V for Vendetta Review: Unpacking the Novel Behind the Film

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Here’s a case where I saw the movie before I read the book. I watched V for Vendetta about five years ago for a class assignment, and I fell in love with it. The visuals are stunning, the music is fantastic, the story flows along wonderfully, and it’s provocative in all the right ways. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to read the graphic novel that it was based off of. Now I’ve finally gotten my chance. Written by Alan Moore, and illustrated by David Lloyd and Tony Weare, V for Vendetta the graphic novel definitely has much more than the movie — in good ways and in bad.

I normally prefer to write about works on their own. When it comes down to it though, V for Vendetta and its famous Guy Fawkes mask-wearing character have become powerful symbols in our culture. It’s so difficult to separate the book from the film. Besides, it’s interesting to contrast the two. Moore himself called the screenplay of the adaptation “rubbish.”  But what are really the difference between the two?

In essence, the plotlines are very similar. In V for Vendetta the novel, Evey is a sex worker who’s confronted by the Fingermen, the enforcers of the fascist British government. At the last minute, she’s rescued by a mysterious masked man who identifies himself only as V. Evey ends up accompanying him as he blows up Parliament. From there a series of events cascades as the British government ends up in greater and greater chaos through V’s actions.

Two panels from the graphic novel V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd and Tony Weare

More Psychology and Philosophy

One of the most distinctive features of the novel is the way that it delves into philosophy with much more enthusiasm. To be sure, the film has its fair share, like the famous line “People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people.”  However, the novel has the luxury of including interior monologue as well, allowing our different characters to communicate to the reader their mindsets. Perhaps most chilling is Adam Susan’s condemnation of democracy, his cold and calculating view towards his job. His view begins to gradually crack, however, as he begins to lose faith in his own ideals.

A panel from the graphic novel V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd and Tony Weare

Susan himself is actually a really fantastic part of the book. In the film he’s renamed Adam Sutler, a flat character who acts as the tyrannical ruler of the nation. Now the fact that he’s a flat character isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the movie, he certainly fills his role well. However, the novel gives Adam Susan more focus. He operates a huge console called Fate, which lets him surveil the nation’s citizens and control the country from his office. His connection to Fate replaces all meaningful human contact for him. As the story goes on though, Fate ends up compromised by V, and with his faith in the machine shaken, Susan’s sanity begins to crumble. It’s a curious thing to watch and unravel.

There’s also a notable contrast in the themes. In the film, V is presented like a liberator who uses extreme means to achieve his goals. While he has his morally grey areas, he has a much more heroic bent. In the novel, he’s more decidedly in that questionable area. His anarchy tends towards sheer chaos and madness, and carries its own set of sufferings for the people. While the movie is a narrative of liberation, the novel is a juxtaposition of anarchy vs autocracy. A subtle difference, but it creates some very different outcomes. It has an extra dimension that we can get because of the medium.

More Filler

So far I’ve mentioned a lot of extra depth in the graphic novel, which I greatly enjoyed. However, there’s also extra subplots. In the film, our subplots are fairly straight-forward. Head detective Eric Finch is trying to find V, second-in-power Creedy is considering usurping his superior. Meanwhile, Evey is struggling to make sense of the bizarre transition unfolding around her. It all ties into the main plot. In the novel, each of these plots come into play. However, there’s also a second plot to try and take power, sexual infidelity, underground gangs being hired by government officials, and so on. It begins to feel bloated, and they aren’t nearly as engaging because they don’t end up contributing to the main plot thread. As a result entire chapters feel like filler, especially near the end.

A panel from the graphic novel V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd and Tony Weare

Part of this problem is the character design. I don’t anticipate talking about character design for books very often, but it’s relevant here as a visual medium. Several of the main characters have very good designs: V, Evey, and Susan are easy to recognize. However, most of the other characters appear way too similar to each other. It becomes difficult to tell them apart, and as a result it’s hard to remember who’s doing what. It’s heavily factors into why all the plot threads not involving V, Evey, or Susan don’t feel as compelling.

​In the end, the original V for Vendetta novel is a mixed bag. When it shines, it shines spectacularly, and delves into a lot more of the messiness that you might expect from a political thriller. However, the messiness ends up muddying the story. While it might reach deeper than its film counterpart, it also comes bundled with more clutter to sift through in order to get there.

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