Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November… and V for Vendetta!

“Remember, remember,

the fifth of November,

the Gunpowder Treason and Plot.

I see no reason

The Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.”

In 1605, Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators aimed to destroy the House of Lords in London – and were caught. Months later (according to Wikipedia), the remembrance of the date as a holiday was already codified. Four hundred years later, in 2005, I was in London and got to see firsthand that this holiday is still going strong. Fireworks, and a little bit of lawlessness. I haven’t gotten to see police running away from a situation any other time, but it made sense then – my friends and I were running away too.

Ah, good times.

V for Vendetta - CoverI thought for today I would explore one of the top pieces of media around this holiday – the comic V for Vendetta by British comics author Alan Moore. There’s also the movie adaptation (also from around the 400th anniversary in 2005, interestingly enough), which I am going to have to talk about a bit more than planned – I haven’t finished reading the comic yet myself! It’s 287 pages, and I am halfway through.

What I have read so far has been good, and quite a bit like the – a statement which probably makes Alan Moore unhappy, but I’ve previously talked about his troubled relationship with movie adaptations of his work with Watchmen. If you like the fight against totalitarian and fascist control, dystopias, or comics, this is one for you!

Synopsis

I’ll try to avoid spoilers, and won’t talk much about how it resolves – in part because I’m not sure if that will be different between the film and the comic!

It’s the future (or, when Moore was writing this in the 80’s, it’s the late 1990’s…), and society collapsed. At the end of the Cold War, someone started firing the nukes. Nuclear Winter – which, according to Moore’s note in the intro, was not a concept yet. Somehow, England avoided being nuked – in part by having gotten rid of all of the nukes in the country first.

So England Prevails. They’re not dead, but contact with the rest of the world is basically gone, scarcity is at its worst, and so the worst sort take control. They have a plan, for keeping the world going – for the select. For those like themselves. They’re Fascists, or more Nazis, pretty much. They even have “Norse” in the party name. One race, one faith, one nation.

Creepy stuff, and coldly logical. You could see it happening. Doesn’t make it better or right, just makes it that likely sort of thing that makes it interesting, and a good target for exploring what could or would happen.

Which is where we pick things up in the comic (and the movie). Someone has decided to stand up to this – one man, in a mask. A Guy Fawkes mask. And on the fifth of November, he blows up the Houses of Parliament, fulfilling the Gunpowder Treason against a government likely worse than the one which was the original intent.

The comic goes into more details of the depths of the Fascism, of the hate for homosexuals, for any other race. The concentration camps. The ideology. It’s hard to include all of this in a film – but Alan Moore might point out that it’s why he made a comic and not a film.

I was a history major, so in large part the ideas seem scooped from a history of 1930’s and 1940’s Europe.

Our one man standing against this all is almost superhuman in his prowess – able to outfight all opponents. We find out why later – he was experimented on in the concentration camps. He has spent years perpetrating his Vendetta – killing everyone involved with the camp he was in. In the comic, they make this great point, about how he could go one of two ways. One way is that all he is is this Vendetta – and, everyone dead, he would be done. The other way it could go is that, by killing everyone involved – everyone who might know who he was or what he was capable of – there was no one to stop him as he moved on to phase 2.

It seems the latter – and V, named for the fifth of November, and for room five, and for the Vendetta, V tears the government down.

He does not do it alone, however. Along the way, he brings along Evey, a young girl and just another victim of their world. Nothing special – but then, V points out that everyone, in all their great diversity, is special. More than in most fiction, Evey stands in for society, for the audience, for everyone. She is the Everyman, and purposefully – V seems to have her there to show that she would come around to his way of thinking, to show that he is not alone in his attitude. Maybe he is willing to give up if it were just him, but I imagine he knew what the outcome would be.

Evey, and the reader/audience with her, come around to V’s point of view (more than we naturally are in opposition to Fascism and Totalitarianism…), and are completely rooting for these rebels and terrorists by the end.

So What’s the Point?

I’ve alluded to the fact that Alan Moore thinks rather a lot of his work, and I can’t help thinking of that while I read it. Trying to fight the temptation to read this as pretentiously as Moore comes across.

However, keeping the author in mind for this work seems like a good idea. Moore is an Anarchist, and those leanings come across for sure in V for Vendetta. While Totalitarianism is a rule by the few or the one, Anarchy is a rule by no one – which is actually an individual rule by each and every one.

He has V, at times, speaking from a point of view outside of humanity, outside of time. Like he is one of us, but also not. At one point he is quoting Sympathy for the Devil, comparing himself to the Devil in this case.

In the biggest departure I’ve read so far between the movie and the comic, there is a scene where V is making a broadcast to the nation. He speaks as though he has been there, managing humanity, from the start. Devil or Angel? Regardless, he is disappointed. And then, we get this:

V for Vendetta - Broadcast

“You don’t seem to want to face up to any REAL responsibility, or to be your own boss.”

Unwilling to rule ourselves. To take that next step up. And so we keep abdicating authority, responsibility, power, to those who want it. To the very worst of us. And it’s our fault, for electing them, for letting them have our power.

It’s the complaint of an anarchist against the people, those who will happily live in a government – often willing to live in an incredibly dangerous or restrictive society, to live in society. It is, I feel, Moore’s point with the comic.

Anyway, that’s V for Vendetta on this, the fifth of November. Enjoy your Bonfire Night, be more than passing upset at invasions of privacy and personal autonomy, and hopefully (in the US) you voted yesterday!

What do you think of my interpretation of V for Vendetta? What do you take away from it – comic or movie? Let me know in the comments below!

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The Batman Column: Season 1 Finale

Good day, everyone! I know it’s been awhile, but working two jobs has kept me away from blogging for some time. However, I decided to take advantage of a little free time and come back to put together what will effectively be the season finale for my column here at Sourcerer. You, dear readers, have watched my blogging voice grow over the past months as I wrote my weekly Batman column that slowly began to grow into something more. The last couple of posts in that column dealt heavily with the ideas of narrative multiverses and correcting continuity errors by condensing storylines.

I hope to continue that trend when I do return; after all, it looks like Marvel may be headed towards its own Crisis on Infinite Earths with the recent teasers for its latest Secret Wars event that seems to tie into every major story from the past few decades. It’s no secret that Marvel has been playing with its multiverse a bit more over the past few years, with most major storylines featuring orphan characters from defunct universes, as well as time travelers from the past and many possible futures. It’s become a trope in many Marvel books that the timeline is effectively broken and in need of repair. Look for more from me as this event continues to develop.

Aside from my own work, I’ve also missed two very important events for comic book fans, those being Jack Kirby’s birthday (August 28) and Banned Books Week (September 21-27). Jack Kirby, the King of Comics, co-creator of Captain America, creator of DC’s New Gods, and primary creator of most of Marvel’s stable of characters, would have been 97 this year. I would like to wish belated good fortunes to his estate, and it looks like they’ve finally reached a settlement with Marvel over old rights. Further, I hope some of you were able to fit in such superhero stories as Watchmen or The Killing Joke during Banned Books Week last month.

That’s about it for this finale. Look for my column to return in full force in the near future, as well as small periodic posts here and at quaintjeremy’s thoughts. And as for a last comic book recommendation, I urge you all to go out to your local comic shops, talk to fellow fans, find books that will interest you, and follow them with all your heart. Keep the community alive.

I’ll see you all soon.

Breaking All my Comics Rules – Watchmen

I spent a few weeks exploring the general rules that seem to permeate comic book movies. From there, I explored all of them at once – as they all show up during the X-Men franchise. But as the phrase goes – the exception that proves the rule? How about a little Watchmen, then?

Generally regarded as the greatest of graphic novels, this twelve-comic series is a commentary on the entire comic genre, while itself being in the form of a comic. This meta-commentary is a large part of the success of the story, and it’s a similar situation as you see in other great comics commentaries – The Dark Knight Returns, The Incredibles, and eventually in this vein, Marvel’s Civil War.

Seriously - that is some strong praise.

Seriously – that is some strong praise.

The heroes get too big, work outside the law for too long, things go too far, and they have to hang up the cape. And then things get too big, and the world needs its heroes to save it once more. That’s the story in an extremely short nutshell. In the end, it’s not the story that’s my point here. The point is in the comics themselves, and the movie that eventually came from them.

Because by and large, these break my rules, while also containing the rules — as you might expect in a meta-commentary. And then, when you finally get to the present day,  some of the rules start to fit again, in an obvious way.

The Origin Story

For one thing, Watchmen as a comic does not open with an origin story. It dives right into the action – well, right after the action. The Comedian is dead, and it’s being investigated. We start with Rorschach narrating — ever the unreliable narrator. We aren’t given insight into this world, as much as disinformation. And it’s a mystery from the start.

Rorschach’s opening-page monologue also works really well as the main dialog in the amazing trailer:

Sure, origin stories are explored throughout, but they are weaved throughout the plot and serve the purposes of the plot. They serve as part of the larger exploration and revelations of the mystery.

I had three rules about origin stories. For one, start at the beginning. Watchmen does nothing of the sort. Well, the movie does a bit – giving us some history in the opening sequence. These set the scene of this as an alternate reality to our own, while placing the story in its place in history. The comic takes its time doing this.

For another, pick one origin story and run with it. That doesn’t quite apply to a one-off story like this – it’s the only option to choose. It’s also full of the origin story of two teams of superheroes, and many of the members of these teams. It’s not focused, but instead explores the whole idea and existence of superheroes.

And for a third, stick with a writer – generally the one from your origin story. Again, it might be cheating to say that this applies – of course they stuck with Alan Moore. However, Alan Moore was not supportive of the movie, as opposed to someone like Frank Miller who has been involved in a number of movies based on his comics. It’s just not the same.

Sequels, Villains and Changes

My second set of rules had to do with a larger franchise — with the comics leading to a larger universe that keeps going, that has a life of its own, and in the movies they keep going with sequels, full of more and more villains, and increasing changes from the comics.

This is it - 12 comics, one collected edition: the whole story!

This is it – 12 comics, one collected edition: the whole story!

These things just aren’t true of Watchmen. The story hits its end, is finished, and doesn’t need to go anywhere else. The comics didn’t go anywhere else, and the movie can’t really either. It will stand alone as a single thing.

And while it’s normally the sequels that have lots of extra villains, if we only have Watchmen to look at, it only has one villain. There is Molloch, who serves the purpose in the mystery of the Red Herring. In terms of my rules, he also serves the purpose of the “second villain,” there to distract our heroes. However, he is actively framed and used this way by the actual villain, so this is more of a meta-commentary on this type.

In the comics, it’s not a world full of villains that needs a hero. It’s a world at war, ready to explode. It doesn’t need a hero – it needs a miracle. Or a massacre.

Which leads to the last point — to changes. By and large, the movie is considered to actually be pretty close to the comics. Sure, some of the secondary story that the comics tell (like The Black Freighter) don’t make it onscreen, but most of the story does, mostly in comics order. It’s from Zack Snyder, who before this made the incredibly faithful 300. So maybe it’s no surprise.

The one main change that you see is in the ending, which bothered me at the time, but when you get down to it, it’s not much of a change. It exists more for time, and still keeps with the feeling and purpose of what happened in the comic. So I would say more that this should almost have seen more changes, as a movie, than it did. It looks and feels like it is a comic book turned into a movie, with occasionally some really awkward scenes because of that faithfulness.

Since the Movie

There are some things worth mentioning that have happened since the movie. For one thing, a bunch of new Watchmen comics have come out. For another thing, Alan Moore has happened.

Not both at the same time. Nope, the comics aren’t by Moore. And what types of stories are they? What could they possibly be? Why, prequels, of course – there’s nowhere to go with a sequel, as I said. And these are not just any prequels, but of course, origin stories. For, what it looks like, just about all of the characters.

This just seems like a ploy to make money, so someone had the rights to release more comics — I’m sure there were people who wanted to actually make the comics — and they fell back to what the default always seems to be. Origin stories.

But no, not by Alan Moore. He has some pretty choice things to say about the movie, superheroes, and comics in general. Oh, and Hollywood. Not favorable. I’ve been thinking about it, and it feels like he never really picked up on the joy of these stories, the speculation, the triumph, the escape, the wonder.

I wouldn’t call him a fan, a geek, or any part of that. He’s a critic. He’s outside looking in. So while he maybe gets it in some ways, he misses it completely in others. I am pretty much good with his story, his world here. I will happily disagree with him, and continue to enjoy comics, and the movies that they make from them. He made a story which does not fit that mold, which critiques it, and that’s good. It needs to exist. But I think I’ll stick with my comics full of joy and fun. Avengers: Age of Ultron, anyone?

Random Thought Generator Episode 1, Comic Book Influences

This is cool. It’s the debut of Therefore I Geek’s bi-weekly podcast. I just listened, and I thought they did a fine job. Jeremy will have a post about comics here tomorrow, and we’re hoping have a big discussion about feminism here on Friday. If you’re interested in that, see my last post.

Therefore I Geek

Comics

In the inaugrual episode of Random Thought Generator, Therefore I Geek’s Andrew and Tracy (that’s us!) discuss those comic books and strips that have influenced them. Starting from our earliest memories and moving on to more recent discoveries, we cover a wide variety of titles.

Links

Calvin and Hobbes

Zits

Dagwood

Garfield

Pearls Before Swine

Far Side

Tin Tin

Asterix

Amazing Spider-Man

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

X-Men

Cable

Star Wars: Clone Wars

Watchmen

V For Vendetta

Atomic Robo

Saga

Transmetropolitan

Preacher

Pax Romana

Ready Player One

Amazing X-Men

Serenity

Lock & Key

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