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April 10, 2007

In Case You Missed It—April 10, 2007

V for Vendetta

I apologize for doing another comic book, especially another one by Alan Moore. Still, I feel it’s necessary, just because graphic novels are grossly underappreciated, but also because of the recent wave of comic-book movies. This trend sometimes produces very good movies that are a tribute both to themselves and to the comics from which they draw. Spiderman and Batman Begins are both very good examples of this. And sometimes it produces absolute train wrecks.

The movie version of V for Vendetta is similar to the comic in many respects. It is set in a near-future London after a general societal collapse. It features the iconic V, and many of the scenes are almost word-for-word from the comic. However, unlike the movie, the comic book version of V for Vendetta is not a melodramatic, pseudo-intellectual political rant that resembles the horribly deformed child of The Matrix and 1984.

First off, the comic is much darker and grittier than the movie, which was too clean-cut to be anything resembling post-apocalyptic. It paints a much more dystopian picture of the future, with a more nuanced and accurate depiction of humans living under an oppressive and corrupt government (as opposed to the “the government is bad” one-note tune of the movie). The enemy in the book is not Councilor Creedy or some nebbish-looking Supreme Commander, but the people themselves, who allow such a government to rise to power. It is in the power of the people to change not only the government but also themselves, and thereby to create a new, better system.

In the comic book, V’s revolution was not just a bunch of people deciding to march on Parliament one day; it was a radical transformation of society. The last scene of the book is preceded by several days of complete anarchy, and the end is much more turbulent and cathartic than in the movie. Afterward, the reader gets the feeling that a completely new age has dawned for humanity, unlike in the movie, where I got the impression that afterward they simply rebuilt Parliament and started again with some old-hat idea like democracy.

Looking at the movie in its own right, it’s actually not that bad. It’s entertaining, it’s not too shallow, and it makes attempts at serious character development and political statements. The thing is, Alan Moore’s version of the story (he completely dissociated himself from the movie, as he did from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell) is excellent, and genuinely deserves to be ranked with 1984 and Brave New World among the great works of dystopian fiction. The fact that the Wachowski brothers had such an amazing text to work from, and then just lazily painted The Matrix onto a story so poorly designed for it, is barely excusable. V for Vendetta should have been closer to a crazy mix of Children of Men’s dystopia, Taxi Driver’s insanity, and Chinatown’s noir-ish political intrigue. I’ll talk to Polanski.

The Death of Superman

While on the topic of comic books, I’m required to mention this classic. To be honest, I never liked Superman comics. They were always too cut-and-dried, too clean, too “good.” Superman was always a paragon of truth, virtue, and the American way. Rarely were the battles he faced anything but black-and-white, and rarely did Superman do anything but beat the stuffing out of those dirty bank robbers/Commies/Nazis. The only real tension came when Superman had to save someone else (usually a woman) before she was shot/eaten/disintegrated.

That said, Superman was always something of a guilty pleasure for me. He was like my older brother, always doing good, saving the day, and getting the girl. He was a good friend whose stories were like comfort food, always there to give me faith in the good guys, humanity, America, apple pie, and baseball. I’m sure he held the same place for many Americans, because you can’t relate to Superman on a human level. You’re not supposed to—after all, he’s not even really human. Superman always was and always will be little more than a symbol of what we wish the world could be like, of what we all wish we could be like: snatching planes out of the air and defeating obvious villains like Lex Luthor.

It’s impossible to understand the mythology that superheroes form in our minds and in American culture without understanding what Superman is, and it’s impossible to understand what Superman is without reading The Death of Superman. It’s that simple, and impossible to circumvent. And speaking of comic book movies, forget having Superman killed very lamely by Lex Luthor and kryptonite. Have him battle the terrifying Doomsday (who still gives me nightmares) for the fate of the planet. Paging Zack Snyder.

That’s all for this week, and I promise these are the last comic books I’ll do for a while. Suggestions are always welcome, or if you just want to tell me my writing reeks of feces, e-mail me at bmw940@uchicago.edu. Join me next week as I discuss the Greek and Freudian themes involved with snorting your father’s ashes mixed with cocaine.