We serial killers are your sons; we are your husbands; we are everywhere.
Ted Bundy, 1986
The year is 1982 and the first black-and-white edition of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta comic series hits the market. 6Nearly three decades later, Warner Brothers Pictures releases a cinematic reproduction of the popular graphic novels. In both the print and screen versions, the main character (referred to solely as V) is presented as a caped and masked revolutionary who successfully detonates a bomb in the British House of Parliament on the fifth of November. V exists in a British dystopia wherein the totalitarian government dictates what its constituents see, hear, speak, and believe. He is the story’s freedom fighter who promotes anarchy, which he believes to be autonomy in its most pure form. In this way, V is presented as the story’s protagonist and revolutionary who seeks to cut the chains of control that the government has established. However, in his attempts to overthrow this foundation of totalitarianism, V brutally tortures and murders the key leaders of each division of the government. 6In this way, V is presented as the story’s antagonist and psychopath who uses his end (freedom) to justify his means (homicide).
7As with many other pieces of modern popular culture, Moore (writer) and Lloyd (illustrator) have used the work of William Blake to amplify themes within their work, as well as to refigure the essence of what it mean to “be Blake.” 1,5In the first of ten volumes, near the end of Chapter VI: The Vision, V directly quotes Blake’s short poem “And did those feet in ancient times” (a preface to his epic Milton a Poem) when he is standing in his Shadow Gallery:
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land
On a superficial level, Moore quotes Blake to show that V is a well-educated revolutionary. V’s intelligence may also add to his characterization as a psychopath, who often seem very outgoing and respectable to his/her acquaintances. On a more critical level, Moore showcases both V and Blake as dichotomous figures who are concurrently revolutionary and psychopathic.
By quoting Blake, V’s character conveys (quite eloquently) that he is taking on the fight for freedom that lies before him. 1,2,3He speaks in an extended apostrophe, urging an unknown or nonexistent party to bring him his “Bow of burning gold,” “Arrows of desire,” “Spear,” and “Chariot of fire.” His bow is symbolic of his “good intentions,” as represented through his characterization of the bow being made of gold. His arrows are illustrative of his motivation; he describes them as being filled with desire. His spear is a literal example of the weaponry that he must use to achieve his means. Finally, his chariot represents the force of his revolutionary ideas that will hopefully spark a similar “fire” to fight for freedom amongst his fellow Brits. By quoting this portion of Blake’s poem, Moore represents V as a rebel who fights for the rights of his fellow man, therefore deemphasizing the atrocities he must commit on his path towards freedom. V is very much the victim as he speaks these lines. As someone who was forced into a concentration camp for radicals and other “queers” (in the eyes of the totalitarian government), V was subject to hormone injections that, despite killing all other camp inmates, gave him incredible strength, endurance, speed, and information-processing abilities. The audience begins to see V as a victim of the government’s abuses who has every right to tear down the institution that reduced him to a research test animal.
1In proceeding with his quotation of Blake, V says that that he will continue his “Mental Fight” (the idea his character represents) until England becomes “Jerusalem,” which was often used as a metaphor for Heaven (V’s ideal anarchistic society in this context). By quoting this portion of Blake’s poem, Moore represents V as an irrational being who is willing to break down the government totalitarian government through mass destruction of the state at large, thus emphasizing the atrocities that he commits throughout the story. Possibly the most frightening part of this characterization are V’s psychotic inclinations. He manages to be charming and intelligent all the while committing numerous homicides. Even more disconcerting is the “end” which his “means” serve: V does not seek to replace the totalitarian government of the present with a democratic government for the future, but rather seeks to free the people of the current government by promoting anarchy. Upon considering this, the reader realizes that V is bringing down a rigid state structure not to create stability and peace, but merely to promote disorder and chaos. While V seems to believe that an anarchistic government will promote more freedom than the existing government, the reader begins to see his character as potentially disturbed and/or insane both because of the atrocities that he commits and the end to which these atrocities assist.
By using Blake’s words to create such a duality in V’s character, Moore simultaneously reconstructs and adds to Blake’s own persona in popular culture. V and Blake become foils for one another as revolutionaries (and, consequently, psychopaths) through Moore’s reference to Blake in V for Vendetta. Blake used the preface quoted by V to accomplish a similar task in expressing discontent with the British state. Although not often overtly radical in nature, Blake’s references indicate a desire to bring back a certain ethereal element to England that almost parallels V’s desire to return the state to a more liberal form of government. Hence, Moore refigures Blake in a way that presents the poet as a revolutionary. While the intent of Blake’s short poem does not imply psychopathy, Moore’s use of Blake to characterize V represents Blake’s character in a similar way. The revolutionary undertones thus resonate with connotations of V’s psychopathy.
In terms of why Moore has chosen to refigure Blake, one might see this characterization as a fresh look at Blake. Oftentimes represented as a poetic seer and artist, this representation implies a darker Blake who nestles his rebellious ideas through beautifully articulated text. This newly unearthed “madman” Blake implies that his pieces, while not overtly rebellious, carry more sociopolitical commentary than one might expect. By examining Blake’s own Shadow Gallery, readers may now find new points of previously unexplored psychopathology.
* For the full text (with works cited) please see V for Viral: William Blake the Psychopath & Revolutionary.