Through Powdered Teeth (The Last War in Albion Part 77: Valerie)

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Last War in Albion will now be running on Thursdays.

This is the fifth 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 AlbionMoore's second book of V for Vendetta largely sidelined the title character in favor of focusing on Evey Hammond, the girl he rescued in the first chapter.

"We gasped upon Devonian beaches, huddled under Neolithic stars. Spat blood through powdered teeth, staining each other as we kissed. Always we loved. How could we otherwise, when you are so like me, my sweet, but in a different guise?" - Alan Moore, The Mirror of Love

Figure 584: The title character makes a fleeting appearance in
Book Two, tacitly answering Gordon's question. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by David Lloyd, from "Variety" in Warrior #19, 1984)
The next few chapters focus on her life with Gordon up until he’s killed when a deal goes wrong and she attempts to avenge him before apparently being arrested. 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.”) as Evey observes the various patrons: Rose Almond being tossed out because her card is overdrawn, an associate of Gordon’s named Robert being told by Almond’s replacement at the Finger that he’ll no longer be honoring their deal to keep his elderly mother out of a home (“Homes? They’re gas chambers!” Robert exclaims, to which Creedy responds, “Not gas. If you want the truth, Robert, there’s just three good South Ken boys with iron bars.”), and another associate from Scotland named Ally Harper, who will turn out to be Gordon’s murderer next chapter. This selection of petty and everyday degradations offers a perspective not really seen yet within V for Vendetta, one that pays off its original conception as a 1930s mystery strip in the noir tradition, and culminates in Robert having a breakdown, shouting to the bar that “we shouldn’t have to live like this” and that “I wish the bastard bomb had ‘it bastard London. That’s what I wish. I wish we were all dead!” at which point the Fingermen in the bar surround him and beat him. Evey and Gordon head out to the street, sickened by what they’ve seen, with Evey asking Gordon, “he’s right, wasn’t he? We shouldn’t have to live like this,” to which Gordon replies that, “no, kid, we shouldn’t. What are you going to do about it,” as the perspective pulls back, revealing V on a rooftop above and offering a tacit answer to Gordon’s question. 

Figure 585: The beginning of Valerie's note.
(Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from
"Vermin" in Warrior #24, 1984)
But in many ways the heart of Book Two, and indeed of V for Vendetta as a whole is the four chapter stretch following Evey’s apparent arrest as she attempts to murder Gordon’s killer. The first is a hallucinatory dream sequence entitled “Vicissitude” in which the various men in Evey’s life - her father, Gordon, and V blur together along with the bishop who was going to molest Evey when she went undercover for V, becoming an unsettling dreamscape of exploitation and degradation, ending with her being grabbed by V (in a panel Lloyd tellingly draws to perfectly mirror her arrest in the previous chapter) and then waking up in a prison cell. The next chapter, “Vermin,” depicts Evey in a squalid cell, obsessing over the rat, and finally being taken out and interrogated over her associations with V and her attempted murder of Harper, although they instead accuse her of planning to murder Creedy, on the grounds that he is “a frequent customer of the Kitty Kat Keller.” They then blindfold her and shave her head and dump her back in her cell with the rat. “Only now I don’t mind the rat,” she narrates, “because I’m no better.” In the chapter’s closing panels, she discovers a letter, scrawled on toilet paper, written by a woman named Valerie.

Figure 586: Evey cowers within her cell. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by David Lloyd, from "Valerie" in Warrior #25, 1984)
The next chapter, entitled “Valerie,” is one of the most extraordinary works of Alan Moore’s career. The timeframe in which it takes place is left deliberately vague, a fact emphasized by Evey’s narration on the first page: “I know every inch of this cell. I know every pitted indentation in the rough plaster like I know my own body. I don’t know where I am. I know it gets dark and then light; that I wake then sleep; that time passes measured in hair growing back beneath my arms where they won’t let me shave. I don’t know what day it is.” Her only comfort and sanity is the letter she found at the end of the previous chapter. “I read her letter,” Evey continues, “I hide it, I sleep, I wake, they question me, I cry, it gets dark, it gets light, I read her letter again… over and over…” while the art depicts her seated in front of a bowl of water, with a guard who shoves her head into it to torture her, hammering home the cruel and cyclic nature of her abuse.

Figure 587: Evey being tortured. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd,
from "Valerie" in Warrior #25, 1984)
The text of the letter is in fact begun at the end of the previous installment, in a panel drawn from Evey’s perspective as she discovers it. Its desperate tone mirrors Evey’s own misery. “I have a pencil,” Valerie writes, “a little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the
Figure 588: Valerie caresses her
first girlfriend's hand. (Written by
Alan Moore, art by Tony Weare, from
"Valerie" in Warrior #25, 1984)
only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper,” a harrowing set of details that reinforces the sense of routine depravity implicit in this regime of pointless and repetitive torture, such that the single interrogation depicted within it stands in for countless others before and after.

The second page opens with a close-up of the page shown at the end of the previous chapter, before continuing the text of Valerie’s letter, with the art switching to some fill-in art from Tony Weare (who previously drew a few pages of Chapter Five, as well as the interstitial “Vincent”) depicting the autobiography Valerie narrates. She was born, the letter says, in 1957, twenty-four years before Evey, in Nottingham. “I met my first girlfriend at school,” she says. “Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class. Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful,” Valerie says, as Weare draws a close-up panel of two feminine hands resting comfortably and intimately against each other. 

Figure 589: "Valerie" featured art from Tony Weare,
whose scratchier style was a contrast with David Lloyd's.
(Written by Alan Moore, from Warrior #25, 1984)
She tells of coming out to her parents at the age of nineteen when she “took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents.” Weare, whose scratchier and looser style results in somewhat more expressive faces than the eye-bulging grotesques of David Lloyd, depicts the shocked reactions of her parents, and Valerie confirms
that “my mother said I broke her heart. But,” she continues, as Weare draws a landscape shot of Valerie standing at a rail, looking over a pond, with roses growing in the near ground, “it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little. But it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…” she continues, and then the final panel returns to David Lloyd’s art, picking up in the exact instant that the first page left off, with Evey’s head plunged into the water, as the narration concludes that “within that inch we are free.”

Figure 590: Evey's head is violently pulled back above water, interrupting
her recollection of Valerie's letter. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David
Lloyd, from "Valerie" in Warrior #25, 1984)
With this, the scene returns to Evey’s torture. Her head is held underwater for one more panel before her interrogator curtly says, “alright” and she is yanked back up, water streaming from her face, which is contorted in pain. “Let’s review the facts,” her interrogator continues, and outlines a wholly erroneous account of how “Codename V” gave her orders to murder Peter Creedy. Her interrogator is entirely faceless, depicted by Lloyd as a straight black silhouette over a starkly white panel, so white that it swallows the outline of his text bubbles. He never asks what happened - merely presents a narrative and gives her the opportunity to assent to the lies within.

Figure 591: As Evey's head is shoved back under the water, her recollections
resume. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd, from "Valerie" in Warrior
#25, 1984)
Every does not, insisting, “No! No, please, that isn’t true.” Her interrogator, in a show of mock pity, simply says, “oh dear. Rossiter.” It is not a question, and the guard behind Evey responds with a simple “sir.” Evey begins to scream and beg, but to no avail - the guard grabs her by the back of the head and shoves her face back into the water, drowning her again. The narration from Valerie’s letter starts up again: “London: I was happy in London.”

Figure 592: Valerie and Ruth hold each other as the war
breaks out, with roses in the foreground. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Tony Weare, from "Valerie" in Warrior #25, 1984)
And so the action cuts back to Valerie’s story, with another page of her autobiography presented as text, telling about how “in 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rusting and busy with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all that breathless glamour.” She talks of her early forrays into London’s gay scene, and her frustrations with and sense of alienation from it. “So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life. Their ambition. All they talked about. And I wanted more than that,” she says. In 1986, she says, she got a role in a film called The Salt Flats, where she met a woman named Ruth and began an affair. “We lived together,” she says, “and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god we had so much. Those were the best years of my life.” 

Figure 593: The marching Norsefire crowd transitions to Evey's torture.
(Written by Alan Moore, art by Tony Weare and David Lloyd, from "Valerie"
in Warrior #25, 1984)
This section, for attentive readers, offers a number of clues as to what is happening. The Salt Flats is the film that V stole a poster for back in Chapter Two of Book Two, and the image of roses has throughout the book been closely linked with V, who left flowers besides his early victims, and who spent his time in Larkhill gardening and growing roses. The significance of this is further emphasized by the next panel, featuring Valerie and Ruth shown from behind, cuddling on a sofa and watching the news, with three roses in the foreground. “In 1988 there was the war,” Valerie narrates, “and after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody,” the final two panels of the page showing a massive parade of men in Norsefire uniforms, marching left to right across the panel, such that the final panel, another shot of the guard drowning Evey, serves as the symbolic head of their pack.

Figure 594: Evey's torture is contrasted with the narration of Valerie's
letter detailing her own torture. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David
Lloyd, from "Valerie" in Warrior #25, 1984)
The fifth page returns to the scenes of Evey’s torture, as she’s pulled out of the bowl, blindfolded, and shoved back into her cell. But the text continues Valerie’s story, describing how “in 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us,” she asks. As Evey is tortured and shoved around, Valerie talks about how Ruth was tortured into giving up Valerie’s name and claiming she had seduced her. “I didn’t blame her,” Valerie insists. “But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me. With giving up that last inch.” Valerie tells of her own capture - of how “they shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago.”

Figure 595: Evey, abandoned once again in her
cell. (Written by Alan Moore, art by David Lloyd,
from "Valerie" in Warrior #25, 1984)
This last point once again serves as a clue for attentive readers, being the second mention of Rita within V for Vendetta. The previous one came up at the end of Book One, as Finch is reading Adam Susan excerpts from Dr. Surridge’s diary of her time at Larkhill, which include the off-handed comment that “Rita Boyd, the Lesbian, died at tea-time. During the autopsy we found four tiny festigial fingers forming within the calf of her leg. Given that V burnt Larkhill to the ground in his escape, it is impossible that Valerie’s toilet paper autobiography could have survived, or that Evey could actually be imprisoned there. But this clue is subtle and overwhelmed by the images of Evey’s degradation and the stark, awful blacks of the cell she is shoved back into. “It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place,” Valerie’s narration continues, “but for three years I had roses and I apologised to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish.” The page ends with a medium shot of Evey, contorted in pain within her darkened cell, as Valerie’s narration continues: “except one.” 

Figure 596: Evey sits in her cell, reading Valerie's letter, alongside
reprises of earlier panels. (Written by Alan Moore, art by Tony Weare
and David Lloyd, from "Valerie" in Warrior #25, 1984)
After these five pages alternating between illustrating Valerie’s life and illustrating the horrors of Evey’s captivity, the chapter concludes with a final page that alternates between them. “An inch,” Valerie writes, over a reprise of the panel of Valerie and Sara’s hands touching in Miss Watson’s class. “It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us,” she continues, over a small panel of Evey’s weary and exhausted face reading the letter yet again. 

Figure 597: Evey kisses the bottom
of the letter, where Valerie left a
single X. (Written by Alan Moore, art
by David Lloyd, from "Valerie" in
Warrior #25, 1984)
This is followed by a reprise of the image of Valerie standing by a pond watching the birds, a rosebush behind her, as her narration continues: “I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or woman. I may never see you. I will never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope that you escape this place,” she writes, as the art switches back to Evey, now in medium shot, sitting on her wooden cot, the toilet paper scroll hanging from her hands, an isolated and haggard figure in her chiaroscuro cell. “I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again.” Valerie makes her final appearance in the next panel, a close-up of her, still standing at the rail, watching the ducks. “I wish I could kiss you,” she writes, and then signs her letter, “Valerie,” the text positioned in the top-right corner of the panel. In the bottom-right, a final note - a single “x” to represent the kiss she can never give to the reader she will never know she has. 

Figure 598: Evey's last inch. (Written by Alan Moore, art
by David Lloyd, from "Valerie" in Warrior #25, 1984)
The art cuts back to Evey for the final row of panels, her face in shadow, a single tear visible, the narration returning to her instead of simply her quoting Valerie. “I know every inch of this cell,” she thinks, as she holds the scrap of toilet paper up, her face shrunken and lined with wrinkles that should be impossible for a woman who is only sixteen years old, and kisses it softly on the x. “This cell knows every inch of me.” And a final panel, her eyes and nose, weathered, single tear still suspended on her face, the edges of it simply fading out to the stark and infinite whiteness of the page. 

“Except one.”

Comments

encyclops 2 years, 3 months ago

This really is the sequence that takes V for Vendetta from being just a really solid, thought-provoking story of resistance to being one of a handful of definitive examples, up there with 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale. It is at once so moving, so beautiful that words fail at describing it, and so intensely cruel once you realize who is torturing her and the lengths they're going to.

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ferret 2 years, 3 months ago

Was glad to see they nailed this sequence in the film - I though they'd excise it, but it was one of it's highlights for me. The person I saw it with hadn't read V for Vendetta, and they were properly shocked at the reveal.

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jane 2 years, 3 months ago

At the reveal, back in the late 80s, reading it in a dorm room with my boyfriend, the most shocking thought I had was wishing that someone would do for me what they did for her.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 3 months ago

...torture you? :-/

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storiteller 2 years, 3 months ago

I just read V for the first time, although I had seen the movie. While I didn't remember much of the movie, I did vaguely remember that it was V who had imprisoned Evey rather than the actual police. What I didn't remember was this scene with Valerie. And it was so powerful and moving that I wanted V himself/herself to be Valerie. That the story was V's story, that she didn't die. I think perhaps that is my head-canon, in fact, that V is lying about the story and it was hers all along.

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Daru 2 years, 2 months ago

Beautiful piece of work Phil.

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Daru 2 years, 2 months ago

I remember the effect this sequence had when I read it for the first time. Almost as emotional re-experiencing it her, knowing what comes next.

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Daru 2 years, 2 months ago

I mean here.

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Dr.Ivo 1 year, 8 months ago

Oddly enough it wasn't so much this sequence that hit me emotionally when I first read it, it was that single line a few issues later: "She was the woman in room four" and I've never forgiven the movie adaptation for leaving that line out.

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Dr.Ivo 1 year, 8 months ago

Oddly enough it wasn't so much this sequence that hit me emotionally when I first read it, it was that single line a few issues later: "She was the woman in room four" and I've never forgiven the movie adaptation for leaving that line out.

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