Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

FiVe Faces of Alan Moore’s SaVior

Jerry Stratton, February 21, 2024

V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Twilight of the Superheroes, and Promethea: There’s a little Jack the Ripper in all of Alan Moore’s best work. He appears to be obsessed with the idea of individuals ushering in a new era of human flourishing by means of secrecy, manipulation, and bloodshed. A new world requires a blood sacrifice, and Moore’s promethean protagonists are willing to provide one.

Whether it works or not.

Moore is not alone among British comic book writers in using superheroes as a means to examine forced transformations of humanity. Grant Morrison’s Zenith and The Invisibles both showed us a war between two forces seeking to overturn humanity; his Doom Patrol featured a weird team seeking to maintain normality in the face of unimaginable change. His Animal Man sought to overturn the very reader of the comic, using possibly the most normal superhero in DC’s pantheon.

But Alan Moore takes the fantastic world of superheroes and crafts direct allegories with the real world more in the lines of a Shakespeare than Morrison’s Hieronymus Bosch.

Even his most psychedelic, Morrison-like comic, Promethea, still features a believable protagonist who craves normality. His most famous comic, Watchmen, is about a handful of individual heroes without the moral strength to oppose the villain’s manipulation. It’s a reverse of his inaugural V for Vendetta which is less about individualism than about one individual strongman. V and Veidt are arguably, like Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion, the same person from different worlds. Yet, while Watchmen’s Veidt is ostensibly the comic book’s villain and V for Vendetta’s V is ostensibly the comic book’s hero, in both cases that status is ambiguous.

V’s enemy is a government put in power/allowed to remain in power by the people, who are too lazy, or too concerned with personal comfort, to topple their totalitarians. Veidt’s enemy is the people, who are too lazy or too concerned with personal entertainment to vote for enlightened rulers.

There are a lot of people who think that way. Consider Bill Gates’s funding of research into ways to dim the sun, or any of the many plans to return mankind to a pre-energy-rich state. In some ways, Moore’s Veidt predicted the modern tech billionaire.

I’ll be referring to five comic books throughout this series, as well as one project that never made it beyond a proposal. The comics are V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Miracleman, From Hell, and Promethea. The proposal is Twilight of the Superheroes.

All but Miracleman feature a V-like character. All end up with a bloody transformation of an oppressive regime. The oppression may come from a fascist government, as in V for Vendetta, from royalty, as in From Hell, or even from an overly technological culture, as in Promethea. From Hell features a transformation to both a trend toward fascism in the world and an overly technological culture.

This will be rambling. There will be spoilers. Read the books before you read this. All of them have been collected into trade paperbacks, except Twilight, which is only available in the Library of Dream. I recommend every Moore work referenced here. Regardless of any lessons to be learned, they are all highly entertaining.

April 10, 2024: The Third Face of V: The Freedom to Starve
Adam Susan: The Freedom to Starve: Adam Susan in V for Vendetta: “The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die, the freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow them that freedom? I think not.”; freedom; liberty; Alan Moore; V for Vendetta; David Lloyd

“The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to get sick. Should I allow them that freedom?”

Is V in V for Vendetta good or evil? Do his ends justify his means? Are his ends even desirable? What Norsefire did to bring peace to England and to bring food to the people was horrific. But what V does to Evey is also horrific, on a personal level, and what V does to the people of England is horrific on a mass level. V, Veidt, and Constantine have a vision, but their methods are as much Jack the Ripper as William Withey Gull’s was in the pursuit of his own vision, and may well share nearly as much of Gull’s madness.

We have little sense of how much of what V says is true, and how much he made up to justify his torture of Evey and England. His motto is By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe. V, however, uses everything but the truth in his relationship with Evey, creating a semi-imaginary prison and fake death sentence to indoctrinate her into his own version of anarchy.

Evey even acknowledges the technique: she can’t know if the toilet paper memoirs she read when confined are real. But by then she’s internalized V’s worldview enough that it doesn’t matter. Moore leaves no ambiguity here for the reader: she has been brainwashed, using standard brainwashing techniques.

The Norsefire of V for Vendetta succeeded because people were dying of starvation and failing infrastructure. Under Norsefire the people of England didn’t have the plenty available to the typical eighties comic book reader, but neither were they dying of starvation. By the end of the book, what has V given the people of England? Starvation and a broken infrastructure. And we don’t even know if England is free from tyranny!

The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die, the freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow them that freedom? I think not.—Adam Susan

As presented in V for Vendetta, this could only be a totalitarian thought. But think of what’s happened over the last four years. Should we have allowed people the freedom to catch COVID? Or should we have let them live in the chaos of freedom of movement, freedom of association, and the choice of how, and whether, to protect themselves against sickness?

If asked in the context of the COVID restrictions of 2020 and the vaccine requirements later, a lot of people today agree with Adam Susan’s conclusion. “I think not.”

March 20, 2024: The Second Face of V: The Twilight of Man
Faust: Between you and me, I’m terrified: Faust “I’m a magician. I’m supposed to be prepared for this, and between you and me, lady, I’m not. Between you and me, I’m terrified. Set alone knows how everybody else must be feeling.; Alan Moore; fear; Promethea

Faust quickly loses all control of events in Promethea.

Twilight is difficult to discuss on the same terms as V or Watchmen because it was never written. All we have is Moore’s proposal to DC Comics. We know from Moore’s recounting of the evolutions of both V for Vendetta and Watchmen that his stories change significantly between the idea and the finished product. The proposal is less a story than an attempt to talk a language DC will understand: how much money DC will make if they accept.

It is very clear, however, that Twilight features a manipulative bastard in John Constantine. Constantine is willing to shed any amount of blood to ensure his vision of a better future for humanity. Constantine even chooses to define what it means to be human. He ruthlessly engineers brutal killings of those who he decides are not human, from the metalman Gold to many of the various alien races in the universe.

In a sense, Twilight is what happens after the last page of V for Vendetta, Watchmen, or Miracleman: one decidedly not superior normal human’s attempt to overthrow objectively superior overlords.

By Promethea, Moore may have finally begun to tire of his manipulative Vs, or he may have wanted to capstone these stories with magic as a redemptive power for humanity. Promethea’s closest manipulative analog, Jack Faust, isn’t even a main character. Most of his manipulations of Sophie and Promethea happen off screen, and it’s debatable how much of an effect Faust had on this incarnation of Promethea or on the success of her Promethean task. But Promethea’s new era of human freedom, like that of V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Twilight, still only comes after a lot of carnage and death.

Between you and me, I’m terrified.1

March 6, 2024: The First Face of V: A Crucible of Fire
V walking from the fire: V in V for Vendetta walking from the burning medical experimentation center, a fire that he set.; Alan Moore; V for Vendetta; fire; David Lloyd

V walking from the Larkhill Resettlement Camp after setting it on fire.

In V for Vendetta, our protagonist is V, who is single-handedly and violently using his superpowers to overthrow the established right-wing totalitarian government. In Watchmen, our protagonists are superheroes working to maintain an established right-wing democratic government against the single-handed violent reforms of an enlightened mad scientist.

V is a creature of man. In a way, he’s a Frankenstein’s monster, created by a committee of scientists experimenting on individuals for the betterment of society.1 Veidt, on the other hand, is a creature of God—or fate—who was born with his abilities but believes that he’s self-made. Both Veidt and V are intensely smart. In a sense, both are even forged in a crucible of fire. V started a fire to escape the concentration camp where he was held for experimentation. Veidt’s fire was the Comedian burning a map of the United States.2

This was a critical moment in Watchmen: Veidt had, earlier, been bullied and beaten by the Comedian; knowing what we know about the Comedian, it was probably very brutal. When the Comedian burned the map and told the assembled heroes that “It don’t matter squat because inside thirty years the nukes are gonna be flyin’ like maybugs…”, Veidt could have chosen to ignore it, as the rest of the heroes did. He could have chosen to side with humanity, trusting that humanity’s innate wisdom would eventually overcome this future, as it has—so far—in the real world.

Instead, Veidt chose to side with the bully. He internalized the Comedian’s view of the world and set about to fix the world, regardless of the cost in human lives and suffering. In both the Comedian’s view and Veidt’s view, humanity needed protection, and they most needed protection “from themselves”. The Comedian felt that other men needed to be protected from their baser instincts. Veidt, however, felt that humanity needed to be rescued from its lack of foresight.

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