When I picked up this graphic novel (after years of telling myself I’d get to it one of these days), I really wanted to love it. Watchmen by Moore is one of my all-time, favorite graphic novels, so I always envisioned V for Vendetta being another masterpiece of comic writing along those same lines: not only entertaining but enlightening as well. Unfortunately, I was immensely disappointed by this graphic novel.
Now, to be fair, I hate overtly political literary works. If a writer wishes to explore political themes in the framework of an interesting and compelling story then I am fine with that, but I personally do not enjoy stories that are only about politics. And for those of you who have read V for Vendetta, you already know that this graphic novel is 100% a work of political theology. It preaches. It prods. It shouts at you to pay attention. But no matter V’s incessant soliloquies, it utterly falls flat.
Probably the majority of the blame for V for Vendetta’s failure goes to the fact that in order to have a story you must first have a character, and V is not a character but a simulacrum of political ideology draped in a black suit with a smiling, white mask on. He is the human idol to anarchy, dressed up in attractive, pop culture style to attempt to make anarchism into a coherent and attractive viewpoint. And to make V’s political theology of choice even more appealing, he is given the most repulsive opponent that Moore could concoct: an ethnocentric, homophobic, racist, anti-science fascism that drapes itself in religious justification.
Do you think Moore made V’s ideological opponent’s despicable enough for a reader to favor anarchy?
Into this political setting, a reader is then given the actual "story" of V, who is - to put it politely - insane. (Whether his insanity is mild or extensive is up for debate, but there is little doubt that he is not going to pass a psychological evaluation without getting several diagnoses.) We learn of his horrendous past as a concentration camp survivor, who was experimented on by unethical scientists. We see how these experiments granted him "super powers" of combat and the mind; powers which allowed him to escape his imprisonment and establish himself within the framework of society, where he begins to secretively subvert the authoritarian government.
As Moore slowly reveals more and more about his masked protagonist, a reader learns that V kills when he needs to. He blows up things when he deems it appropriate. He tortures - both physically and emotionally - his foes and friends alike when he believes it serves some greater good. And yet, at no time, does V ever seem to have any rhyme or reason to his madness. At least not one that he seems to stick with. There is no desire to fix the problems of the world but rather a desire to unleash chaos so that it may spread in a wild conflagration until anarchy is obtained and somehow remolds society into a chaotic utopia where each person lives as they choose without their choices affecting the well-being or happiness of anyone else.
To describe the story as convoluted is to be gracious to its famous writer, because this tale is filled with ambiguity to the point a reader has no idea if V is a "good" guy, a "bad" guy, or just some mentally deranged person running around killing people and blowing things up for fun. He will aid a person one page only to set them up for horrible things to happen to them the next. He will give a grand soliloquy on the need to "Vomit up the values that [have] victimized me" one moment then turn around and exhibit his new, enlightened values by torturing his "supposed" friend to induce a level of insanity comparable to his own. Honestly, V’s display of anarchist morality becomes a tiresome exercise in futility.
The sad truth about this graphic novel is that it V is not a character. V is an idea. A political ideology of anarchy, robed in convoluted layers of moral ambiguity, and placed within the framework of a less than compelling story. A piece of political literature whose message fails to espouse any realistic view of human rights, the dignity of man, or the right to political freedom but rather espouses mob violence as the natural catalyst for social change. It is not inspirational. It is not hopefully or pessimistic. Rather, it is just a morose piece of political literature better left undisturbed.