Saturday, October 03, 2009

M for Moore

More comics yay!

I'm gradually coming to understand more and more of the comics world.  I can now identify certain authors by their style and topical obsessions.  Next to Neil Gaiman, the one I'm now most familiar with is Alan Moore.  I recently expanded this familiarity by reading through "V for Vendetta."

Many of Moore's works have been adapted into movies, but I think this is the first time that I've seen the movie before reading the book.  I did enjoy the movie quite a bit, and had also heard that Moore hated and disowned it (as he seems to do with all such movies).  After reading the book, I now see why.  The movie did get at the overall thrust of the book - an unabashed call for individual liberty and the smashing of an unjust state - but it tamps down on many of the more concrete and, hence, more radical aspects of the story.


The biggest example: it's been several years since I've seen the movie, but I'm almost certain that there are no religious references within it.  In contrast, the book makes it very clear that the dystopic fascist England of the future is built on an alliance between the military, the church, and industry.  It isn't subtle, either: posters throughout the city proclaim "STRENGTH THROUGH PURITY, UNITY THROUGH FAITH."

The book is also pretty shockingly direct about the atrocities that accompanied the rise of the new government.  I imagine this would be particularly chilling to Moore's original English readers, since they so directly replicate Hitler's Holocaust, which Britain so bravely stood against a half-century earlier.  Moore seems to be saying, "It can happen here."  He details how individual groups were hunted down, sent to camps, and exterminated: West Indians, homosexuals, leftists. 

Again, though, the most central part of the story is communicated in both media: this was the act of the government, and government ultimately derives its authority from the people.  The ordinary citizens of England may not have pumped gas into chambers, but they share the responsibility for those actions: if they had wanted to, they could have rejected their leaders and formed a better government.  Instead, they were too scared, too shocked by nuclear war and the threat of terror.  They believed the promises of the worst among them, who offered security in exchange for total obedience. 

Was it Thomas Paine who wrote "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance?"  That's what I kept thinking of while reading this.  No matter how free a nation may seem, we can never take our freedoms for granted.  The Weimar Republic led directly to Nazi Germany; the democratic revolution in Russia was immediately followed by the rise of autocratic communism.  Of course, there are examples moving in the other direction as well, but still... far better to remain on the side of freedom!

One of my favorite things about V for Vendetta is its unabashed explanation of the virtues of anarchy.  I can only think of one other work that treats the idea as seriously, George Orwell's excellent "Homage to Catalonia."  Most people will say that anarchy is impossible, and maybe it is, but it can be tempting when shown in  contrast to autocracy.

That said, I'm not totally sure that we're supposed to agree with V.  Ultimately, he's essentially punished for his murdering ways, and the pacifist Evey represents the future of his mission.  Within the book, V seems to be unpleasant but arguably necessary.  Could he have brought down the government without any violence?  Perhaps, but within the confines of the story it's hard to imagine.


If you liked the movie, check out the book... there's more story here, and you may enjoy learning more about the characters.  This is another example of a great, intriguing Moore story... even if you don't agree with the message, it's worth hearing out.

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