Laissez Les Bontemps Rouler (The Last War in Albion Part 73: The Villain)

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This is the first 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 did some underground-style work for Sounds, a newspaper strip called Maxwell the Magic Cat, some work for Marvel UK on Doctor Who and Star Wars comics, numerous Future Shocks and Time Twisters for 2000 AD, the continuing serials Skizz and D.R. & Quinch for the same magazine, a run on Captain Britain for Marvel UK, and broke out in the United States working on Swamp Thing for DC Comics. Concurrently with all of that, he wrote a serial called V for Vendetta in the British quasi-monthly anthology Warrior...

"Please. For us. For all of us... Laissez les bontemps rouler." -Alan Moore, Swamp Thing

Figure 551: The chillingly prescient
image of widespread CCTV cameras
in London. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by David Lloyd, from "The Villain"
in Warrior #1, 1982)
From its first installment, back in 1982, amidst Moore’s earliest works, V for Vendetta crackles with mad gusto. The first page brazenly sets a scene with all the fascist gusto of 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd, only with none of the broad comedic satire that characterized that strip. Instead it is an all too familiar near-future world, recognizably just a few of history’s happenstances removed from the world of its readers. It is a few months shy of sixteen years in the future, with an unsettlingly phrased radio broadcast identified as the “Voice of Fate.” The language is plastic and stilted, quietly evoking Moore and Lloyd’s previous collaboration on a story for Doctor Who featuring the evil plastic alien Autons: it is “the fifth of the eleventh, nineteen-ninety-seven,” a declaration that is followed by a bizarrely precise weather forecast promising that “the weather will be fine until 12:07 A.M. when a shower will commence lasting until 1:30 A.M.” Note the care with which Moore sets up the unsettling nature of this - the first number is weirdly over-specific, whereas the second is a nice, round number like one would expect from a weather forecast. This broadcast is contrasted with David Lloyd’s starkly monochromatic art, which begins with a soaring skyline before cutting to a mass of people heading home in wide shot. A third panel focuses on a detail from the image, a CCTV camera pointed at the street, a sign proclaiming, “FOR YOUR PROTECTION.” 

Figure 552: The spartan squalor of Evey's apartment.
(Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from "The
Villain" in Warrior #1, 1982)
From this introduction, the art and voiceover both take a turn for the dark. The Voice of Fate says that “the Brixton and Streatham areas are quarantine zones as of today,” as militaristic men patrol a jet-black street in an equally jet-black car, their authoritarian uniforms pillars of light within the film noir abyss. “Productivity reports from Herefordshire indicate a possible end to meat rationing starting from mid-February 1998,” and note the contrast to the date earlier on the page, while a scared-looking girl applies make-up. The productivity reports are, it is instantly obvious, bullshit. There is no chance of meat rationing ending in February of 1998, and the crap apartment of the unnamed female hammers home the point that this is a world that’s in just sixteen years gone to complete shit.  Immediately a Moore devotee gets the sense of Roxy from Moore’s later Skizz - the squalid and resignedly accepted life of poverty’s misery, far worse in this world than the slice-of-life Birmingham of 1983. 

Figure 553: The semiotically dense first glimpse of the Shadow Gallery.
(Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from "The Villain" in Warrior
#1, 1982)
The page’s last panel is a wide shot of a man approaching a mirror, seen from behind, and too far from the mirror for his face to be visible. He is bisected by shadow, half-white, half-black, himself a figure bisecting the psychedelic Rorschach Blot of a carpet. The mirror is a bulb-lit vanity clearly from an actor’s dressing room. Atop it are a wig and mask. The walls of the room are plastered with posters for classic films, but with a clear cinephile’s selection. The horror super-cast of Basil Rathbone teaming up to kill the Boris Karloff’s monstrous but sympathetic Frankenstein (his last turn in the part), who tragically obeys only the villainous and psychotic blacksmith Ygor (played by Béla Lugosi) sits next to a poster for the decade-later James Cagney vehicle White Heat, in which Cagney scintillates as a mad gangster. Next to them is a poster for the 1932 Murders in the Rue Morgue, also starring Lugosi as a marvelously mad scientist. A bookshelf on the opposite side of the room contains four books with visible titles: Thomas Moore’s Utopia, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Karl Marx’s Capital, and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The captions continue, talking about a police raid upon “what is believed to be a major terrorist ring,” adding another layer to this rich collage of ostentatious villainy both glamorous and monstrous, white and black as the page itself.

Figure 554: Evey and V are juxtaposed as the first chapter's titlecard is
displayed. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from Warrior #1,
1982)
The scene continues upon the second page, with the unnamed female and the male both getting dressed, the man pulling on gloves and grinning alabaster mask, then standing revealed before the mirror, all theatrical flourish, wide cloak and dramatic hat. To his right, a close-up of the poster for White Heat, the caption - the sign-off of the radio broadcast - obscures some of the poster, so that it reads simply “Jimmy … in his New Hit from Warner Bros.” Below it, a second placard, all 30s cabaret lettering, proclaims: “Chapter One / THE VILLAIN.” The lefthand adjacent panel features the young girl, her face an alabaster mask of worry as she checks her makeup one last time, implicit but unacknowledged plural to the chapter’s title. 

Figure 555: The scene shift in the final three panels of page two is
emphasized with a shift towards panels dominated by blacks, in contrast
with Figure 554. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from "The
Villain" in Warrior #1, 1982)
As he is working within the British tradition of short chapters from which he found liberation in DC’s twenty-two page periodicals, Moore opts to split the page between this and a second scene, a transition Lloyd emphasizes by leaving the top two rows of panels dominated by whites, and the bottom two anchored by blacks. A man smokes a pipe and stands against the corner of a brick building. Moore indulges in one of V for Vendetta’s handful of non-diegetic narrative captions, laying out a moral thesis statement on which to pin this entire procession of lurid and uncensored mischief. “Parliament’s cold shadow,” Moore writes in familiar iambs, “falls on Westminster Bridge and she shivers. There was power here once, power that decided the destiny of millions. Her transactions, her decisions, are insignificant. They affect no one… except her.” The third person feminine pronoun refers to the woman seen applying makeup. “Mister,” she asks, Zelda Estrella lettering the dialogue box smaller than the text of the captions. “…Uh…would…would you like to…uh…” she stammers, awkward and pathetic, “sleep with me or anything? … I mean… uh… for money?” she finishes, meekly and awkwardly, confirming the narration’s assessment of her insignificance.

Figure 556: The thin,
cruel smile of the 
Fingerman Evey foolishly
attempts to proposition.
(Written by Alan Moore, 
art by David Lloyd, from "
The Villain" in Warrior #1,
1982)
The third page opens with a reverse shot of the man she’s tried to pick up, smiling thinly and proclaiming her efforts “the clumsiest bit of propositioning I’ve ever heard.” He suggests that she’s not been doing this long, and she confirms, wincing that “I must be really terrible” as “it’s my first night.” She’s got a job, she explains, but it doesn’t pay enough, and she really needs the money - a familiar litany of working class misery, in other words. “I’m sixteen,” she insists, heartbreakingly. “I know what I’m doing.” The man points out that she does not, in fact, reaching into his trench coat and pulling out a badge, and explaining that “if you did you wouldn’t have picked a vice detail on stakeout.” 

Figure 557: Evey's terrified vulnerability is contrasted
with Norsefire's fascist vision of strength. (Written by
Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from "The Villain" in
Warrior #1, 1982)
With this, his colleagues step from the shadows, revealing five men being employed to take in one harmless would-be prostitute, and the “Fingerman” (as the woman calls him) explains that prostitution is “a Class-H offence. That means we get to decide what happens to you. That’s our perogative.” The woman begs them not to kill her, her letters becoming small and meek again, framing the propaganda poster of whatever sick regime this is, its slogan stamped “STRENGTH THROUGH PURITY PURITY THROUGH FAITH.” She pleads that she’ll “do anything you want,” but the pigs explain how this will actually work to her: “You’ve got it all wrong, miss. You’ll do anything we want and then we’ll kill you. That’s our perogative,” he repeats, by way of explanation, and Lloyd draws a narrow-panneled close-up of her wide-eyed, tear-stained face on the verge of rape, in the style of Frank Miller’s beautifully sliced rectangles of noir in Daredevil.

Figure 558: Lloyd cuts from a close-up on Evey's terrified face to the
reveal of V, lighting stressing his moral ambiguity. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by David Lloyd, from "The Villain" in Warrior #1, 1982)
He then goes out to a wider panel in which the cloaked figure, unseen since the title card, stands, again cast half in brilliant white and half in printer’s shadow, and begins to speak his rhyme: “The multiplying villainies of nature do swarm upon him,” he proclaims, beginning to quote an account of Macbeth’s valor in combat from the first act of Shakespeare’s play, while one of the Fingermen begins the question, “who the hell…,” a note on which the page ends, marking the halfway point of the installment. 

Figure 559: V rushes towards Evey. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by David Lloyd, from "The Villain" in Warrior #1, 1982)
The fourth page opens with a scene of chaos - the masked man advances forward, continuing his monologue from Macbeth, while the Fingermen attempt to block his path and speculate as to his identity, suggesting that he’s “some kinda retard got out of a hospital,” and warn him that he’s “in trouble, chum. Big trouble.. This woman is a criminal. We’re police officers. She’s wanted for interrogation, so keep your…,” but before the man can finish his sentence, the nature of the scene shifts out from under him. The second row of panels begins with a panel of a man holding a detached hand, staring at it as he completes the thought from the preceding panel: “hands off?” The masked man is gone from the panel, his cloak billowing behind him, showing that he’s already moved on from this scene. The next panel shows where - the detached hand is still visible in the top left of the panel, but the image is dominated by the masked man, shown from behind, cloak still furling out behind him as he charges towards the girl. The cloak fills most of the frame, and it is impossible to tell exactly what he’s doing, but the expression of agony on one of the Fingermen’s faces and the way in which the other one seems to have been thrown backwards suggests violence. “Disdaining fortune with his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution, like Valour’s minion carved out his passage till he faced the slave,” the masked man continues to narrate as he reaches the girl, who stares at him, meekly saying “oh” in the smallest of letters. The masked man faces to the right, implicitly completing the motion implied by his rushing out of shot at the first panel in the sequence. Having reached her, he turns to the Fingermen, firing off tear gas and disappearing amidst their confusion.

Figure 560: A man explodes. (Written by Alan Moore, art
by David Lloyd, from "The Villain" in Warrior #1, 1982)
It is this confusion that opens the fifth page, as the man holding the detached hand asks, “I got his hand. What shall I do with his…” Once again, he does not get to finish the thought, this time due to the hand’s unexpected and fatal detonation. “Oh Jesus,” one of the two surviving Fingermen says in horror, trying to figure out how his steadfast and reliable gig as a beat cop for a fascist authority has unexpectedly turned into a massacre at the hands of a ridiculously dressed man quoting Shakespeare. “We’ve got to find him,” the other says firmly, “or the Head will have our guts.” But the mysterious figure has already exited the scene - in the six panels of the Fingermen reacting to his attack, he is visible in only one, where they are shown in a long shot from above and behind, while in the foreground the man’s boots and cape are visible, depicted in pure and unadulterated black. 

Figure 561: V gives a
surprisingly thorough and
accurate explanation of
himself. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by David Lloyd,
from "The Villain" in Warrior
#1, 1982)
It is not until the page’s third row of panels that the masked man makes a full return, sitting on a roof top with the girl he’s just saved from a grisly death, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben visible across the Thames in the background. “You… you rescued me!” she exclaims, “like in a story! I don’t believe it. Wh-who are you?” The man’s reply is given in a panel consisting of a close-up of his masked face, his eyes further shrouded by the shadow of his hat brim. “Me?” he asks. “I’m the king of the twentieth century. I’m the bogeyman. The villain. The black sheep of the family,” he continues, drawing a tacit link with the accoutrements initially seen in what might either be described as his lair or his dressing room and their common thread of embracing ostentatious villainy and discarded radicalism, whether generally socially acceptable as with Utopia, totally socially unacceptable, as with Mein Kampf, or in a trickier space in between as with Capital. Understandably puzzled by his overtly cryptic answer, the girl asks what he’s doing hanging around Westminster at night, to which the man explains that “tonight is special. Tonight is a celebration. A grand opening. Were you never taught the rhyme,” he asks.

This leaves only Moore’s sixth and most audacious page. It opens with an extreme close-up on the man, so that only one slit eye of his mask and its painted black curl of an eyebrow is visible. He intones the aforementioned rhyme: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason,” he continues, and at once, at for any of the readership for whom the mere shape and visual of his outfit and mask was not sufficient to identify the character he is playing, he stands revealed as a man dressed in a Guy Fawkes costume. [continued]

Comments

John Nor 2 years, 7 months ago

Like Captain Britain and Swamp Thing, the artist is perfect for the story.

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jane 2 years, 7 months ago

I forgot this was in black and white.

Very nice cliffhanger.

Love that we're in that sweet spot of Moore I was reading back in college. Brings back so many memories. So what is it about V that's so much more inspiring than, say, Batman? The stark realism of fascist Britain versus the impossible villains of Gotham?

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Anton B 2 years, 7 months ago

That and the fact that V's real identity remains an enigma; allowing an amount of cross cultural/gender/race reader identification that 'millionaire orphan Bruce Wayne' can never provide. He represents more than the standard triumph of the nerd (well read in the classics but also a pop culture afficionado) over the bully. Notice how the fascist state is shown as having already won. It's got rid of the left wing, intellectuals, ethnic minorities and LGBTs and is now floundering around looking for something to hit. V provides them with that focus without ever revealing what, apart from his visual uniqueness (which is in itself a piece of English retro mythologising), has motivated his animosity.

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Nicholas Tosoni 2 years, 7 months ago

Oh, my God, he's tackling "V For Vendetta!"

Permission to squee?

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

Granted.

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Nyq Only 2 years, 7 months ago

I think it is such a sad dystopia. It doesn't feel like some massive conspiracy or something like the Party in 1984 that seems to actively enjoy the crushing brutality it creates. Instead the fascist Britain in V for Vendetta has a feel of a society that ran out of ideas. The Fawkes masked protagonist in contrast is a creative force that surrounds themselves with ideas and evocative images.

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Ice 2 years, 7 months ago

It's kind of a society that didn't MEAN to be a 1984 style dystopia, but ended up that way anyway because of fear and bad choices. That's why it's sad, I think.

And, that's why I think it's one of the more believable sci-fi dystopias I've read. A world like that of V For Vendetta could be just a few bad elections and a sufficiently scared populace away.

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John Seavey 2 years, 7 months ago

@Nyq Only: Oh, definitely definitely definitely. The scene where Winston is tortured could never happen in 'V for Vendetta', because the torturers in 'V' are afraid too. Everyone is going through the motions because they're all afraid of someone else, even the Head himself in some ways. There's nobody who imagines a boot stamping on a human face forever--they can't even picture tomorrow.

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Spoilers Below 2 years, 7 months ago

Ah, V. Fantastic!

I can't wait until we get to the part about hunting alligators in the sewers, or the scene at the ballet, or the bits about the Herero Wars, or the truth about the "Kilroy was here" graffiti... Don't much fancy rereading the rhinoplasty section, though. That part always squicked me out.

Love this book!

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Alex 2 years, 7 months ago

Evey's flat doesn't look too bad by the standards of a 2014 low-income private-rental in London!

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inkdestroyedmybrush 2 years, 7 months ago

its going to be tough to try to document all the amazing graphic short hand that Lloyd uses over the course of V. He took a style that could have been exceptionally limiting from the first couple of chapters and took it much much further than most artists would have. Yes, Moore's work here is staggering, but Lloyd's is equally so. And he's a great guy.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 7 months ago

Pedantry alert: prerogative, not perogative.

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Shane Cubis 2 years, 7 months ago

Settle down, Britney Spears. ;)

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Wolfboy 2 years, 7 months ago

To be fair, I was about to say the same thing. Since Philip used "perogative" twice I had to check that it wasn't a direct quote from the Fingermen being illiterate. But no.

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Hunter 2 years, 7 months ago

I dream of the day when we will have a proper B&W reprint of that whole story.

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Daru 2 years, 5 months ago

Like yourself Jane, I read this when I was at college and have fond memories of spending hours being absorbed by V and the beautifully textured ink work.

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Daru 2 years, 5 months ago

Loving the V for Vendetta stretch (squeeing at the whole of the War).

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