In “The Comics Journal” #300, political cartoonist Ted Rall discusses how graphic novels can have a much more lasting impact than a daily newspaper-run cartoon, no matter how effective it is. “Look at Alan Moore’s stuff,” Rall says. “‘Watchmen’ is actually pretty lame. So is ‘V for Vendetta.’ Both reflect unsophisticated minds regurgitating vapid pol-speak minus serious ideas. But they’re still in print and inspire people decades after they came out.”
Inspire people so much, in fact, that both books have warranted the Absolute treatment from DC comics, where they’re printed in oversized, slipcased volumes for the low, low price of one hundred bucks.
And though I agree with Rall about his final sentence, I take issue with Rall’s classification of either “Watchmen” or “V for Vendetta” as “lame.” Though he’s not far off base when he describes both works lacking political ideas that he would deem “serious.” But “Watchmen” isn’t about political ideas. Not primarily, not functionally. It’s about superhero comic books. It’s about the genre. And “V for Vendetta,” though dressed in political garb, isn’t about politics specifically. It’s about the individual vs. the system. It’s the old tale of the Romantic raging against the machine. To judge it based on its lack of a clearly-defined political agenda is to miss the point. The point is the narrative. The narrative is not a device with which to inject a point into the world.
So here’s what it comes down to: Does this 10-issue series, originally serialized in black-and-white in “Warrior” magazine, then expanded and completed and colored for DC Comics in 1989-1990, warrant a fancy oversized edition with an enormous price tag? Does this series about a Guy Fawksian anarchist and a tormented young girl in the grip of a fascist state deserve this Absolute volume?
Yes, but unlike some of Alan Moore’s other Absolute-ized books, like the aforementioned “Watchmen” or “Promethea” or “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” this Absolute edition is not a sure thing. The problem’s not in the story, which is a vicious enough little dystopian thriller with a literary bent, but the problem is in the visuals. While someone like Dave Gibbons or J. H. Williams III or even Kevin O’Neill look magnificent at this larger size, David Lloyd’s negative-space compositions plus watercolor styling just don’t.
Based on the way “The Absolute V for Vendetta” looks, it seems as if this edition were blown up not from any original art, but from the pages of the DC Edition of 20 years ago. It’s a bit off-register at times, and the colors, which were always a bit wet-looking, a bit blurred, even in the original printing, look even more so when enlarged here. Had this been a reconstructed black-and-white edition (Lloyd’s work never looked as great as it did in the original “Warrior” serialization, where the bold blacks and absent holding lines gave the comic a harsh beauty), it might have looked wonderful at this larger size. As it is, it merely looks washed out, abstractly murky, hazy.
Such a look doesn’t ruin the comic, of course, It’s a murky, washed-out, hazy story, at least with these visuals. The effect is more dreamlike than in the original serialization, and, thus, more romantic, fitting the classical romanticism of the protagonist who calls for the citizens of Britain to wake up and make choices for themselves. But it’s not as much of an artistic showcase as most of the other Absolute editions — or it doesn’t showcase the art to its best possible effect.
Even if the art isn’t best served by this format, and even if the additional material in this collection is culled from old introductions to the issues and an essay from the pages of “Warrior,” along with a few David Lloyd sketches, it’s still a major work from the Modern Era of comic books. Moore structures “V for Vendetta” like a novelist, letting the layers of plot weave with the imagery instead of forcing false climaxes at the end of each chapter. Even 20 years after it was completed, it’s still an unconventional comic book, with the core of a superhero story, the remnants of an Orwellian nightmare, and the soul of a cabaret show.
It might not be worth full retail price, but I don’t mind having the volume on my shelf. Not at all.