Previously in Last War in Albion: The Wachowskis oversaw a V for Vendetta film that heavily altered Moore’s story, making it into a Bush-era political allegory with a strong queer subtext. Moore wasn’t thrilled.
A man sits in silent contemplation of its dark secrets and exotic conjurations, his face lined and weary, aged by the devilish nature of his studies. – Steve Moore, Father Shandor: Demon Stalker
Amidst the merchandising generated by the film was a novelization of the movie script. This would usually be a banal bit of ephemera, but in the case of V for Vendetta it proved a curious and interesting detail of the overall event that was the movie by dint of the fact that it was written by Steve Moore. This immediately gave it a credibility and importance that movie novelizations generally lack, simply because it carried a tacit stamp of approval, or, at least, grudging tolerance from Alan Moore, without whose blessing there is no remotely plausible way that Steve Moore would have proceeded with the project. Moore’s assent was surely less about actually supporting the idea of a novel based on the script based on the disowned comic he’d written fifteen years ago than about supporting his best friend getting some money, but the fact remains that Steve Moore’s involvement meant that the novel served, at least in part, as Moore’s camp getting to put its own spin on the Wachowskis’ adaptation.
Those looking for scandal or for a “correction” to the Wachowskis’ version of the story will be largely disappointed. Save for one moment in which he impishly flags a major plot hole in the script by having Finch notice that the claim that the experiments on V were to produce the virus that Norsefire used to rise to power made no chronological sense (almost certainly what Alan Moore was talking about when he described “plot holes you couldn’t have got away with in Whizzer And Chips” given that he later noted that his friend had “done such a brilliant job on the novelization of the V for Vendetta film—even fixing a plot hole in the original screenplay for them”) and conclude that V’s account can’t be entirely honest, the novel is largely a faithful and straightforward adaptation of the film script, written in a breezy and direct prose style that reads fast and with clarity, working with an omniscient narrator who flits easily among viewpoint characters. If anything, it’s fair to criticize the novel for holding too closely to the at times drab liberalism of the Wachowskis’ vision—passages like one that describes Gordon’s satirical attacks on Chancellor Sutler as “satirical antics that, in many ways, were just as damaging to the powers that be” as V’s manifestos.
Still, there are clear moments where he puts his own spin on events. This is clear from the beginning—after opening with the evocative and scene-painting fragment, “A strange, shadowy room, somewhere deep beneath the streets of London,” Moore continues with a bit of historical context that’s utterly absent from the film, which spends a couple minutes informing its presumed American audience who Guy Fawkes is but makes no effort to speak of “old, old London that had seen so much, in two thousand years of war and terror and despair. Founded by the conquering legions of imperial Rome and, within twenty years, reduced to ash by raging Boadicea, who, in her fury, killed eighty thousand of her own country-men and hardly touched the Roman lords at all. Abandoned to the Saxons, decimated by the Black Death, erased once more in the Great Fire, shattered yet again by Hermann Göring’s Luftwaffe.” It’s a small thing, but it’s also a correction back towards the sense of Britishness that Moore had complained the Wachowskis had eliminated from his story. Elsewhere, he takes a moment to reject the suggestion that Gordon’s ownership of a Qur’an would be the most inflammatory thing about his possessions, instead asserting that his copy of an overtly anti-Sutcliffe painting would have been the grounds for his execution. (More cheekily, Moore manages to work in the phrase “old gangsters never die,” a sly homage to his friend’s early work.)
The most significant alteration, however, comes in how the novel handles Evey’s rooftop ascension. In the film, the moment is a significant plot beat, and Natalie Portman sells it admirably, although she declines to do the scene nude and the cross-cutting to V, standing amidst the fire in Larkhill and screaming, introduces an unintended splash of bathos to proceedings. But film necessarily lacks the interiority that can be provided by prose, and so the sense of transcendent revelation is necessarily muted. In the comic Moore handled this by having V speaking to Evey through the whole thing, but the Wachowskis, presumably fearing this would make the scene about V and not Evey, opt against this solution, leaving the scene further hollow. Steve Moore, however, corrects decisively for it with a lengthy passage focused on Evey’s interiority, indeed adding in much of the explicitly magical resonances that Moore, not yet conscious of his status as a magician, could not have inserted in 1985. He expands Evey’s line that “God is in the rain,” an addition by the Wachowskis to Valerie’s letter, into a mystic pantheism: “God, however you thought of Him or Her or It, was undoubtedly in the rain… in the clouds, the trees, the buildings, the people… in the rat… in everything. And everything too was God,” expanding explicitly to a validation of all religions. V, meanwhile, reflects on his own ascension, remembering it as “An inferno. Not just in the sense of a mighty fire, but in the original meaning of the word: a blazing hell. But some how too, a purifying, alchemical flame that burned away the dross of the world, the slag, and left only the silver and the gold.” This addition—particularly the focus on the alchemic derivation of silver and gold—has clear roots in the Moores’ shared magical experiences.
The result of all of this is to highlight both the ways in which the Wachowskis departed from Alan Moore’s original vision and the ways in which that vision is simply irreducible from V for Vendetta. But more than that, it serves as a link from the film, which served as the most popular and widely familiar version of the narrative, back to its absolute earliest days. Steve Moore, after all, was not merely a close friend of Alan Moore going back to when the comic was written—he was the man who helped him get his earliest work, including bringing him to the attention of Dez Skinn when he was putting Warrior together. And Steve Moore had been a major fixture of that magazine, working both under his own name to write Father Shandor, Demon Stalker and under the pen name Pedro Henry to write Laser Eraser and Pressbutton, the latter character being one he co-created with Alan Moore. And within V for Vendetta he was the clear reason why Evey had grown up on Shooter Hill, and bears a non-trivial resemblance to how David Lloyd ended up drawing Evey’s father. He was a central figure of the world out of which V for Vendetta originated, and his role as author of its less heralded third version is a wholly fitting closing of a circle.
His novelization, however, would eventually became part of a much larger and explosive fallout from the V for Vendetta movie—one whose ramifications would take a few years to emerge. In 2012, following DC’s commencement of the Before Watchmen project, which marked a major shift in their treatment of the Watchmen characters into treating them like any other corporately owned characters as opposed to as creator-owned characters they could simply control indefinitely, the small press Seraphemera Books conducted a lengthy interview with Alan Moore to give him the opportunity to share his perspective on these events. This interview covered a wide amount of ground, and revealed new depths in Moore’s falling out with DC and the larger damage of it.
First and foremost, it revealed that in the wake of the V for Vendetta film Moore’s relationship with David Lloyd unraveled. Moore, in the course of explaining how his one request to Dave Gibbons regarding the Watchmen film was that Gibbons call him to thank him when Moore’s share of the royalties arrived “because Dave Lloyd never did. Dave Lloyd took the money and then went around badmouthing me at these little comic conventions that he goes to—including on one occasion, apparently, sitting a table away from my daughter, Leah. I presume it was that stage of the evening where he was, perhaps a bit relaxed and refreshed. He was proclaiming in an over-loud voice about my many, many faults as a human being while Leah sat there. She knew what he thought, so she just rolled her eyes and ignored him. But, like I said, Dave Lloyd hadn’t phoned up and thanked me. So, I really didn’t want anything more to do with him.” This, however, was simply a stop-off in the course of explaining the disintegration of his friendship with Dave Gibbons, which came in part as an extension of the V for Vendetta movie.
As Moore tells it—and his is the only extant account—the problem began when Steve Moore called him to let him know that he’d been offered a job writing a computer game adaptation of Watchmen to tie in with the movie. This was surprising in several regards, not least because, as Moore noted, Steve Moore “had not had any work in the couple of years that had elapsed since I’d said “Right, I’m just going to finish my work at WildStorm and that’s it.” It was the same for all of the writers I was using on America’s Best Comics. When I wrapped up the ABC line, all of a sudden none of those writers were given any work, which I assumed was some sort of blacklisting. It might not have been, but it was just kind of odd that all of a sudden the work dried up for everybody.” The key detail, however, in both Moores’ minds, was that the offer specifically contained the note that “We haven’t told Alan yet.” In Moore’s assessment, “what DC was probably trying to do there was to offer Steve some work for which they presumed he’d be desperate, get him to accept it, and then present it to me as a fait accompli. That way, I couldn’t make any noise about it without depriving my oldest friend of money and employment in his hour of need.” Steve Moore, in any case, refused the job on principle, refusing to go beyond his friend’s back like that.
Nevertheless, Moore was characteristically incensed, especially as by this point Steve Moore’s brother Chris was terminally ill with motor neuron syndrome, and he viewed DC’s stunt as deeply crass. Accordingly, he “phoned up WildStorm and said, ‘Look, can you pass this on to DC please? I understand what they were doing. I understand that they wanted to present this new Watchmen computer game as a fait accompli. They didn’t know that Steve Moore’s brother is terminally ill, so he’s going to have to look after him until he dies. And, over here at least, we regard something like a terminally ill loved one as more important than the machinations of people who publish Batman comics. So, could you please tell them not to try their slimy little tricks with Steve again, because he’s got a terminally ill brother and, for Christ’s sake, just leave it out.’”
Shortly after this, however, Steve Moore was offered a gig writing a novelization of the Watchmen film, which Moore enthusiastically blessed (as he had the V for Vendetta novelization), and which Steve Moore was quite grateful to given his brother’s health and the fact that other work had dried up. Not long after that, Dave Gibbons came to Moore with DC’s proposal for a Tales of the Black Freighter comic comprised of the relevant portions of Watchmen. How exactly this was supposed to work, given that much of the text of Tales of the Black Freighter appeared as counterpoint over other scenes and thus doesn’t have appropriate art, is unclear, and it’s unsurprising that Moore saw this as “a fairly stupid and unworkable idea.” Still, Moore gave his usual answer: just make sure his name wasn’t on it. Gibbons, in reply, said, “that’s good. DC said you would be quietly compliant,” which Moore was nonplussed by. Gibbons further explained that the idea was to run the comic as being by Max Shea and Walt Feinberg, as per the comic, which Moore objected to as it wouldn’t make clear that he wasn’t involved, requesting a specific “un-embarrassing, small print thing on the inside front cover of the thing saying that Alan Moore is not participating in this comic or anything to do with the film.” Not long after, however, Steve Moore was informed that the Watchmen novelization was cancelled. [continued]