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.

The Second Face of V: The Twilight of Man

Jerry Stratton, March 20, 2024

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

It was so terrifying that Sophie refused to become Promethea until the science heroes, misinterpreting her as just another piece of heroic science, force her to make the transformation. She’s very similar in that respect to Kid Miracleman and Johnny Bates, except that her alter ego is the objectively good protagonist. Promethea is a V who ushers in a new spiritual freedom instead of a political revolution.

Moore symbolically connects Promethea to his earlier stories2, most blatantly via the five footprints a horse leaves: V, V, V, V, V. That is, Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici, the motto across the archway of V’s sanctum sanctorum in V for Vendetta.3

The English bureaucracy in V for Vendetta is analogized to an individual’s body, with the bureaucratized brain having overwhelmed the life-giving core of the body’s power as a human being. If, as V says, the people are the true head of government, this is analogous to Lincoln’s saying that it is reasonable to give a limb to save a life, but never a life to save a limb.4

In Watchmen, the V character remains a secret to the reader right up until the end. He’s been doing the same thing behind the scenes that V did in the backstory to Vendetta: killing anyone who knows too much. When we do finally find out what Veidt’s plan is, it’s absolutely horrific—much like what V’s plan would have looked like if we’d seen it from the perspective of the relatively sane Eric Finch. Watchmen is interesting because Moore focuses on the Finch-like heroes who stand in the way of Veidt’s quest for a perfect world rather than the V-like Veidt who creates that brave perfect world.

Veidt’s plan—teach belligerent governments to live together peacefully—is an upscale version of V’s plan, and Veidt comes with a more upscale (read: pretentious) past to replace V’s dark past.

Promethea: Five Footprints of a Camel: Panel from Promethea Book 4, Chapter 2: “See! Five footprints of a camel… V. V. V. V. V. Noodle-pip, dearies.”; Alan Moore; V for Vendetta; Promethea

Hammer, meet symbolism.

It looks a lot like Moore was going to continue addressing these ideas in his never-published Twilight. We can’t know exactly what Twilight would have ended up being but Constantine is obviously the same basic schemer, “the only character who has his finger upon all the pulses and knows exactly what’s going on in this maze of plot and counterplot between the various factions involved”. There are a lot of people who want to liberate Earth from superheroes—Adam Strange, the Lanterns, The Shadow, The Batman—but only Constantine has the V-level deviousness required to pull it off.

As the plot builds up in momentum, it is this ingenious and baffling juggling act of Constantine’s that becomes the main attraction. We see him urging on the Justice League/Titans to their attack upon the Houses of Thunder and Steel, and yet we see him call at the House of Thunder and speak to Captain Marvel himself, telling him of the planned attack.

He manipulates the supposedly over-powerful governments of superhero Houses into fighting each other so that normal humans can retake the world—at the cost not only of a lot of bloodshed on Earth, but a likely genocidal war throughout the known universe.

There is a lot of carnage during the superhero wars that Constantine instigates, and a lot of carnage on other planets after Earth’s superhero wars end. We don’t know how much Moore would eventually have dwelled on that carnage. So much of Moore’s work comes out in the details while writing the finished book and through his collaboration with the rest of the book’s team.

This is obvious from his essay in V for Vendetta. That essay is the most open I’ve ever seen Moore about the creative process, especially the back-and-forth between writer and illustrator. What started as a simple anti-government tale became a serious examination of the compromise between love of country, the price of freedom, safety, and tyranny, and, very importantly, the cost of revolution to people who prefer food on their table and heat in the winter.

V for Vendetta began as mostly anti-conservative, but Moore clearly didn’t have much love for Labor. They were incompetent at best, and their policies caused the suffering that led to the people initially supporting Norsefire. By the end of the book it’s difficult to tell who’s wrong and who’s right. The only person coming close to being a good person in V for Vendetta is Mr. Finch. He’s also the most personable character. I’m pretty sure, for example, that he’s the only member of the Norsefire high command to regularly use first names.

One thing V’s plot ends up highlighting is just how much Norsefire’s tyranny really did help the English, at least those they didn’t outright kill. For all the 1984-ish rationing jokes in the beginning of the book, England was starving before Norsefire, is fed under Norsefire, and will starve now that Norsefire is overthrown. V’s freedom may mean a better world, but it’s not going to be a more comfortable one.

The same is true of Twilight’s new world where normal humans are ascendant again. The superheroes were performing real functions that went beyond fighting supervillains. Super-races still exist outside of Earth. Earth’s technology was in a shambles even before Constantine’s machinations further decimated the world. It’s not going to be a comfortable existence. Not for a long time, if it ever will be again.

None of Moore’s transformations are comfortable.

In response to FiVe Faces of Alan Moore’s SaVior: V, Veidt, and Constantine are very much the same person, each ushering in a new era of human greatness through their own devious means. Even Promethea and Faust, and Moore’s interpretation of Jack the Ripper, share that vision to a lesser extent. What do these five faces of the same man mean?

  1. Faust, at the start of Promethea’s “end of the world” in Promethea, Book 5, Chapter 4, page 19.

  2. Moore is heavily into symbolism in all of his works, of course, but in Promethea everything is symbolic. That’s its whole point, that reality is a symbol.

  3. That saying is attributed to Faust in V for Vendetta, though of course not the same Faust who appears in Promethea.

  4. By general law, life and limb must be protected, yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. — Abraham Lincoln (Letter to A. G. Hodges)

  1. <- V faces of V: I
  2. V faces of V: III ->