With every passing year, it seems that Alan Moore’s iconic and well-regarded political polemic V For Vendetta becomes more relevant. Both the movie and comic book have their followers, but the differences between the two are quite interesting. Let’s take a look.
In case you aren’t familiar with either the comic book or the movie, the plot of V For Vendetta revolves around the titular V, a vigilante dressed up as a stylised Guy Fawkes, the infamous 17th century terrorist who failed to blow up the British parliament. Set in a near-future dystopian Britain in which a neo-nazi party called Norsefire has taken control, V For Vendetta follows its hero as he takes down the government. The other main character is Evey, a young woman who becomes part of the crusade.
V For Vendetta started life in the pages of a comic book called Warrior. This 1982 monthly comic was the brainchild of British comics book guru Dez Skinn. Though short-lived, Warrior nurtured the talents of the likes of Will Simpson, Alan Davies, Steve Dillon and of course, Alan Moore. Skinn had previously devised an indomitable but insane vigilante character for Marvel comics called Night Raven. Both Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd had worked on Night Raven and Moore was keen to develop a more realistic and political vigilante with Lloyd, who brought noir style atmosphere to the mix with his artwork.
V For Vendetta seemed a perfect fit for Warrior. Despite this, the book folded before the story ended. Various comics producers approached the creators for the rights to publish and finish the series, with DC comics securing the rights to produce a 10-issue mini-series (and subsequent graphic novel.) This did change the nature of the book, though. It was originally created for a black and white comics anthology. Not only did David Lloyd get to colourise almost every page, the rhythm of the story became more noticeable when it was moved to an American-style comic book format. Moore had given the tale a steady, cinematic rhythm that wasn’t common in American comics at the time.
Transferring to screen
Even back then, a movie adaptation seemed sort of obvious. The comic book version is a dense tale of anarchism versus fascism, filled with novel murders and powerful acts of vengeance. It is also split into three broad “chapters”. These work reasonably well as the standard three-act structure of a screen play. The comic provides lots of material to whittle away to create a story suitable for the cinema.
Thanks to various false starts, it took until 2005 for production on the movie version to begin. The world had changed in quite a few ways since then, though the fundamental story remains relevant to this day. Back in the ’80s, nuclear war was an ever-present threat and the original story uses the bomb as the crisis that allowed Norsefire to gain power. The movie script, written by The Matrix creators the Wachowskis, puts Norsefire in charge before any crisis occurs. There is a still a tragedy that allows the fascists to gain further control however, a bio-engineered virus.
They are plenty more changes as well. Alan Moore’s V is portrayed as a psychopath. The explanation given for his abilities are a dark take on Captain America’s origin story, as a well as a commentary on concentration camps. The original character is more focused on rage and vengeance; the movie version worries about the loss of human life and is more sympathetic. The original Evey has little agency at the start and her journey into a strong and capable person is longer, slower and tougher. In the movie, Natalie Portman portrays Evey as a self-determined and plucky lady from the start. She allies with an urbane and erudite TV host called Gordon (played by Stephen Fry). In the comics, Gordon is a lanky Scottish gangster who is briefly Evey’s lover. In both versions, Gordon is doomed.
There are other minor details; Evey’s own story is streamlined and the entire investigation into V’s acts of anarchy is much shorter. The movie lacks the chaos of the original, but then it also doesn’t feature a middle-aged man on an LSD trip.
One of the central tales in the original is simply called Valerie. It’s a story about hope and human perseverance that inspires Evey during her darkest moments. The impact of the tale is kept intact in the movie version, and is the main thrust of the story. The notion that no matter what, that there is place within ourselves that can resist oppression is core to the appeal of V Vor Vendetta. This is expressed and underlined further when V himself delivers the line, “Did you think to kill me? There’s no flesh and blood within this cloak to kill. There is only an idea. And ideas are bulletproof.”
Into The Zeitgeist
Despite the success and critical acclaim of the movie, Alan Moore distanced himself from the project having long since grown tired of Hollywood. His co-creator, David Lloyd, was reportedly happy with the picture.
The image of a Guy Fawkes mask is now known as an obvious political statement. It’s been used countless times over the last decade or so, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the V mask has been around longer, or possessing a stronger political note. This is an old tradition turned into something new, inspired by Moore’s work. Brits have celebrated Fawke’s failure to blow up parliament since 1605, and effigies have been around since then. Before V For Vendetta, it had become more of a silly joke than anything else.
It was the success of the movie, and the smooth, leering mask design inspired by David Lloyd’s artwork that put the image back into public consciousness. The fact that the mask is now a global symbol of rebellion goes to show how powerful the story is and how ideas continue to be bullet proof.
Article by Ed Fortune