Friday, September 18, 2009
V For Vendetta: Fascism, Anarchism, Brit slang and silly masks
In a mere 265 pages, Alan Moore's V For Vendetta manages to introduce the reader to such disparate concepts as Justice, Liberty, Anarchy, Chaos, Fascism, Order, Freedom, and Equality. Naturally, being a comic, all of the philosophy and politics are surrounded by dingy panels and violence. Nevertheless, don't let the subtext pass by unnoticed.
So, what is the significance of V's Guy Fawkes mask? Ostensibly it serves a common purpose for comic superheroes: to make them mysterious and hide their identity. However, the real Guy Fawkes was a Catholic in 17th Century England who tried to overthrow (or dismantle) the oppressive Protestant English government. V, in comparison, is fighting an English fascist regime that oppresses non-whites, homosexuals, leftists, and counter-culture types.
Today in England, Guy Fawkes is a popular villain icon, and the uncovering of his Gunpowder Plot is remembered as a victory for the English status quo power structure. Alan Moore turns this celebration on its head because V fights a government that modern people would find repugnant. It's all a matter of the audience's perception and the times in which they live.
The purpose of masks in modern comics, according to Scott McCloud (p. 34), is one of appealing to the reader by making the hero (or antihero) out to be the everyman. We can imagine what is behind the mask by inserting our own personality. We, as the reader, have an easier time associating with the subject of the comic the less we see or know of them. Our imagination fills in the rest. Your appearance to the outside world (face, hairstyle, clothing, etc.) does not convey everything about us to another human being. Our thoughts and personality have to come out in other ways. There is a mind behind the mask. In the same way, V's mask tells us he has some admiration for Guy Fawkes, but his full character has yet to be seen.
On another note, what is the significance of the comic's fascist head of government, Adam Susan, being called "Leader"? Why is he not identified as President or Prime Minister? This is undoubtedly a reference to the Nazi government. Hitler's official title was Reichskanzler (Chancellor) but his informal title was Führer (Leader). Furthermore, President and Prime Minister are title used in democratic countries, whereas the new English government is trying to do away with all of the old systems and reinvent the nation.