An Unruly Torrent (The Last War in Albion Part 75: Violence and Versions)


This is the third of fifteen parts of The Last War in Albion Chapter Nine, focusing on Alan Moore's work on V for Vendetta for Warrior (in effect, Books One and Two of the DC Comics collection). An omnibus of all fifteen parts can be purchased at Smashwords. If you purchased serialization via the Kickstarter, check your Kickstarter messages for a free download code.

The stories discussed in this chapter are currently available in a collected edition, along with the eventual completion of the story. UK-based readers can buy it here.

Previously in The Last War in AlbionAlan Moore's work on V for Vendetta included some of his earliest uses of one of his signature techniques, that of paralleling narration or dialogue from one scene with images from another to highlight the contrast.

"Institutions and authorities designed for the far simpler reality of just a hundred years ago have burst their banks; have found their timeworn principles inadequate to a flash influx of insight and revelation, an unruly torrent carrying us all struggling towards the edge of a Niagra future in amidst our driftwood debris of outmoded ideologies." - Alan Moore, birthday greetings to Chelsea Manning

Figure 570: V's quotations from Macbeth in
the first installment resonate with his actions
in rescuing Evey. (Written by Alan Moore, art
by David Lloyd, from "The Villain" in Warrior
#1, 1982)
But “Virtue Victorious” does not use its contrast for comedy, or, at least, not for any straightforward comedy, and the point is not the contrast between the bishop’s words and the images, but the way in which the two intersect and resemble each other. The bishop is praying for divine forgiveness for the child molestation he’s about to commit, but when he speaks of “the evil one who is surely come amongst us in this, the hour of our greatest trial,” the images of V fighting his way through the guards give clear double meaning to these words. The sequence is of course not unprecedented - it is in many ways simply a refinement of the technique Moore was using back in the first installment, where he had V quoting Macbeth while slicing his way through the Fingermen threatening Evey. But the refinement is in this case significant, with the text and images in “Virtue Victorious” coming from two distinct scenes that are allowed, in effect, to play simultaneously. As the comic went on, Moore grew even more confident, eventually doing away with most of the dialogue and words entirely and giving Lloyd stretches of pages at a time in which the storytelling is entirely visual, or where, to use an example from Book Two, a chapter in which the only dialogue comes from television broadcasts playing out in the background. These are in some ways small potatoes compared to the expansive formal and stylistic experiments that Moore would later become known for, but nevertheless, the advancement within the course of the serial is significant, and it’s not surprising that Moore refers to the comic as “one of the first real major breakthroughs I made in terms of my own personal style.”

But for all that V for Vendetta evolved formally, it’s clear that the overall outline snapped into place fairly early, and Moore’s setting up of the larger theme of violence and its legitimacy in Book One is clearly aimed at allowing further exploration of that theme at a later date. It is in this regard perhaps significant to note that the chapter entitled “Violence” was not actually Moore’s first attempt to do a chapter with that title. The first attempt came four chapters earlier, when he wrote a script for the fifth chapter, to be published in Warrior #5 in September of 1982 (the same month as his short story “Sunburn” in 2000 AD), and at that point using the title “Violence.” As David Lloyd tells the story, this script was the lone time on V for Vendetta that he “saw something [Moore had] written for it that failed to slot into place like the perfectly machined component I always expected him to manufacture,” and that the script seemed rushed and generic. Moore, for his part, immediately asked Lloyd what he’d thought of the script when they talked, then cut him off at “well, erm” to say that he agreed and would write a different one.

The bulk of the abandoned script consists of two paralleled sequences - one of Evey and V sparring in the Shadow Gallery, and the other of a training operation focused on capturing or killing V, overseen by Derek Almond. The former consists of V taking dirty shots at Evey - striking her when her back is turned and she’s massaging her leg from an earlier blow. Eventually Evey, enduring a lecture from V about how she’s improving, but “must learn not to be so predictable. The essence of success is surprise,” finally snaps - Moore describes her as “boiling with suppressed fury” and notes to Lloyd, “I don’t know if you’ve ever been a beginner at a martial arts class and had the shit stomped out of you by people far better than yourself, but if you have then you’ll know how Evey feels. She is trembling with impotent rage” - and knees V in the crotch. He staggers back, leaning on the mantlepiece in pain, and limps off telling Evey “that was very good… never fight people on their own terms. You’re learning.”

Figure 571: Warrior #5, which was originally
intended to house an episode of V for Vendetta
entitled "Violence."
The latter sequence, on the other hand, hinges on a well-rehearsed and well-drilled takedown exercise in which the central twist is the revelation that the character the audience is initially allowed to believe might be V (Moore specifies that the first cut from the Shadow Gallery to the training exercise should be “sudden and very confusing”) is in fact a cop. The sequence ends with a cut from Almond drilling his forces to the Leader, named for the first time as Adam Susan, consulting with the computer, Fate, on the likelihood of Almond’s plan succeeding (Fate assesses the odds of success at 78.055%), and Susan ultimately decides to enact Fate’s plan. The script ends with another narrative caption reading, “His name is Adam Susan. he is called the leader. But fate has spoken, and he does as he is told. Immediately.” 

As with the later chapter entitled “Violence,” the purpose of the script is clearly to juxtapose these two instances of violence. But unlike the actual published “Violence,” there is no moral dimension to the violence on display. Both acts of violence are simulations. They are not being pitted against each other in any moral sense, but rather in a purely tactical and instrumental sense. The only question is which approach is more effective - Almond’s well-drilled operation, or V’s embrace of unpredictability. In this regard the implicit answer is perhaps too simple, with V’s methodology clearly serving as a response to the rigid approach of Almond and his Fingermen. Indeed, this simplicity pervades the unused Chapter Five, and it’s not hard to see why Lloyd objected to a script that, in his view, leaned too heavily on a cliche martial arts scene and “didn’t really take us very far.” 

But the nature of the abandoned script’s take on violence is indicative of the terms on which Moore was conceiving of the series at this stage. The issue of violence is clearly entirely instrumental. The chapter is only concerned with the question of what approach to violence is more effective, an issue it treats as fundamentally tied to the underlying conflict between V and the fascist regime, and isn’t even broaching the question of violence as a moral issue at this point. More to the point, by the time it does approach violence as a moral issue, it is purely as a question of two different approaches to being a revolutionary terrorist. Even as it becomes a moral question, in other words, it still remains fundamentally a discussion about tactics - a secondary issue to the book’s main themes.

Figure 572: Adam Susan drives past the statue
of Justice atop the Old Bailey as he monologues
about the virtues of fascism. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by David Lloyd, in Warrior #5, 1982)
These themes are rendered most explicit in the chapter Moore wrote to replace the abandoned “Violence” version of Chapter Five, entitled “Versions.” The chapter is presented as two monologues, each presented as a discrete whole, as opposed to with any cutting between them. The first is by Adam Susan, and is in effect an extended version of the final beat of the abandoned script. It consists of Susan reflecting, in interior monologue, on the nature of his life as he approaches his headquarters, walking into the office past the Hitler salutes and ascending the elevator to his private chamber, where he communes with the computer Fate. He proclaims bluntly, “I believe in survival, in the destiny of the Nordic race. I believe in fascism.” He goes on to explain this, using the traditional fascist image of a set of bound twigs and the metaphor of “strength in unity” that it represents. “I will not hear talk of freedom,” Susan declares. “I will not hear talk of individual liberty. They are luxuries. I do not believe in luxuries. The war put paid to luxury. The war put paid to freedom.” 

Figure 573: Adam Susan, ensconced within
his lover, magnificently isolated. (Written by
Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from "Versions"
in Warrior #5, 1982)
Susan is, however, quick to point out that he does not allow himself the luxuries he denies others. “I sit here within my cage and I am but a servant,” he insists. He goes on to clarify that he loves and serves Fate, explaining, “I stand at the gates of her intellect and I am blinded by the light within. How stupid I must seem to her. How childlike and uncomprehending. Her soul is clean, untainted by the snares and ambiguities of emotion. She does not hate. She does not yearn. She is untouched by joy or sorrow. I worship her, though I am not worthy. I cherish the purity of her disdain. She does not respect me. She does not fear me. She does not love me.” The section ends with a gradual closeup of Susan’s face as he proclaims, “Fate… Fate… I love you,” and then a wide shot of him, alone and isolated with his computer lover/ruler.

Figure 574: V addresses Justice. (Written
by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd,
from "Versions" in Warrior #5,
The second section is a monologue from V directed to the statue of Justice atop the Old Bailey - a statue that Susan stares at as he drives past at the start of his own monologue. V’s monologue takes the form of an imagined dialogue with Justice, with V filling in her dialogue. V explains to Justice that he once considered himself in love with her (“Please don’t think it was merely physical. I know you’re not that sort of girl,” he reassures her), but that he has since moved on to someone else. “What? V!,” he imagines Justice saying. “You have betrayed me for some harlot, some vain and pouting hussy with painted lips and a knowing smile.” But V retorts that it was in fact Justice’s own infidelity - her fling with “a man in uniform… with his armbands and jackboots!” 

Figure 575: V destroys another
London landmark. (Written by
Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd,
from "Versions" in Warrior #5, 1982)
“You are no longer my Justice. You are his Justice now,” V proclaims, and says that he too has another mistress. “Her name is Anarchy,” he says, “and she has taught me more as a mistress than you ever did! She has taught me that justice is meaningless without freedom.” Justice, on the other hand, he dismisses as a “Jezebel” and sneers, “I used to wonder why you could never look me in the eye. Now I know.” And so V departs, leaving his former lover “a final gift,” a heart-shaped box he leaves at her feet before walking away, at which point, as is wont to happen with V, the box spectacularly explodes, destroying the statue of Justice. “The flames of freedom. How lovely. How just,” V muses as he looks back at his handiwork. 

Figure 576: The transition between the two eponymous versions. (Written
by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from "Versions" in Warrior #5, 1982)
For all that this is markedly different from the abandoned script, there are similarities. For one thing, “Versions” ends with a one-page epilogue of Eric Finch trying to question the seemingly hopelessly insane Louis Prothero about V that is, with only a few minor changes to the dialogue, the first page of the abandoned “Violence” script. More substantively, however, both “Versions” and the unused “Violence” are based on the use of two parallel scenes, one of V and the other of the fascist regime. But where “Violence” cut back and forth between the two scenes several times, “Versions” keeps the two strands separate, having them meet in the chapter’s third page, in which the first four panels are devoted to the tail end of Adam Susan’s version, the last four to V’s, and the middle panel to an establishing shot of the Old Bailey. It is, in other words, an altogether more rigid structure, and marks the first of many times in Moore’s career that he turns to a formalism to help him with a misbehaving script. 

The more rigid structure, along with the title and declaration of each monologue as “first version” and “second version” puts considerably greater emphasis on the idea of V and Susan as representing contrasting visions of the world. But this gets at the more significant difference between “Versions” and “Violence,” which is that where “Violence” contrasted V and the fascists on the basis of their tactics, “Versions” contrasts them on a more fundamental philosophical level. And for all that the comic is clearly on V’s side, it goes out of its way to present Susan’s position, if not quite sympathetically, at least credibly. Moore has talked on several occasions about the effort he put into writing the fascist characters, and specifically about how this evolved over the course of working on the series, talking about how “I’d look at a character who I’d previously seen as a one-dimensional Nazi baddy and suddenly realize that he or she would have thoughts and opinions the same as everyone else,” and about how, for all that fascists were in practice his real-life political enemies, “in fact fascists are people who work in factories, probably are nice to their kids, it's just that they're fascists. They're just ordinary.” [continued]


Tom 2 years, 2 months ago

The abandoned script sounds very Claremontian - the pervasive American comics influence of the time, I guess. His favourite trick when he couldn't work out how to move plots along (or had an issue where the plot motion didn't involve any fighting) was the simulated battle into which character moments can be dropped. Interesting that Moore considered and rejected the trick.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 2 months ago

"An Unruly Torrent"? Is this about the Pirate Bay?

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encyclops 2 years, 2 months ago

What am I doing wearing these businessman's clothes? I'd better take them off before I turn into a computer!

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Robot Devil 2 years, 2 months ago

If magic is about symbols affecting reality, doesn't the widespread use of the Guy Fawkes mask post-V indicate that Moore has won a major blow in the War? Interesting that the Wachowskis did both V For Vendetta and The Matrix, which brought Morrison's ideas to a wider audience.

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Anton B 2 years, 2 months ago

I'm pretty certain the Wachowskis will be covered in LWIA at some point; however, and it might be just me but, I've never been able to see any direct link or cause to suspect homage, or inspiration let alone the plagiarism accusation that is sometimes levelled at The Matrix in regard to The Invisibles. . Now I know Morrison himself has commented on this and I seem to remember a claim that issues of The Invisibles were spotted on set but I just don't see any concrete evidence that the Wachowskis lifted ideas or concepts from Morrison's writing. Rather that the two works were exploring similar zeitgeisty millennial issues, in different media at around the same time. Neither, in fact can claim any great originality. Morrison himself has been relatively open about his sources (Moorcock, Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna et al) if not always to his muses' satisfaction (particularly Moorcock). I consider The Invisibles to be the superior work, unlike The Matrix it still entertains and informs and stands up to repeat readings, but I've never bought the 'Matrix ripped off Morrison' argument.

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timber-munki 2 years, 2 months ago

I think that the The Matrix copying claim really is on shakey ground, one of the only things that the film & comic have in common is that they both demonstrate King Mob's auto-critique in The invisibles Vol.2 #13: The most pernicious image of all is the anarchist hero figure. A creation of commodity culture, he allows us to buy in to an unauthentic simulation of revolutionary praxis"

(which IMO could have been a mic drop moment for the series)

And of course they're both published/produced by Warner Bros., the company making nice sums of money from selling V masks to all and sundry revolutionary types...

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Anton B 2 years, 2 months ago

Hands down one of the best lines, and covers, in a series full of quotability and innovative graphics. Another favourite of mine was the brown paper cover of issue 5 In the Darkness We Are All Invisible -(something else you can't appreciate in the collected trades.)

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