3 out of 5
As ended up being the case with a fair amount of important literature in my life, I was given the recommendation to check out 1984 when it was part of my brother’s school reading list. The concept of the story was amazing and definitely guided me down a road with a long-standing appreciation of dark sci-fi, but I sincerely recall feeling like the book was also too simple; it was a weird experience, being introduced to this (at that point) entirely new concept of a dystopia, and finding it super cool and compelling and yeah fukk authority and all that, but then also sort of questioning a world that felt that one-dimensional. I could never quite quite fathom how, exactly, the world got to that point; not that it’s impossible, especially given many of the troubling political decisions I’ve seen dominoing together as of 2020, but it felt like all of the likely issues that would be constantly breaking out were swept under the representation of a single character, something that would be the case again and again with this new dystopia subgenre I’d discovered. I found a concept that truly appealed, and it was instantly difficult to feel actually moved by it.
As was also the case with a lot of these formative books, 1984 was thus also one of the establishing steps toward me being an asshole: nyah nyah, I’d read a book grades above me were reading, and I was deeming myself essentially ‘beyond’ it. Later, when other kids (or TV shows, or movies) would pay tribute to 1984, and I’d ‘moved on’ to evolutions on the idea, I’d poke and prod at the tributes to see if there’s was anything more to them than ‘yeah fukk authority,’ and it often felt like there wasn’t. It’s an appealing idea to the youth.
Of course there’s more to the dystopic London of Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta, and he’s certainly not just rah-rah-ing anarchy – see his concise speech in the book defining anarchy – but at the same time, he was once a young dude, and swayed by cool, 1984 ideas, and V has that feeling to it: it’s rather a simple story. All of its characters read like proxies for narrational ideas sketched out on a chart somewhere (excepting, perhaps, detective Eric Finch), and V’s penchant for speaking in sing-song quotes is prototypical Moore as a reference machine, but without the world-building and immersive story to exactly necessitate it.
It’s the late 90s, and a nuclear war has allowed a totalitarian government to step in, broken down into different factions – the Eye, in charge of video surveillance; the Ear, audio surveillance; the Nose, investigative police; the Finger, street-beat, gestapo-like police; and the Mouth, creating propaganda – under the leadership of the Head, lead by one Adam Susan, and the all-knowing computer called Fate. Pretty clever, eh? It is, and that’s about as far as that gets. A page or so catches us up to speed on how fear allowed the people to kowtow to the governments racist culling of undesirable types, following a Hitler playbook of rounding them up into camps, and then we’re over the explanation hump into our dystopia: people are subservient to constantly being watched and recorded. Wives stay at home to be abused by their husbands. Vice is doled out on the regular to placate all us human slobs.
This (inevitably, given the subgenre) produces our representation of dissent: the masked V, who kicks things off by blowing up a landmark, and then begins a steady campaign of terror which rolls out throughout the book, toppling pieces of the government’s control, one by one. V takes under his wing a protege, Evey, sort of our point of view character, whose progress from naive party participant to harsh exposure to V’s ideas to trumpeting her own ideas and desires is all too-clearly aligned to the comics three over-arching “books.” There are interesting twists and turns to her journey, but again, they feel a bit too mapped out, and somewhat showy. This is a young writer, still feeling out his pacing and style, and the “now let’s hit this moment” beats are a bit too surface level. More compelling, to me, is the journey of the aforementioned Eric Finch, whose investigation of V’s crimes leads him on what is a much more “organic” journey; I believe in how his need to serve his government shifts in to questions regarding just what, exactly, caused V to be, and his narrative – while more in the background than Evey’s – could have provided much of the same impact. But I can appreciate the way the focus ended up being applied: having a female emerge from put-upon to a more ‘realized’ role is certainly a stronger idea than our generic, trenchcoated detective solving clues, and it gives us more facetime with V; I might not find his bubbly-word-bubbled book and movie quoting all that interesting, but he’s an enigmatic creation all the same, and it more clearly exposes us to how he functions in a sort of morally grey area – neither good or bad; possibly unhinged.
This ends up being another part of the story that could have used more depth, though. I constantly felt like V was entirely indebted to its structure, and not always to exploring parts of the story that could have been more thought provoking. So it ends up being something of a surface tale of rebellion, with a lot of puppet characters 1-dimensionally obsessed with control and waiting out the page count with dialogue that’s just meant to carry us from scene A to B. Not that that surface isn’t incredibly well constructed, with David Lloyd’s fascinatingly thick-lined art and its psychedelic coloring (this from one of the common Vertigo-published collections, coloring some originally (I believe) published in black-and-white installments from the anthology series Warrior, before the book would move over to DC) giving every single page and panel a sense of consideration, but nonetheless, I’m left with that same feeling I had when reading 1984: I really, really dig this idea, but it feels like more can be done with it.
The edition I’m reading has all of the extra, related Warrior material published in the back, along with some Lloyd pinups. Its 290ish pages are printed on a sort of soft, lightweight, off-white stock, and the covers have a matte finish; its one of the best combinations of paper and cover and size for reading. It’s super light, flippable – glossy pages are nice but sometimes too slick – and sturdy.