This is the first time I have had the opportunity to sit down with the whole thing and read it straight through. I caught a fair bit of it when it first appeared, but had to rely on a friend bringing it to work. Consequently, the impact was lessened and I was a bit hazy about the continuity of the tale.
Dark, disturbing, morally ambiguous, this is a tale of the near future (well, the near past, now, but it has that same status as 1984 – the actual date is not important). In a world shattered by war, Britain slides into fascism, repeating the horrors of Nazi Germany with an ease that is both disturbing and highly believable.
Against this grim background rises the masked figure of a new Guido Fawkes, preaching anarchy (in its proper sense – not the version spun by our politicians). But this is no straightforward tale of good versus evil. For the good must be destructive in order to sweep away the bad; it must unleash forces over which it can have no direct control in the hope that sense will prevail and that a new, gentler and truly anarchic system will prevail. It is, perhaps, the third Luther Arkwright that should have been written.
But this is not just a complex political polemic. It is a well told tale with all the complexities of a novel. The characters have depth and behave in believable ways. The story develops along credible lines. And we are left to make up our own minds.
And on top of this we have a dynamic graphic element that works in perfect partnership with the story. There are no sound effects and no thought bubbles. The whole is achieved through speech and through action; and it is achieved with clarity and power (an achievement that I doubt could be matched in a straight novel). Much of the storytelling is carried by the pictures. They are not intricate, but they do carry detailed information.
If there is anyone who has doubts about the validity of the graphic novel as a serious literary form, they should read this.