by The Masked Bookwyrm

Miscellaneous (non-Superhero) - "V" page 1

V for Vendetta 1990 (SC TPB)

Written by Alan Moore. Illustrated by David Lloyd, with Tony Weare.
cover by David LloydColours: David Lloyd, Siobhan Dodds. Letters: various.

Reprinting: V for Vendetta #1-10 (parts of which were first published in Warrior Magazine in 1982-1983)

Additional notes: intros by Moore and Lloyd, afterword by Moore.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Suggested for Mature Readers

Published by DC Comics/Vertigo

Set in the then future -- the late 1990s -- V for Vendetta takes place in a fascist England after most other countries have been devastated by nuclear war. The fascists took over when things were bad and have managed to restore a semblance of order -- but one where all minorities and "undesirables" have been disposed of in Death Camps.

Evey is a teen age girl who, desperate to augment her meager living, clumsily turns to prostitution. But her first would-be client turns out to be an undercover cop (a "finger" man -- branches of authority are designated as body parts: the "ear" are eavesdroppers; the "eye" surveillance, etc.). He and his squad, having complete discretion in such matters, intend to rape and then execute Evey...until V shows up. Dressed in period clothes and wearing a white face mask that evokes the notorious English would-be anarchist of centuries before, Guy Fawkes, V is an enigmatic, possibly unstable figure. After rescuing Evey from her would be attackers (by killing most of them) he then symbolically blows up the parliament buildings (succeeding where his historical counterpart failed) and takes Evey under his wing.

Then he proceeds to carry out his vendetta against the government, with the authorities quickly realizing they're dealing with a terrorist/rebel -- and one who seems cleverer than they are.

Such is Alan Moore and David Lloyd's mature readers, science fiction drama, V for Vendetta. Although Alan Moore has gone on to become one of comicdoms most respected writers, V for Vendetta was actually one of the earliest things he wrote professionally, originally serialized in the British comic Warrior (Warrior was discontinued, leaving the series in limbo for a few years before Moore and Lloyd were allowed to finish it by American DC Comics). And it's a sign of things that were to come that V for Vendetta is still highly regarded -- and not merely as a fledgingly effort. Some people have claimed it's the best thing Moore wrote, even better than his highly esteemed The Watchman.

And V for Vendetta is good in spots -- very good. But it promises more than it quite delivers.

Originally serialized in short chapters of around eight pages, Moore is as much interested in exploring his world and his large cast of characters as he is in unfolding a plot. The cast involves Evey and various characters in the government, as well as Finch, a nominally decent cop who only supports the current order because the alternative, he fears, would be worse. V himself remains enigmatic, perpetually hidden behind his mask, speaking in cryptic riddles. The book is divided into three sections. The first details V assassinating various government officials (Evey's a bit put off by this, feeling murder isn't something she can condone). That section delivers an intriguing twist when the cop begins to suspect that they've read it all wrong: V isn't killing as political actions, he merely wants it to look that way. Instead, he's killing people who might, potentially, have a clue to who he really is. In other words, the assassinations are just covering his tracks, preparatory to starting on whatever his true plan is.

It's an intriguing twist, hinting that V has secrets he really wants concealed, and a massive plan yet to be unfolded. But, as mentioned, the book promises more than it delivers.

In some respects, I'd argue Moore's aptitude isn't really for linear plot. He can juggle large casts and weave a multi-facted tapestry, but I'm reminded of The Watchmen in which a framework story, of superheroes investigating someone trying to kill them, was just an excuse for exploring the characters and their world. Likewise, with V for Vendetta, Moore goes off in his eight page, bite size chapters, spreading before us his vast cast of characters, and their frailties...but to the point where V disappears for whole chunks of the story. When V does act, his actions often seem simplistic, his great plan vague.

V announces he's giving the population two years to shape up...or else, as if Moore is hinting at a master plan. Yet the story climaxes only a few months later. It's as if Moore is promising the story is headed somewhere...but forgets where. Likewise, for all that V goes to such great lengths to conceal his identity, it's unclear how things would have changed if the government did learn who he was.

It's difficult, in SF, to establish as your premise a fascist reality...and then have your lone wolf hero bring it down. After all, fascist governments don't usually fall that easily. So I can understand Moore's reliance on simplistic solutions, or setting up a system with a ready made Achilles' Heel. Moore even goes to the trouble of establishing that V, victim of government experiments years before, has super abilities...without bothering to detail what those abilities might be. It's just a way of allowing Moore to undercut any objectors who might say, "How can one man bring down an entire government? How can he set bombs in impenetrable buildings?"

"Why, he's super powered," Moore might respond.

"Yeah, but what does that mean?" the detractors might insist. "Is he super smart? Can he fly? Can he walk through walls?"

"He's just, y'know, super."

"Yeah, but in what way?"

"He just is."

"Is what?"

"Oh, shove off!"

The surface level plotting ends up seeming kind of vague and unsatisfying. In his afterward, Moore suggests that there was an element of he and Lloyd winging it, of the story taking them in unexpected directions. Which seems like a polite spin on saying, they weren't quite sure what to do with their ideas. And it shows. Many of the chapters, looking in on the various characters, can feel a little like place holders. As if Moore and Lloyd weren't always sure what to do next, story-wise, so they said, "Hey, let's just look in on so-and-so this week -- that'll help kill a few pages."

A problem with the emphasis on the characters over the suspense-adventure plot is that the characters aren't fully realized. In fact, it was actually hard to keep track of them at times, as it wasn't always clear who was who (Lloyd's art doesn't always clearly distinguish the personalities either). And like with some of Moore's other works, he seems more interested in defining characters by specfic quirks or neurosies (the Leader having a psycho-sexual infatuation with his computer!), rather than successfully making such charactertistics seem part of a well rounded human being. I liked the notion that the story is as much about revealing this world through people who inhabit it as it is through anything else. But I just didn't always find myself sold on, or interested in, the characters.

And what of the reality itself? Moore himself admits that, regarded years later, there's a certain naivety to the basic assumptions of the story, like that England could emerge, relatively unscathed, from a nuclear war. By establishing such a traumatic event, it mutes some of the political bite (as opposed to a story where the slide into fascism was more gradual, more natural). However, I enjoyed the very Britishness of the fascist state, where the characters aren't stiff-armed Nazis, but rather civil...even as they oversee a monstrous regime.

At the same time, it could be argued that Moore's gentle fascism actually dilutes the impact of his story. I've often argued Moore's stuff can seem more cerebral than visceral, as if he's intrigued by concepts more than the reality. When a character reflects regretfully on the purges that eliminated England's minorities and homosexuals, the character thinks how much more vibrant and colourful was the old England. Fair enough, to regard such purges as a loss for England as a society. But Moore focuses on the abstract, rather than the gut wrenching, mind shattering horror of genocide, of millions being murdered simply for being who they were! Moore intellectualizes what should resist all efforts to be processed by the civilized mind. When a character visits the wreck of an old Death Camp, it should leave you shaken. But, frankly, it didn't.

The best realization, emotionally, of these themes involves a note left by a camp victim, though even then, it actually reminded me of a better, heartbreaking, EC Comics tale by Wally Wood from decades earlier.

At first, Moore seems to want to play with ambiguity. Is V the hero, or is he just another sort of villain? It's an intriguing, challenging idea (asking just how far is too far in fighting tyranny). But Moore actually seems to lose that idea (if indeed it was there) as he goes, with V later seeming the voice of wisdom and reason. Which, given how mad and ruthless some of his actions are, is actually more troubling.

By the third and final section (written, apparently, a few years after the earlier parts) Moore seems to have gone in two directions. On one hand, he cranks up the soap opera, emphasizing the machinations and double crosses among the elite. On the other, he actually jettisons some of the pretense of narrative, as he seems to be using the story -- and V -- as a mouthpiece for expressing political ideologies, pontificating on the nature of Anarchy (as distinguished from chaos). Some of these sequences can become particularly dry, as Moore expounds upon, at times, ill-defined philosophies, and playing them out in an ill-defined way. This future England is not entirely convincing as a political structure, so that its dissolution is not entirely enlightening as a blueprint for how we might tackle real world problems. By the end, all V has created is chaos (as opposed to anarchy) and Moore leaves it vague as to how things will improve.

I've also commented before that, if one wanted to, one could infer a strangely misogynistic streak to some of Moore's work...and V for Vendetta proves no exception. Not so much for the first part. Whatever hardships Evey endures are reasonably justified by the narrative, and Evey, is, after all, a protagonist. But in the later part, a female character who'd previously barely warranted a few lines, is suddenly repositioned as almost the principal villain of the saga, shrewishly humiliating her husband even as she plots her own coups, and whose final comeuppance is distasteful and degrading. Honestly, I'd half wonder if Moore went through a bitter divorce or something between the writing of the second and third sections of the story. But then, even the fact that the male Leader is given a curiously feminine surname (Mr. Susan) is suggestive.

It's perhaps interesting to remark on the fact that I generally liked the story up until the third and final section. And when they did the big budget movie adaptation, they remained -- relatively -- faithful to the source material, but then start to diverge away from it more noticeably toward the end, as if they too felt the original series began to lose its way.

Lloyd's art is mostly quite impressive and effective, with understated realism that lends credence to this future tale. At the same time, the art can also be a bit overly dark and muddy at times (it was originally presented in black and white, but here has been coloured). It adds to the dark atmosphere (without seeming heavy handed), but it can make it hard to tell what's going on at times. Occasionally Lloyd's composition is a bit off (doing a close up of a face when we need to see what's in a character's hand) and, as noted, the art, combined with Moore's script, doesn't always succeed in distinguishing characters, which is awkward given that the characters are sometimes more important than the plot.

The TPB collection includes various extras: brief intros by Moore and Lloyd; and an extensive afterward by Moore, written at the time of the series' original serialization, that gives some intriguing insight into the series, and into Moore himself (at the time), who writes in a friendly, funny way. There are also a couple of short pieces that are part of the series, but more like sidebars. One inparticular, "Vincent", demonstrates a weakness with the decision to tell the story mainly in pictures and dialogue (with a minimum of text captions or thought balloons) in that I wasn't entirely sure what the point was (or what the character's motivation was).

The bottom line with V for Vendetta is that it starts out well, and I certainly liked aspects of it. It is worth reading, but there's a sense Moore and Lloyd tackled a bigger topic than they could comfortably handle.

Ironically, had Moore and Lloyd never completed it after the forced hiatus with the cancellation of Warrior, I might have enjoyed it even more. The first part is definitely strongest and we could've been left to fantasize about its unfulfilled greatness -- like V himself: forever masked and a glorious enigma

Cover price: $32.95 CDN./ $19.95 USA.

Valkyrie!  1982 (SC TPB) 80 pages

Art by Fred Kida. Scripts: uncredited.
Black & White

Reprinting: selected stories from Air Fighters Comics Vol 2, #2, #7, Airboy Comics Vol 2, #12, Vol 3, #6, #12 (1943-1947) with covers. Originally published by Hillman Periodicals

Commentaries by Catherine Yronwode. Intro by Alex Toth.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Ken Pierce, Inc.

For other Valkyrie/Airboy stories, see Valkyrie: Prisoner of the Past (on this page) and Return of Valkyrie.

This collects most of the Airboy stories that guest starred the heroine Valkyrie and were published in issues of Airfighter and Airboy comics in the 1940s. They are reprinted here in black and white (I'm assuming the originals were colour).

Aviation adventure stories, both in comics and pulp magazines, formed their own genre in the 30s and 40s, and Airboy was a comic book series about a young man (he started out a teen, but was looking more like an adult by the end) who fought Nazis and other, post-War villains with his unique air plane, Birdie. Birdie was a plane that flew by flapping its wings, and could be remote controlled.

Valkyrie was a recurring guest star, a beautiful, raven haired female fighter pilot (and love interest). In the first story, Valkyrie is a loyal Nazi pilot, with her all-female Airmaiden squadron. But by the end of that story, she has turned over a new leaf -- thanks in part to Airboy -- and joined the Allies. After that, she is a heroine. Which kind of surprised me. I'd always read about Valkyrie in the context of the Dragon Lady from Terry and the Pirates (a connection that is once again brought up in this collection in Cat Yronwode's delightfully extensive and detailed introductions). But while the Dragon Lady (I believe) was a kind of good/bad girl, Valkyrie, despite her dubious origins, is incontestably a good gal.

The stories here are a bit of a surprise. Oh, to be sure, like most Golden Age comics, they are simplistic and somewhat crude. But they are more accomplished than a lot of stories I've read from that period. Though the scripts are uncredited, there is time out for, at least token, characterization, such as the anger and grief expressed by Airboy when a friend dies, or the tentative development of Airboy and Valkyrie's relationship. And the plots can be kind of intriguing, making a rudimentary kind of sense.

In one of the commentaries it's mentioned that artist Fred Kida was influenced by comic strip adventure writer/artist Milton Caniff (of Terry and the Pirates) and there's a brisk, comicstrip style pacing to the stories that means they're often tight, well paced adventures. Kida's art is appealing -- crude, and primitive at times, but also somewhat stylish, with an unusual emphasis on light and shadow that gives the pictures some moodiness and depth.

In these stories there are appearances by the intriguingly surreal and creepy villain, Misery, and another hero, Skywolf. I believe this collects the entirety of Valkyrie's appearances in the Golden Age -- minus a later story that editor Yronwodde decided to omit because it wasn't by Kida, and she felt it was so removed from the character (in looks and deeds) that it must be regarded as apocryphal. One can enjoy Yronwode's obvious passion for the work and the characters (she isn't just dismissive of the later story, but seems out right offended by it), but, objectively, it might've been nice to include it, if only as a curiosity. This results in four 13 page stories, and one 22 page story (in which Valkyrie's part is rather peripheral). That's a surprisingly few number, considering how famous the character became, and how closely associated her name is with that of Airboy.

Ultimately, as a peak back at the Golden Age of comics, these stories are breezy, enjoyable reads that are probably just a notch or two smarter than some stories I've read from that period. Though the absence of colour is a shame. Particularly as part of Valkyrie's fame has to do with the whole Good Girl Art (drawing pretty gals) concept, and her notable cleavage...which isn't as obvious in black and white (not that it's particularly racy compared to modern comics). Given that a few years later, Yronwode's own company, Eclipse Comics, would revive Airboy for a late 1980s run (50 issues, plus spin offs), along with Skywolf and Valkyrie herself, this collection also serves as a bit of a primer for that later day series.

Cover price: $ __ CDN./ $5.95 USA

Return of Valkyrie
reviewed here.

Valkyrie: Prisoner of the Past 1988 (SC TPB) 72 pages

cover by Steve LeiaholaWritten by Chuck Dixon. Pencils by Paul Gulacy. Inks by Willie Blyberg.
Colours: Sam Parsons. Letters: Mindy Eisman. Editor: Cat Yronwode.

Reprinting: Valkyrie (1st Eclipse mini-series) #1-3 (1987)

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Eclipse Comics

Suggested (very mildly) for mature readers

For other Valkyrie/Airboy stories, see Valkyrie! (on this page) and Return of Valkyrie.

This collects only the first of what would be two Valkyrie mini-series published by Eclipse comics when they had revived Airboy and various other Golden Age aviation heroes.

The story has Valkyrie -- a World War II heroine who started out a Nazi, then joined the Allies, only to end up in suspended animation for about 4 decades -- living a quiet life in modern New York. But when she fights off some muggers, she becomes a media celebrity, landing a modelling gig...and her new profile brings her to the attention of agents in the Soviet Union who want her for war crimes during the second world war. She is kidnapped and brought to Russia to stand trial for a German bombing raid conducted after she had defected to the Allies, and which she claims not to have taken part in.

Taken at first glance, this story is, frankly, no more than O.K. Thought about for a second or two after you've finished it, and it actually ends up dropping even further in estimation.

Writer Chuck Dixon, who was writing much of Eclipse' Airboy-related stories and spin-offs, is probably most associated with writing breezy, action-adventure sagas, which he can do fairly well. But despite Valkyrie being an aviatrix, there's nary a plane or dog fight in sight (except when showing brief flashbacks to the raid). Nor is there even much two-fisted action, or swashbuckling adventure. There are only about four action scenes in the whole series, one of which, at least, is completely pointless and extraneous. So maybe Dixon is going for something else: a suspense-drama or court room thriller. If so, he doesn't pull it off very well.

Perhaps the first sign of trouble is the opening scene, where Val and her roommate are walking down a seeming respectable, residential street...which just happens to have a scuzzy street gang loitering about; a street gang that attacks Val...even though a TV camera crew is just down the street (whatever happened to crooks who didn't want to be identified?). It's an implausible scene that, though not derailing the story, certainly lets you know it's not functioning on a particularly sophisticated level.

The plot is thin and developed awkwardly. By setting it in the U.S.S.R., Dixon wants to present the prosecution as the sinister bad guys, with characters remarking Val won't get a fair trial, and suggesting archival footage entered as prosecution evidence has been edited -- even as the Russians sincerely believe in Val's guilt (and the archival footage is accurate)! Val insists on her innocence...but no one on her side really doubts it, and the "mystery" is hardly a baffler. Dixon seems to have set it in the U.S.S.R. simply to provide "complications" that means he doesn't have to come up with a complex mystery. The case against Val is so tenuous, the only reason it goes to trial is because the Russians are, well, baddies. But the story might've been more interesting if the case against Val really was convincing -- and damning -- making it more of a mystery-thriller as Val's allies (the American ambassador and her aide) seek to unravel the web of mistruths.

For a comic titled Valkyrie, Val spends much of it just sitting in prison, twiddling her thumbs, leaving the pro-active stuff to the American Ambassador, who is revealed to be another retired 1940s comic book aviatrix, the Black Angel, and to her aide, who dons the Black Angel guise herself...for no particular reason (except so that she could then appear in subsequent stories). Even then, their main investigation is simply to locate a witness -- which doesn't seem to be particularly hard at all.

Despite its restraint, and lack of fisticuffs, the story doesn't really emerge as a character drama, either. There are only really four characters in the story: Val, Ambassador Sylvia Lawton, Holly (the new Black Angel) and Russian baddie, Steelfox. Maybe five if you count Val's roommate, Melanie (who barely appears past the first issue). Nor does it emerge as a soul searching exploration of our ex-Nazi heroine: since she wasn't involved in the bombing, there's no point in her getting into self recriminations. As well, Val just doesn't emerge as much of a personality in these pages. Maybe it's because Val has no one to play off of. Airboy doesn't appear, so the only characters Val interacts with -- Sylvia and Holly -- aren't personal friends, perhaps robbing the story of any intimate, human moments. Or maybe Valkyrie's an example of a supporting character who had developed a cult following...but maybe doesn't have enough to her to carry her own book. She's too hard edged to be an ingratiating, vulnerable heroine, without being enough of anything else to make her colourful or flamboyant...particularly in a story where she spends most of her time sitting in a cell.

Which brings us to Paul Gulacy's art. Gulacy is an artist who's style can veer from brilliant to awkward depending on the work. He draws in a realist, detailed style, but can also end up with faces and figures that look...awkward, with lopsided eyes and the like. Part of the longevity of Valkyrie is, frankly, the idea of the raven haired beauty with the formidable cleavage: in other words, her sex appeal. Gulacy can draw sexy women, but sometimes not so much, and this story leans toward the latter. His Valkyrie comes across as having too severe features and is just a little stiff and frumpy.

Eclipse was a company that published comics without the Comics Code, and there's one panel in the first issue in which Val is depicted in a night-gown through which her nipples can be seen -- but only one panel. It seems odd, to publish a three issue mini-series in which one panel pushes it towards a "mature readers" category, but nothing else does in story or images (not even cheesecake poses).

Ultimately, as far as comicbook tales go, Prisoner of the Past is bland, but not exactly terrible. But it's not exactly good, either. I had been looking forward to it, but as the Valkyrie's first solo series, it seems kind of modest. And this despite the fact that, due to its lack of action, they probably thought they were trying something ambitious. It's not smart enough to be sophisticated, and not low-brow and pulpy enough to be fun.

The original mini-series featured some pin-ups of Valkyrie -- some a tad sexier than anything in the comic itself. But I'm not sure if they were included in the TPB collection.

This is a review of the story as it was originally serialized in the mini-series.

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