V for Vendetta is a ten-issue comic book series written by Alan Moore and illustrated mostly by David Lloyd, set in a dystopian future United Kingdom imagined from the 1980s about the 1990s. A mysterious anarchist named "V" works to destroy the totalitarian government, profoundly affecting the people he encounters.
The series is set in a near-future Britain after a limited nuclear war, which has left much of the world destroyed. In this future, a fascist party called Norsefire has arisen and is the ruling power. "V", an anarchist revolutionary dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, begins an elaborate, violent and theatrical campaign to bring down the government.
Internally, V for Vendetta is divided into three "books". Warrior was cancelled at the end of the second book. Three years later, DC Comics reunited Alan Moore and David Lloyd to finish the series, which was published in ten monthly issues, then collected in hardback and trade paperback. David Lloyd's artwork for V for Vendetta in Warrior was originally published in black-and-white, giving it a harsh chiaroscuro effect that worked very well with the grim subject matter. In the DC Comics version, the artwork has been "colourised" in pastels, which some fans feel compromises its effectiveness.
In writing V for Vendetta, Moore drew upon an idea for a strip titled The Doll he had submitted to DC Thomson when he was twenty-two years old. In "Behind the Painted Smile", Moore revealed that the idea was rejected as DC Thomson balked at the idea of a "transsexual terrorist". Years later, Warrior editor Dez Skinn invited Moore to create a dark mystery strip with artist David Lloyd. Lloyd and Moore considered several proposals, including one titled Vendetta that set the story in 1930s United States. The setting developed through their discussions, moving from 1930s United States to near-future Britain. As the setting progressed, so did the character's development; once conceived as a "realistic" gangster-age American, he became, first, a policeman rebelling against the totalitarian state he served, then became a heroic anarchist.
Moore and Lloyd conceived the series as a dark adventure strip influenced by British comic characters of the 1960s, as well as Night Raven, a Marvel UK strip which Lloyd had previously worked on with writer Steve Parkhouse. Editors Dez Skinn and Graham Marsh came up with the name V for Vendetta. David Lloyd developed the idea of dressing V as Guy Fawkes after previous designs followed the conventional superhero look.
During the preparation of the story Moore made a list of what he wanted to bring into the plot, which he reproduced in "Behind the Painted Smile":
"Orwell. Huxley. Thomas Disch. Judge Dredd. Harlan Ellison's "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman, Catman and The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World by the same author. Vincent Price's Dr. Phibes and Theatre of Blood. David Bowie. The Shadow. Night Raven. Batman. Fahrenheit 451. The writings of the New Worlds school of science fiction. Max Ernst's painting "Europe After the Rain.jpg". Thomas Pynchon. The atmosphere of British Second World War films. The Prisoner. Robin Hood. Dick Turpin..."
The political climate of Britain in the early 1980s has also been cited as an influence on the work, with Moore positing that Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government would "obviously lose the 1983 elections", and that the Michael Foot-led Labour government that replaced it, being committed to complete nuclear disarmament, would allow the United Kingdom to escape relatively unscathed after a limited nuclear war. However, Moore felt a post-holocaust Britain would be quickly subverted by fascists. Moore's predictions were perceived to be unlikely and, addressing this when DC reissued the work, he noted:
Naïveté can also be detected in my supposition that it would take something as melodramatic as a near-miss nuclear conflict to nudge England towards fascism... The simple fact that much of the historical background of the story proceeds from a predicted Conservative defeat in the 1982 General Election should tell you how reliable we were in our roles as Cassandras.
When Warrior was cancelled in 1985 (with one completed episode unpublished due to the cancellation), several companies attempted to convince Moore and Lloyd to let them publish and complete the story. In 1988 DC Comics published a ten-issue series that reprinted the Warrior stories in colour, then continued the series to completion. The first new material appeared in issue #7, which included the unpublished episode that would have appeared in Warrior #27. Tony Weare drew one chapter ("Vincent") and contributed additional art to two others ("Valerie", "The Vacation"); Steve Whitaker and Siobhan Dodds worked as colourists on the entire series. The series, including Moore's "Behind the Painted Smile" essay and two "interludes" outside the central continuity, was then collected as a trade paperback, published in the US by DC's Vertigo imprint (ISBN 0-930289-52-8) and in the UK by Titan Books (ISBN 1-85286-291-2).
Investigation of V's bombing is assigned to Eric Finch, the head of "The Nose" -- the regular police force -- and an experienced investigator who serves the government out of a love of order rather than political conviction. Through him are met other figures in the Party, including the Leader, Adam Susan, who is fixated on the government's computer system, Fate; Dominic Stone, Finch's partner; Derek Almond, head of "The Finger", the secret police; Conrad Heyer, head of "The Eye", the visual surveillance branch; Brian Etheridge, head of "The Ear", the audio surveillance branch; and Roger Dascombe, in charge of "The Mouth", the branch in charge of broadcasting propaganda.
V next blows up the Old Bailey, and confronts three Party figures to accuse them of and execute them for past atrocities: Lewis Prothero, the propaganda broadcaster who serves as the "Voice of Fate"; Bishop Anthony Lilliman, a paedophile priest who represents the Party in the clergy; and Delia Surridge, an apolitical doctor who once had a relationship with Finch. V drives Prothero insane after incinerating his prized doll collection; Lilliman is killed by being forced to consume a cyanide-laced communion wafer; and Dr. Surridge dies from a lethal injection. However, because Surridge expressed remorse for her previous actions, her death is painless. By the time V kills Surridge, Finch has discovered that all of V's victims worked at a concentration camp near the village of Larkhill, and alerts Derek Almond to V's plans. V is surprised by Almond while attempting to escape from Surridge's home. Unfortunately for Almond, he had forgotten to reload his gun after having cleaned it earlier that same night, and is killed by V.
Finch begins to read a diary kept by Dr. Surridge, discovered at her home. It reveals all of the victims' previous histories with V, an inmate at the Larkhill camp who was subjected to a medical experiment run by Dr. Surridge, in which he was given hormonal injections with a drug called "Batch 5". Eventually, V, known to the camp's staff as the "Man from Room Five", began tending a garden with camp commander Prothero's approval, using related chemicals to later break out of the camp while attacking camp guards with mustard gas and napalm. V, the only prisoner to have survived the death camp, chose to eliminate its surviving officers to prevent the government from discovering his true identity. Finch notes that while V made sure Surridge's diary was easy to find, he had also ripped out pages that may have contained information about his identity. With no records of his real identity existing, V can operate covertly.
Four months later, V breaks into Jordan Tower, the home of The Mouth, to broadcast a speech that calls on the people to take charge of their own lives. He escapes by forcing Roger Dascombe into one of V's own costumes, causing him to be fatally shot by police who storm the room. Eric Finch, in going over the crime scene, is introduced to Peter Creedy, a petty criminal replacing Almond as head of The Finger. Finch is provoked into assaulting Creedy in frustration of Creedy's lack of appreciation of V's capability and over a personal remark Creedy made about Dr. Surridge. Following the incident, the Leader sends Finch on a forced vacation.
Evey has developed a strong attachment to V, but has begun to challenge his methods. After a confrontation in the Shadow Gallery, she finds herself abandoned on a street, unable to find V. She is taken in by Gordon Deitrich, a petty criminal with whom she becomes romantically involved, and they cross paths unknowingly with Derek Almond's widow Rose; after the deaths of her husband and Dascombe (with whom she had been in a forced relationship with), Rose is forced to work as a burlesque dancer, and consequently develops a strong hatred for the Party. Creedy begins organizing a private militia, hoping to use V's destabilization of the Party to mount a coup against the Leader.
When Gordon is murdered by Scottish gangster Alistair Harper, Evey attempts to kill him in revenge but is arrested and accused of attempting to murder Peter Creedy as he was meeting with Harper. In her cell between multiple bouts of interrogation and torture, Evey finds a letter from an inmate named Valerie, an actress who was imprisoned for being a lesbian. Evey's interrogator finally gives her a choice of collaboration or death; inspired by Valerie's courage and quiet defiance, she refuses to give in and is told that she is free. To her shock, Evey learns that her imprisonment was a hoax constructed by V, designed to put her through an ordeal similar to the one that shaped him. He reveals that Valerie was another Larkhill prisoner who died in the cell next to his; the letter that Evey read is the same one that Valerie had passed on to V. Evey's anger finally gives way to acceptance of her identity and freedom.
The following November, exactly one year after the Parliament bombing, V destroys the Post Office Tower and Jordan Tower, causing the death of Etheridge, and effectively shutting down The Eye, The Ear, and The Mouth. The subsequent lack of government surveillance causes a wave of violence and hedonism which is violently suppressed by Creedy and Harper's street gangs. Meanwhile, V notes to Evey that this is not "The Land of Do-As-You-Please" end result he wants but rather the mere chaos in "The Land of Take What You Want" — an interim period that he intends to follow up with the establishment of true anarchy, a voluntarily orderly society. Finch's assistant Dominic realizes that V has had access to the Fate computer since the very beginning, explaining his foresight; this news accelerates the mental collapse of the Leader.
Finch travels to the abandoned site of Larkhill, where he takes LSD. His hallucinations lead him to an intuitive understanding of V, and returning to London, he deduces that V's lair is inside the abandoned Victoria Station. V confronts Finch as he enters the station. V, who has indicated his own martyrdom, lets Finch shoot him. The wounded V returns to the Shadow Gallery and dies in Evey's arms. Evey considers unmasking V, but decides not to; instead, she assumes his identity, donning one of his spare costumes. Meanwhile, Rose Almond's private vendetta has led her to assassinate the Leader. In the ensuing chaos, Harper kills Creedy, shortly after Finch reports the news that V is dead. When Evey appears to the crowd as V, a general insurrection begins.
Evey completes V's final act of subversion. As requested by V, she destroys 10 Downing Street by giving her mentor a "Viking funeral" with an explosive-laden Underground train containing his body, sent to detonate beneath the desired location. She rescues Dominic from a mob and takes him back to the Shadow Gallery, implying that she intends to train him as her own successor. Finch observes the chaos raging in the city before heading to the countryside. All forms of authority in Britain are now gone; its future is left uncertain.
The fascist regime embraces total corporatism. An important aspect of corporatism is the total identification of society with state, and to think of society as a body where the different institutions are organs. This is reflected by institutions named after parts of the body: the detective branch of the police is The Nose; the surveillance organizations are The Ear and The Eye; the uniform branch of the police is The Finger (and those who work for them are called Fingermen); and the state-controlled media is known as The Mouth.
In creating this system of control, Moore provocatively evokes mainstream English political thought, namely Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, which imagined the state as one vast corporate gestalt, with its legitimacy founded on the need to maintain order and prevent indiscriminate violence (as was hinted at in the Norsefire backstory). The sovereign formed the natural 'head' of the society, which perhaps explains the anatomical nomenclature of the various arms of state government.
To keep this body healthy, fascist ideology prescribes cleansing it of unhealthy elements (i.e. the motto Strength Through Purity), thus, the totalitarianism and concentration camps. In issue #5 (see below), Delia Surridge recapitulates the Milgram experiment as explanation of why ordinary people, such as she, engage in such obedience. The connection to Anglican Christianity and Purity Through Faith is a typical feature of clerical fascism in Roman Catholic countries (i.e. southern France of the Vichy regime 1940-44, Spain under Francisco Franco 1939-75, the Independent State of Croatia under Ante Pavelić 1941-45, and Austria under Dollfuss and Schuschnigg 1933-38); such a form has taken hold specifically in England where, in reality, the Church of England (The Anglican Church) is 'established' with the Queen at its head and the state. This explains why, in story continuity, violent anti-Norsefire rebellion engulfs the non-Anglican parts of the United Kingdom (e.g. Scotland).
The anarchism proposed by V is classic and built specifically around the ideas of Mikhail Bakunin, who is often associated with the idea that the old society has to be torn down before a new one can be built upon its ruins. In issue #2, V has a fictional dialogue with Madame Justice and concludes that anarchy has taught him that "justice is meaningless without freedom", a phrase which closely parallels similar statements by Bakunin:
Freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice and Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.
Several anarchist (or similar) traits encountered are related to 1960s counterculture. V's tactic of humiliating and ridiculing the fascist regime to destabilize it is like the ideas of the Situationists. In issue #8, the phase between fascism and anarchy is called Verwirrung, a German word meaning "confusion", but used here as reference to The Illuminatus! Trilogy (Book One of the trilogy is so titled). It also may be a direct reference to Discordian philosophy in general, as many other aspects of the series (chaos, the creative arts, anarchism, and the obsession with the number "5") draw similar parallels. An aspect of 1960s counterculture was the idea that domestic partnership and its legal forms can constitute a power imbalance between two people where one controls and dominates the other. This is exemplified by the relationships of Mr. and Mrs. Almond as well as Mr. and Mrs. Heyer, but this aspect is not developed theoretically.
Moore stated in an interview:
...the central question is, is this guy right? Or is he mad? What do you, the reader, think about this? Which struck me as a properly anarchist solution. I didn't want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think and consider some of these admittedly extreme little elements, which nevertheless do recur fairly regularly throughout human history.
Moore has never clarified who V supposedly was, beyond stating that V is not Evey's father; he does point out that V's identity is never revealed in the book. The ambiguity of the V character is a running theme through the work; it is left for the reader to determine for himself whether V is sane or psychotic, hero or villain. Before donning the Guy Fawkes mask herself, Evey comes to the conclusion that V's identity is unimportant compared to the role he plays, making his identity itself the idea he embodies.
This lack of personification through a fixed identity has also been construed as a way of creating an "Everyman" character, reinforcing the examples of personal responsibility taken throughout the book. This "Everyman" character is further illustrated through the use of Evey, a young, insecure, uneducated person, slowly evolving into "V".
Pop Will Eat Itself also included several references to V for Vendetta on their 1989 album This is the Day...This is the Hour...This is This! - the song Can U Dig It?" includes the lyric "we dig V for Vendetta" and the chorus finishes with the line "Alan Moore knows the score". Another track, "The Fuses Have Been Lit", includes references to "the voice of Fate" and "The Land of Do-As-You-Please".
Progressive nineties Brit-pop band Jocasta wrote the song "The Land of Do-As-You-Please" on their 1997 album release, No Coincidence, released by Epic/VP music. Referenced throughout the song is V's television speech to the British population, and the book he reads to Evey.
The Spanish metal and hip hop band Def Con Dos has a song titled "V de Vendetta" included in their 1991 album Tercer Asalto.
7th Son, a Las Vegas based metal band, wrote a song called "V" or "V for Vendetta" and used to have an alternate logo that was an adaptation of a V for Vendetta movie poster.
Now-defunct Raleigh, NC based punk band The Trepanators had a song called "V", whose lyrics were mostly comprised of the famous nursery rhyme repeated throughout the story and film ("Remember, remember, the fifth of November...").
The first adaptation of V for Vendetta ever filmed for the screen is one of the scenes in the documentary feature film The Mindscape of Alan Moore and was shot in early 2002. The dramatization contains no dialogue by the main character, while the Voice of Fate is used as an introduction.
A feature film adaptation was released on 17 March 2006, directed by James McTeigue (first assistant director on The Matrix films) from a screenplay by the Wachowski brothers. Natalie Portman stars as Evey Hammond and Hugo Weaving as V together with Stephen Rea, John Hurt and Stephen Fry. John Hurt, who played the renamed High Chancellor Adam Sutler in the film V for Vendetta, also played Winston Smith in the 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell's novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Originally slated for a 5 November 2005 release, to coincide with Guy Fawkes Night and the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, it was postponed until March, possibly due to the 7 July 2005 London bombings, although producers denied this was the reason.
Alan Moore, however, distanced himself from the film, as he has with every screen adaptation of his works to date. He ended cooperation with his publisher, DC Comics, after its corporate parent, Warner Bros., failed to retract statements about Moore's supposed endorsement of the movie. After reading the script, Moore remarked:
"[The movie] has been "turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country… It's a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives—which is not what the comic V for Vendetta was about. It was about fascism, it was about anarchy, it was about England.He later adds that if the Wachowskis had wanted to protest what was going on in the United States, then they should have used a political narrative that spoke directly at the USA's issues, similar to what Moore had done before with Britain. The film changes the original message by arguably having changed "V" into a freedom fighter instead of an anarchist. An interview with producer Joel Silver suggests that the change may not have been conscious; he identifies the V of the comics as a clear-cut "superhero… a masked avenger who pretty much saves the world," a simplification that goes against Moore's own statements about V's role in the story.
Co-author and illustrator David Lloyd, by contrast, embraced the adaptation. In an interview with Newsarama, he states: "It's a terrific film. The most extraordinary thing about it for me was seeing scenes that I'd worked on and crafted for maximum effect in the book translated to film with the same degree of care and effect. The "transformation" scene between Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving is just great. If you happen to be one of those people who admires the original so much that changes to it will automatically turn you off, then you may dislike the film—but if you enjoyed the original and can accept an adaptation that is different to its source material but equally as powerful, then you'll be as impressed as I was with it.