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Book One’s prelude opens onto the nighttime streets of dystopian, postwar London on November 5, 1997. Surveillance cameras roll as an audio program called The Voice of Fate broadcasts through the city. Fate updates citizens on police raids said to uncover a major terrorist ring and reminds them of their duty to “make Britain great again.”
Sixteen-year-old Evey Hammond enters the world of prostitution and unwittingly solicits a police officer, or “fingerman,” on a stakeout near Westminster Bridge. As he and four other fingermen set out to rape and then kill Evey, a man appears, disguised with a mask of Guy Fawkes, a notorious figure in English history who attempted to blow up London’s House of Lords on November 5, 1605. The stranger, later known as V, vanquishes the fingermen, killing three. V and Evey watch as London’s Houses of Parliament explode and fireworks form a “V” in the sky, both events orchestrated by V. Later, surveillance forces report to the Norsefire government’s Leader, Adam Susan: Conrad Heyer for the “Eye,” Brian Etheridge for the “Ear,” and Eric Finch for the “Nose.” Leader Susan instructs Derek Almond, head of the secret police, to meet with Roger Dascombe at Jordan Tower to fabricate propaganda to explain the bombing.
While speaking with Almond at Jordan Tower, Dascombe praises Lewis Prothero, the actual voice behind The Voice of Fate, and then states that he’s very sensitive and collects dolls. Meanwhile, Evey surveys V’s home, the Shadow Gallery. It’s filled with paintings, books, films, and music despite the Norsefire government’s attempt to eradicate all forms of art and culture. Later, V slips into a train carriage, kills two government officials, and kidnaps Prothero. At the crime scene, Finch vows to crack the case by getting inside V’s head.
One of the main narrative tools used throughout the book, and in many graphic novels, is the juxtaposition between the story and the art. As the book opens with a radio voice that uses an officious tone to convey an illusion of order, the reader sees how the art displays a far darker and more chaotic world. The book depicts the juxtaposition between the separate preparations undertaken by Evey and V, setting expectations for the lives that the two characters have experienced and how those will inform the relationship that comprises the bulk of the narrative. Another example of juxtaposition occurs when V quotes Shakespeare, as this quote was immediately preceded by a threat of violent sexual assault on behalf of the secret police acting with impunity. By placing carnal cruelty next to the heightened literature of Shakespeare's Macbeth, the reader begins to understand the terms under which the battle between the fascist state and V's anarchism will be fought.
V's anarchic objectives and power are only achievable through his ambiguous status. Smiling and slightly sinister, the Guy Fawkes mask is the only representation of V's face. The story does not reveal the person behind the mask, though it is obvious that some characters recognize him through their shared history. Even his closest compatriot, Evey, never learns who V is beneath the mask. When those who contributed to his creation realize who he is, he is still not named, contributing to the idea that his identity wasn't important before and his identity may not be important now, either. The mask, ultimately, is important for developing one of the themes of the book: ideas transcend the individual. By creating V as an archetype—or an embodiment of his philosophy of anarchy—the book suggests that if an idea is powerful enough, it doesn't belong to one person, and so killing the person cannot destroy the idea.
Lloyd's art in the graphic novel is in the style of what would be considered mainstream comics, especially superhero comics. However, the action of a superhero comic is largely absent from V for Vendetta. To be sure, there are explosions and moments of excitement, but the bulk of the story consists of characters dialoguing or, as in the case of V, monologuing. The art sets up the expectation of action and adventure in its style, but then is undercut by the story which is much more concerned with philosophy and moral considerations of individual liberty and dignity.