After watching some clips of the film I went back to this classic graphic novel, which I read in college (along with the other 80s/90s classics my comix-loving housemates suggested) and one time since. It’s in three parts: the young lads’ tale of V’s vendetta, the horrifying but evocative ‘training’ of Evey, and finally — when the book was picked up by Moore/Lloyd again after a publishing delay of several years — ‘The Land of Do-As-You-Please,’ a quite different piece of work whose best-known sequence is Detective Finch’s visionary LSD trip. That third movement is both the book’s creative peak and its least exciting/kinetic plot-piece, with Moore understandably self-indulging as he explores his full vocal range; Lloyd’s art also deepens noticeably in the later chapters.
The book’s component parts haven’t aged equally well. The political setup is, as Moore points out in his introduction, naïve — not that Britain might tip into fascism (though Thatcher didn’t do it) but that it would be accomplished by grand measures not a steady ratcheting of authoritarian pressure, then rolled back by terrorist strikes against gov’t apparatus. (My bleak suspicion is that London’s citizens would be content to keep calm and carry on in subjugation in such an event, cf. Americans’ post-9/11 jingoism and quiescence.) The torture of Evey in the ‘cabaret’ is obviously presented as a kind of initiatory experience, prefiguring Moore’s later magical allegories, but that doesn’t make it less reprehensible — and her quick forgiveness of V isn’t any more believable than her easy acceptance of imprisonment in the early chapters. (I’d forgotten that she’s 16 at the outset, and after V rescues her from the rapist cops she simply moves into the Cabaret.)
Which is to say certain of Moore’s personal unpleasantnesses are on display as usual.
Moore’s government figures are caricatures in the early chapters, but in ‘Do-As-You-Please’ he fleshes them out; it’s interesting that Moore has the government collapse due to internal pressures, something only sketched in by the Wachowskis in the film, whose script makes V himself central to the third act at some cost to the thematic integrity of the story. The film is both shockingly good and brave and hopelessly compromised; the comic is less expertly executed, less indulgent of sensationalist violence, much more idiosyncratic and strange.
I don’t think I’ll ever need to read it again, unless my son reads it (as I hope he will) and wants to talk about it. I might watch the movie once more, with Agi who quite liked it, but at this point I’d insist on pairing it with…hmm, with Southland Tales or similar. To capture the strange political tenor of that era.