The Breaker of Rules (The Last War in Albion Part 76: This Vicious Cabaret)


This is the fourth 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 AlbionOne of Moore's earliest formally experimental strips was the sixth chapter of V for Vendetta, "Versions," which consisted of two monologues, one by Adam Susan, the fascist leader of Great Britain, the other by V. This script was a replacement script after Moore and Lloyd decided that Moore's first effort, to be called "Violence," was not good enough.

"Nomax the Rebel! Nomax the Breaker of Rules!" - Grant Morrison, Annihilator

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.”

In this regard, perhaps the most significant thing about “Versions” is the way in which it depicts, in effect, three possible choices. The first is Adam Susan’s embrace of Fate, which is on one level a literal object in the form of a computer, but on another is clearly meant to include the abstract concept, the notion that outcomes are pre-determined by some outside and higher power being fundamentally in line with the ideology of fascism. The second is Justice, who both V and (in V’s telling at least) Susan aspire towards, but which is also, ultimately, suggested to be a tool of fascism. And the third is V’s new mistress, Anarchy, who, as he puts it, “is honest. She makes no promises and breaks none.” The debate, in other words, is not even about the practical manifestations of anarchism or fascism as political ideologies, but one about the abstract values themselves, with V’s position being, in effect, that Anarchy, unlike Fate and Justice, cannot be corrupted. It is, in other words, specifically because Anarchy exists on an almost purely ideological level, with no materialist “promises,” that it is valued. This is a significant change from the original “Violence” script, which focused almost entirely on the pragmatics of the conflict between V and the fascists, and goes a long way towards answering David Lloyd’s longstanding curiosity as to “why Alan hadn’t met the exacting standards I knew he always expected from himself” on the unused chapter - because it represented, on Moore’s part, a fundamental misunderstanding of what his own comic was about, and it was not until he worked through that misunderstanding with “Versions” that he finally realized that V for Vendetta was not primarily a book about appropriate tactics of resistance, but rather a book about why resistance is valuable in the first place.

For all that Moore’s style evolves over the early installments of V for Vendetta, however, it remains the case that Book One is in many ways a simple and straightforward thing. This is perhaps inevitable. Moore only came to fully understand the comic over the course of writing Book One, after all. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Book One is in effect a fairly simple revenge plot focusing on the eponymous vendetta. It jumps around a couple of perspectives in a clever way, but in the end it’s just the tale of an anonymous vigilante killing a bunch of fascists, with a reveal of his origin story at the end. There are moments of real cleverness - the tenderness between V and his final victim, for instance, is surprising and genuinely unsettling, especially after the cruel yet thrilling poetic justice dished out to, for example, the Bishop of Westminster, who’s killed with a poisoned communion wafer that V challenges him to transubstantiate. And V’s origin, as a concentration camp survivor apparently driven mad by an experimental hormone-based treatment that killed the other forty-seven test subjects, is suitably chilling, playing off of the World War II origins of the superhero genre to which V for Vendetta is tacitly connected, but drawing from the darkest and most horrific parts of that iconography. But ultimately, for all that V talks about an underlying philosophy to his actions, Book One of the story is focused entirely on a personal vendetta, the nature of which is revealed in the telling, which makes it a somewhat self-absorbed narrative.

Figure 577: "This Vicious Cabaret" presented its narrative paralleled with
sheet music. (Written by Alan Moore and David J, art by David Lloyd,
from Warrior #12, 1983)
Book Two, however, which commenced with a prelude in Warrior #12, published in August of 1983, is an entirely different story. Where the first book was on the whole a straightforward action story, the second book is altogether more complex thing. This is clear from its opening section, entitled “This Vicious Cabaret,” and presented as a series of images of various characters as they left off at the end of the previous installment, juxtaposed with narration on V’s part in the form of a cabaret song, with sheet music for the vocal line, composed by Bauhaus’s bassist, David J. It’s an aggressively experimental opening, but in some ways its most radical aspect is clear only in implication. The structure of “This Vicious Cabaret” consists of windows on all of the major characters: Eric Finch, the “policeman with an honest soul that has seen whose head is on the pole” and who “grunts and fills his briar bowl with a feeling of unease,” Adam Susan, the “master in the dark nearby” who “inspects the hands with brutal eye that have never brushed a lover’s thigh but have squeezed a nation’s throat,” Evey, who “doubts her hosts moralities” but who “decides that she is more at ease in the land of doing-as-you-please than outside in the cold,” and, perhaps most significantly, Rose Almond, battered widow of the now late Derek Almond (killed by V in the climax of Book One), who the lyrics prophesize “will be dressed in garter and bow-tie and be taught to kick [her] legs up high in this vicious cabaret,” an addition that presages her becoming a significant character in a way that she was not in Book One.

Figure 578: The only panels in which V is straightforwardly the subject
in "This Vicious Cabaret" are extreme close-ups and shots that don't show
his face. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from Warrior #12, 1983)
But in many ways the most notable thing about “This Vicious Cabaret” is the character who isn’t quite depicted, V himself. It’s not that V is absent from the chapter, but rather that he looms over it, appearing only as a pair of hands playing the piano, in tight close-ups on his mask, or in a series of panels in which he appears within a crowd scene and, eventually, adjusts one of the figures, revealing them all to be plastic dummies. This is an apt enough metaphor - although he’s the title character and ostensible protagonist, V spends this prelude markedly outside the world upon which he comments. In some ways this has always been true - V’s mysterious nature requires, after all, that the narrative never get too far into his head, and even Book One regularly opted to focus on other characters, which really is a sensible move when one considers that the title character has a completely static face and a habit of talking in quotes. 

Figure 579: Evey abandoned. (Written by Alan Moore, art
by David Lloyd, from Warrior #13, 1983)
But Book Two ultimately sidelines him even further. The first installment consists entirely of a conversation between V and Evey that culminates in V blindfolding Evey and leading her outside. This culminates in an elaborate sequence in which Lloyd’s panels draw ever closer on Evey, so that it’s impossible to tell what’s happening to her or where she’s being led, while a recorded voice begins reciting bits of dialogue from Book One, specifically the scenes in which Evey offers to help V, and later vows not to kill anymore. Eventually Evey removes the blindfold in frustration, discovering herself to be standing outside on a street, with V seemingly standing in the middle of the road a few feet away. But V, after reciting a bit of dialogue from Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree and answering Evey’s earlier question as to whether he was her father (he denies it), turns out to not be V at all, but to just be a mask, hat, and cloak draped around a wooden stand with a tape recorder underneath, with the chapter ending on a wide shot of the street, Evey barely distinct in the midground asking, in tiny Jenny O’Connor letters, “V?”

Figure 580: Top - V inspects the movie poster for
The Salt Flats. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd,
from "The Veil" in Warrior #14, 1983) Bottom - the logo for
The Spiral Path.
The second chapter, driven by an internal monologue on the part of Rose Almond at her late husband’s funeral, only features V in nine panels, in which he visits an old movie theater and takes a film poster for a film called The Salt Flats, which appears in every regard to be a perfectly ordinary film poster like many of the others that V has in the Shadow Gallery, although a handful of details like the fact that it was apparently nominated for Best Picture in 1986 (three years after the comic’s publication) and the fact that the film’s logo is curiously in the exact same font as another series appearing in Warrior, Steve Parkhouse’s The Spiral Path.

Figure 581: V presents an informational film to the British
public. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd,
from "A Vocational Viewpoint," in Warrior #16, 1983)

The third and fourth installments are largely focused on V. The first, “Video,” is the aforementioned segment consisting almost entirely of dialogue from television broadcasts, in which V breaks into the broadcasting station and takes control of the television broadcast, while the second, “A Vocational Viewpoint,” consists entirely of the monologue V subsequently delivers to the people of England, telling them, “I’m not entirely satisfied with your performance lately… I’m afraid your work’s been slipping, and… well, I’m afraid we’ve been thinking of letting you go.” He reminisces about “the day you commenced your employment, swinging down from the trees, fresh-faced and nervous, a bone clasped in your bristling fist.” But, V complains, humanity has a “basic unwillingness to get on within the company. You don’t seem to want to face up to your real responsibility, or to be your own boss.” He allows that “the management is very bad” and that “we’ve had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions,” but even this he blames on the broad population who “appointed these people” and “who gave them the power to make decisions for you. While I’ll admit that anyone can make a mistake once, to go on making the same lethal errors century after century seems to me nothing short of deliberate.” And, V insists, humanity had a choice. “You could have stopped them. All you had to say was ‘no.’ You have no spine. You have no pride. You are no longer an asset to the company.” But, he says, he will nevertheless give people “two years to show me some improvement in your work” before armed guards finally burst into the room he’s broadcasting from and open fire on him, sending him toppling through a window to his apparent demise.

Figure 582: V did not make a substantive
appearance between December 1983 and
November 1988.
This bracing chapter serves two main purposes. The first is a more thorough statement of the book’s philosophical themes, which goes considerably further than “Versions,” the previous chapter to spell them out at any length. This, along with the shift in focus to include Rose Almond as one of the series’ primary characters, speaks to the way in which Moore was trying to broaden the sense of what V for Vendetta could do in the second book. The second is to give the main character an impressive send-off before he’s largely removed from the strip. The possibility that V has actually died is not entertained for long - the reader discovers in the next installment that the dead man is in fact Roger Dashcombe, the fascist regime’s minister of propaganda, and Rose Almond’s new lover following V’s murder of her husband. But save for a two panel, wordless appearance at the end of Chapter Six in which his face isn’t even shown and a four-page, completely wordless fill-in chapter drawn by Tony Weare instead of David Lloyd, V made no appearances between his apparent death in Warrior #16, published in December 1983 and the final page of the installment in Warrior #26, published in February 1985, where he appears unexpectedly in a final page splash. This was also the final issue of Warrior entirely, and V would not appear again until the final two installments of Book Two were published by DC in November 1988’s V for Vendetta #7, nearly five years after he essentially disappeared from his own strip.

Figure 583: Fascist cabaret dancing. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by David Lloyd, from "Variety" in Warrior #19, 1984)
The eight chapters between V’s broadcast and his re-emergence are for the most part focused on Evey, although Chapter Five opens with a four page section focusing on Eric Finch’s enforced vacation after he angrily decked Almond’s replacement on the Finger. The remaining two pages introduce a new character - a small time criminal named Gordon who, in the chapter’s final panels, turns out to be housing Evey, unseen since V abandoned her in a street four chapters earlier. The next few chapters focus on her life with Gordon up until he’s killed when a deal goes wrong and she is arrested trying to avenge him. The most interesting of these is probably Chapter Six, “Variety,” which takes place within The Kitty-Kat Keller, a gentleman’s club in which an unnamed dancer goose-steps to a fascist cabaret song (“So if some blonde and blue eyed boy / would care to teach me strength through joy / and see that all my liberal tendencies are cured; / if it should be decreed by fate / that you invade my neighbouring state / then you will find my frontiers open, rest assured.”) [continued]


Eric Gimlin 6 years ago

Haven't had that much to say yet on V, although I will before you're done with this chapter. (I really should pull out my WARRIOR run and re-read the part you're covering here before too much longer, though.) Which is not to say I'm not enjoying it so far.

I did have one suggestion; though: Given that you post your comic reviews early on Wednesday now, have you considered moving Last War to Tuesday? That would give it a full day in the spotlight instead of 12-16 hours.

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John Peacock 6 years ago

Would it be churlish to point out that the Salt Flats / Spiral Path logos probably match because in the pre DTP days, Letraset was quite expensive, and, well, waste not want not?

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