OK, so I just zipped through my tattered old trade paperback of V For Vendetta for the hundredth time. And while it’s true that I now find some elements of the story highly suspect that I didn’t 15 years ago, it’s still a ripping good story. The same goes for The Watchmen, and Promethea. These three are usually the ones that I tend to think are closest to Moore’s heart, and therefore I consider them to be his “major works.” With both the strengths and weaknesses of the tales in mind, I’d like to discuss several things.
First, I suppose, we should discuss whether these three stories are, in fact, his major works. I realize that opinions will differ even on that point, so I’d like to hear thoughts on why some other stories of his would be more definitive. I see strong similarities in the themes of V, Watchmen, and Promethea because they all deal with freedom from the status quo as a theme. In Watchmen, Ozymandias frees the world from the oppression of the seeming necessity of global war by introducing a (putatively) alien factor - a threat against whom all contentious parties must (seemingly) unite, or be crushed. In V For Vendetta, V frees England from the oppression of a post-nuclear (I think) authoritarian government. In Promethea, the title character frees the world from the spiritual oppression of ALL governments, both religious and secular, by leading humanity through the Apocalypse.
There seems to be a theme of anarchy and antiauthoritarianism that runs through all three. The anarchy theme is most obvious in V, since it deals explicitly with a hero modeled after the Parliament-bombing Guy Fawkes. It also explicitly discusses some of the tenets of anarchy, making a convincing case in the story for it. However, in my opinion, it falls down on at least one major element: V makes a statement near the end, after he cripples the Eye and the Ears, that the period of looting and riots after England is given their three day reprieve is not anarchy at all. It’s chaos. He then says that this period of chaos must be followed by true ordnung, what he defines as voluntary order. This, in mystical la-la land, will be true anarchy…a stable society based on mutual respect, hard work, etc., and enforced by no leadership structure.
Uh huh. My reaction to this when I was 18 and strongly against The Man? “Cooooool!” My reaction now (at 33?) Cynical laughter. I have much the same reaction, incidentally, to the end of Watchmen, even though it’s a much more morally complex story. I tend to think that Ozymandias would end up drinking himself to death in his Fortress of Solitude when, as the months wore on, it became obvious that no invasion was coming, the same people started bickering among themselves, vying for power and influence, and wars started breaking out all over again. Pretty much the same as the aftermath of 9/11, to be brutally honest.
Anyway, the process by which this “passage to a higher state of consciousness” occurs in all three stories is accompanied by pain and death. There’s explicit murder and widespread unrest in V. There’s explicit murder and the deaths of most of the people in New York in Watchmen. There’s explicit murder, insanity, and destruction in Promethea. This pain and death is inevitably linked to “growing pains” of one of the main characters, or of humanity in general…a necessary passage to reveal more of the Truth. In Promethea, this is made most explicit as a birth metaphor, and linked to higher spiritual meaning through the structure of the Kaballah…specifically through the sephira of Binah, the female aspect of the Godhead.
Now it occurs to me that this “you’re gonna grow, even if I have to drag you by the hair, kicking and screaming, through the birth canal” attitude could reflect one of at least three ways on Moore. Either he could be merely using a well-worn thematic device to move his stories along, he regards this “painful transition” thing to be a spiritual truth and an inevitability, or it reflects his own personal frustration with the state of world affairs, of governments, and of people’s attitudes toward their liberty. Come to think of it, none of those are mutually exclusive. There may be elements of all of them in there. However, in some respects, it seems to me that Moore’s anti-authoritarianism has, at times, been, well, authoritarian.