“There is no coincidence, Delia, only the illusion of coincidence,” says V. Years earlier, Delia was a scientist at a government-sponsored concentration camp, where V was the only survivor of a gruesome experiment. Now he has come to kill her.
Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, V for Vendetta is, like the massive display of dominos V topples at the novel’s climax, an intricately designed web of causes and effects. The scientist creates V; V murders the scientist. A fascist state uses humans as guinea pigs; the only survivor is mutated into a batshit-insane anarchist intent on revolution. This week, Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski release a movie version of V; Alan Moore’s name does not appear on it. This is not a coincidence either.
“I did call him and ask him not to do that,” said Lloyd at a recent post-screening Q&A not attended by Moore or the notoriously press-shy Wachowskis. “I really wish he hadn’t done that.”
Lloyd says the pair initially developed V as a standard “urban guerrilla fighting a dictatorship” story, but the rise of the conservative Thatcher government in the early 1980s encouraged them to accentuate the story’s political overtones. In an essay about V, Moore notes that their protagonist went through numerous permutations—from “freakish terrorist in white-face makeup” to an undercover subversive hiding in the police force—before Lloyd stumbled upon the idea of dressing him in the mask of Guy Fawkes, the revolutionary who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. Lloyd’s ultimate design, dark tunic and cape offset by Fawkes’s bleached, perpetually smiling likeness, suggested a composite of Batman and the Joker (an idea Moore would explore further in his graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, where the
eternal foes are depicted as two sides of the same coin).
The result was a comic far more complex than most of its peers, with nuanced characters instead of simple hero/villain dynamics. “For me there’s two key messages in V,” says Lloyd, “and that’s the individual’s right to be individual and the right to resist being forced by fear into conformism.” Moore and Lloyd pushed each other to experiment: The artist ordered the writer to tell the story without the benefit of traditional sequential art devices like sound effects and thought balloons, giving the book a darker, less cartoonish tone in keeping with Moore’s literary inspirations: Orwell, Huxley, and Pynchon.
The Matrix was also forged from a variety of influences, but its connection to V is particularly strong. Both take place in dystopian futures with oppressive regimes that filter their citizens’ perceptions. Both feature nearly omnipotent computers assigned human characteristics. Both follow warrior mentors with predilections for pseudo-philosophical verbosity who rescue young protégés from the hands of the regime’s foot soldiers and train them to fight the government. Both involve purification rituals where the protégés replace their fancy clothes and beauty salon hairdos with tattered rags and shaved cue balls. In adapting V for Vendetta, the Wachowskis made it more Matrix-like: No one else would have rewritten the ending to include an intricately choreographed fight scene in a dingy underground tunnel—complete with slo-mo digital shenanigans—between V and an army of identical, black-clad soldiers.
“I think it tells the story in a different way, but in the same way too,” says Lloyd of the Wachowskis’ interpretation. Moore disagreed; after being sued for plagiarism for his involvement in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie—allegedly for writing the original comic as a “smoke screen” for stolen ideas from an unproduced Larry Cohen screenplay—Moore decided he was done with Hollywood. Vendetta‘s producers particularly upset him by claiming at a press conference that the author was excited about the project after he’d told them he wanted nothing to do with their film. By the time Moore demanded a retraction and described the Wachowskis’ depiction of British culture as “imbecilic” to online comics columnist Rich Johnston, the dominos had already begun to fall.
“Alan wouldn’t really be happy unless it was an actual perfect reproduction of the original,” says Lloyd. “[He] has a very clear viewpoint about what he represents as a person. But I wish I’d been able to change [his] mind.”