be argued that in by blowing up cities such as New York City and Paris he actually saved billions of people that would have died otherwise. Then again, some of the best villains in fiction are heroes in their own story, and are only bad to us because we don’t agree with their methods.

V-for-Vendetta-4

The edition of V for vendetta that I am using for this review happens to be one of the trade paperback editions released in the 2000’s prior to the release of the theatrical film. Between issues of the 10 comics, there are a handful of “making of” vignettes and other extras that are pretty entertaining. I’m unaware if these were part of the original DC run, or if they were added when the comics were grouped together as a trade paperback, but their inclusion is still very nice. Since the comic was originally black an white in Warrior, a lot of the first chapters are pretty drab despite being in color. In a way this adds to the dystopian feel of everything as it seems like everything is always dark, dingy, and sick in some way. With such a text heavy script, David Lloyd was able to create panels that were both exciting and somehow action-packed even when very little action was going on. The griminess somehow makes the art age better than some other 80’s comics. Even classics like The Watchmen seem older in comparison. Compared to another text heavy comic such as The Dark Knight Returns, with it’s multitude of “talking head” panels, this was a breath of fresh air.

I think a copy of V for Vendetta should be on the bookshelf of most comic fans, and read alongside many other subversive classics like Orwell’s Ninteen-Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The book is a challenge to anyone used to the typical hero vs. villain motif seen in most fiction, and plays up things like moral ambiguity. This isn’t a story of “The Government” vs “Freedom” like some would like for you to believe, that’s too simplistic. This is the story of how we rationalize things that could be seen as heinous, even evil, if it means a greater goal can be reached. Do the ends really justify the means? If that means that we’re better off with a draconian fascist police state, that’s one option that a character like Detective Finch strives for. If that means we’re better off with freedom through anarchy, that’s yet another option that V stands for. This book is the key to keeping someone from looking at things in a truly dualistic manner (i.e. “good” vs “evil”) and to see all of the factors that go into the choices one makes. Think of what the mask represents – the real Guy Fawkes, a Catholic mercenary that tried to kill King James and his full parliament on that fateful day over 400 years ago, to some he was a hero, and to others a terrorist.

guy+fawkes+mask

Deal of the Week: Humble Doctor Who Comics Bundle presented by IDW (pay what you want and help charity)

Humble Doctor Who Comics Bundle presented by IDW (pay what you want and help charity).

I used to buy a bunch of these “humble bundles” for PC games until I realized I was basically “hoarding” indy games that I was likely to not get around to playing. I had no idea they did this for books and stuff, so it looks like I got some comic reviews on the Horizon!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared Issue 2

Since there is a new Star Trek film just on the horizon and a new season of Doctor Who hitting the airwaves, I figured that now would be a great time to read some more of the recent comic crossover Assimilation Squared. For those that didn’t catch my last review, this story centers on an alliance between The Borg and The Cybermen – two similar alien races from both franchises. Their first action as a unified front was the sacking of Delta IV, an attack that was very surprising considering the way The Borg usually make themselves known prior to any offensive actions. In the final panel in the previous issue the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the crew of the Tradis were just about to meet in what The Doctor assumes is prohibition era San Francisco.

While the first issue dealt mostly with setting up the shocking alliance between both armies of zombie androids and their attack on Delta IV, issue two is a little deeper, a bit more “talky”. Tipton does a great job writing convincing Star Trek: The Next Generation dialog. For example, I really enjoyed the conversations between Commander Geordi LaForge and Commander Data since their “bromance” was often times my favorite part of the show itself. Usually Data would misunderstand a human trait of some sort whether it be laughter or anger, and Geordi would have to set him straight. Take this snippet for example:

Data shows that he is often very human
Data shows that he is often very human

Geordi has pointed out that Data was created more than thirty years ago, and that he could benefit a lot from some of the more “modern” android technology being worked on currently. Data, in the most supreme example of foreshadowing ever, ponders on whether that could get out of hand, and if he’d lose himself in the process.

I was surprised that the beginning of the issue shifted back, in a non-linear manner, to before the meeting between The Enterprise crew and The Doctor. This makes sense because we only saw Picard and Co. for like half a panel at the end of the last issue, so it’s good to see what they were doing during the Delta IV attack. Starfleet has set up a mining operation on a remote aquatic planet populated by “fish people” a fact that Commander Worf humorously undercuts with “they sound delicious!” In order to make quotas and keep the flow of the minerals steady, the folks in charge of the operation have had to cut corners leading to accidents and losses of life. Geordi asks why they are mining so frantically, a question Picard replies to with “The Borg”. It seems that Starfleet was nearly decimated at the battle of Wolf 359, a Star Trek battle depicted in the fan favorite episodes The Best of Both Worlds: parts 1 and 2.

Speaking of those episodes, and derailing any sort of flow here: that two-parter is soon to be re-released with HD special effects next week on Blu-Ray, you should all pre-order it below if you like the series:

The-Best-of-Both-TNG-Blu-ray-covers

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds (Blu-ray +UltraViolet)

You may be asking yourself: “Where is this Doctor fellow that is supposed to be in the book, I think there is an image of him on the cover?” Well, much like the previous issue, the interactions between the two sets of characters is kept to a minimum until the very end where we finally see them interact. This scene is pretty funny as The Doctor basically ignores everyone and bee-line’s it directly to Commander Data. There is a misunderstanding where the Enterprise crew thinks that the holodeck has gained sentience and that the Doctor is merely a “bug” in the system, and The Doctor simultaneously thinks that Data is some sort of anachronistic robot that shouldn’t be in the past. And just when everyone is having fun, the Borg and Cybermen arrive…..bummer

Poor Data
Poor Data

I really enjoyed issue one of this series, but issue two tops it in every way. The first issue almost seemed like two unrelated stories jammed together, and this one flows so much better overall. I definitely love the art style by J.K. Woodward, he uses life-like painted interiors that one seldom sees in comics these days. It really adds to the realism that makes one think this could have been a real episode of either show. Now that the cast is all together, and the villains have appeared, I think we are in for a real treat in the next issue. Maybe Commander Worf will smack the Doctor for talking too much or maybe we’ll find out what’s going on!

 

Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared Issue 1 Review

Outside the realm of fan fiction and other such non-official works of fandom, there really hasn’t been any sort of official crossover between Doctor Who and Star Trek. While fans would no doubt go crazy for an actual televised adventure pairing the two properties, something like a novel or a comic book is such a better fit. When I opened my mailbox earlier this week, this is exactly what I got with Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared Issue 1. The book is written by Scott and David Tipton along with Tony Lee.

This first issue starts with a bang, as a federation aligned planet called Delta IV is invaded by the Borg in a manner not fitting their usual attack patterns. We find out that it is typical of these monstrous zombies to warn people before they set out for assimilation, but this time they just swoop in with guns blazing. Could this be caused by their mysterious alliance with a new race that the federation has never seen?! (yeah we all know it’s the Cybermen :P) The Prime minister of Delta IV and a few Starfleet officers are left to find help on a tiny escape shuttle. One can only assume that they will stumble across the enterprise pretty soon. We jump ahead to Ancient Egypt in which the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are setting out to stop an ancient alien invasion. It seems that the pharaoh at this particular time might just be not what he seems. With that plan foiled the Tardis crew set out for 1940’s San Francisco, a locale very popular for fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation!

This book does a great job of capturing the two styles of the seemingly unrelated universes. While we don’t actually get to see the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise until the very last page of this issue, all of the other Starfleet related stuff is very much in line with what we have seen for many years in all of the various Star Trek materials out there. It will be nice to see how the writers handle Picard and his crew in the upcoming issue, especially with the Doctor in tow. Speaking of the Doctor Who front, the dialog is very much spot on, with how the Doctor tries to handle a bumbled infiltration into a pyramid to confront the pharaoh. His hijinks are the comic relief of this issue, and definitely show the tone of the show very well i.e. fun but dark. Some of the dialog is a bit sparse, but with the nature of the comic being VERY action oriented, it really doesn’t warrant a ton of heavy dialog. I will be looking out for that in coming issues.

The highlight of this book has to be the art style. J.K. Woodward, an artist I’m not familiar with, does these cool painted interiors that make the book look like a million bucks. I’m not sure if this is hand painted or digital, but it’s really nice. Some of the images of The Doctor and Amy look especially great as I’m assuming the artist is using references from the show itself. Here is an example page:

All-in-all, this was a great kickoff to a fun romp, but it was all over way too soon. The next issue should be awesome with the Doctor ending up on board the Enterprise and meeting the crew that we all want to see. For me this is a definite buy for fans of both franchises.

Doctor Who: The Crooked World

A book by Steve Lyons

From the Back Cover:

The people of the Crooked World lead an idyllic existence.

Take Streaky Bacon, for example. This jovial farmer wants nothing more from life than a huge blunderbuss, with which he can blast away at his crop-stealing nemesis. And then there’s Angel Falls, a racing driver with a string of victories to her name. Sure, her trusted guardian might occasionally put on a mask and menace her for her prize money, but that’s just life, right? And for Jasper the cat, nothing could be more pleasant than a nice, long nap in his kitchen — so long as that darn mouse doesn’t jam his tail into the plug socket again.

But somebody is about to shatter all those lives. Somebody is about to change everything — and it’s possible that no one on the Crooked World will ever be happy again.

The Doctor’s TARDIS is about to arrive. And when it does… That’s all folks!”

When I first got back into Doctor Who, I realized that the place I worked had a very small section of the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures (EDA) books tucked away deep inside the science fiction area. I honestly wasn’t too impressed with the covers to most of these as they all had some generic clip-art cover vaguely based on a theme in the book. I know they always say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, which is nice and all, but some of the EDAs just looked bland. One had a grungy looking camera in the dirt, one had a rose in another unrelated pile of dirt, and one had a generic nuclear symbol on the front. I’m not sure if the BBC just needed some cheap covers, or if there was some sort of rights issue involved with using an image of Paul McGann, but many of these did not catch my eye. One book, however, did catch my eye based solely on the ridiculous nature of its cover – a cartoon version of the Eighth Doctor placed next to a series of cartoon birds, pigs, and other weird creatures. I had to get it.

To be honest, this book feels very much like a cross-over fan fiction that somebody would toss together in their spare time. Any story that places itself in a world populated with rights free fake versions of famous cartoon characters has to be a joke right? I mean we obviously have analogues to Scooby Doo, Tom and Jerry, and Penelope Pitstop among others. This goes far above your normal “Brain of Morbius is basically Frankenstein” homage to an utter pastiche of the 1960’s cartoon era. They seemed to do this a lot in these books seeing as I remember one that was basically a James Bond story within the same line.

So, I guess you’re assuming that I hated this book – well actually I really liked it, and not just in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Steve Lyons starts out with your typical zany hijinks found in these cartoons, but the mere presence of the Doctor and his companions changes everything. Lyons slowly leaks in details that show the “crooked world” is falling apart. We first see this in the opening moments of the novel. A character named Streaky Bacon (imagine a cross between Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig) is desperately trying to keep a bird called the “Whatchamacalit” from destroying his garden again…like he does every day. The Doctor steps out of the Tardis only to get a chest full of hot buckshot. He crumples over bleeding to death as the cartoon characters do nothing. You see, in their world all one has to do is wait for the ambulance to show up and the victims are immediately, and somewhat magically, cured. This doesn’t happen at all, and it really haunts the pig. He usually gets away with inconsequential violence because nobody actually gets hurt. In a VERY dark turn he tries to punish himself in some way, due to a lack of understanding by the local sheriff, and attempts to commit suicide – only to have the gun do a cartoony backfire and not hurt him.

When I read that passage, my mind basically crapped it’s pants – here I was thinking that this was going to be a funny ”let’s mock old cartoons” affair, and what I got was a disturbing ode to the darker side of the values taught in said cartoons. Pretty soon all characters are guilt ridden wrecks based on their realization that their whole existence is so messed up. Riots are breaking out everywhere, and nobody is safe.

My only problem with the book is what happens at the end. I won’t spoil the ending at all, but I will say that it’s both VERY powerful, and a bit of a cop-out as it comes a bit out of left field. This isn’t helped out at all, by a Doctor that essentially takes a card from Captain Kirk and says “screw the prime directive!” but I guess that’s par for the course for a character such as The Doctor.

I need to finish reading all those bland covered books I bought “back in the day”; but for now I’ll hold onto the fact that The Crooked World is my favorite EDA (so far) despite the fact that I basically bought it because it made me laugh conceptually. What I ended up with was a very dark, and thought-provoking read. I really need to stop this whole book cover judging business!