Saturday, 5 January 2013

007, No 6 And V

007 = 7; No 6 = 6; V = 5 in Roman numerals. Thus: 7, 6, 5.

007 is James Bond in novels by Ian Fleming and his successors and in films starring Sean Connery and his successors. No 6 is the title character of Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner TV series. V is the title character of Alan Moore's and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta graphic novel. (Three characters in four media: prose fiction (verbal); large and small screen drama (audiovisual); sequential art (visual-verbal).)

McGoohan borrowed from the James Bond films the idea of a powerful secret organisation with numbered members controlled by a mysterious "Number One". Moore did not borrow from McGoohan but did produce a parallel text addressing common themes. No 6 was so called because he was imprisoned in an island "Village" where he and his cottage were numbered 6. V was so called because he was imprisoned in Room V of a concentration camp. Later, fascist Britain resembled an island prison. V, a vendetta-waging anarchist terrorist, challenged the authorities as No 6 had challenged successive No 2's and the hidden No 1 in the Village. V was inspired by a letter passed between cells through a hole in the wall by the woman in Room IV. (Maintaining the numerical progression, Bond refers to a colleague numbered 008 and V refers to his fellow prisoner in Room IV.) We know of V only that he is male, not whether he is black, Jewish or homosexual or whether he was politically radical before his imprisonment.

Moore simultaneously wrote Marvelman and V, a superhero and a masked avenger, for Warrior magazine. Marvelman was directly descended, via Captain Marvel, from Superman whereas V was not directly descended from the archetypal comic book masked avenger, the Batman, although a Batman "Elseworld" story did show Wayne opposing an American dictatorship in an alternative history. V's appearance is based on that attributed to Guy Fawkes and he completes the job attempted by Fawkes. Like the Lone Ranger, V remains masked throughout. His face is unseen by the reader and even by his close assistant. In this respect at least, he also resembles Judge Dredd, a legalised vigilante in a futuristic city. (Moore also wrote an unpublished Dredd script, a "last Superman story" and a pivotal Batman/Joker story.)

In the Village, names are replaced by numbers but faces are not usually masked. When, in the episode "A, B and C", letters replace numbers, the previously unknown C leads No 6 to the masked D who, when unmasked, turns out to be the current No 2, but this occurs within an induced dream, thus in a "play within the play". In the concluding episode, No 6, unmasking No 1, significantly sees his own face. Prospero played by Vincent Price in the film The Masque of the Red Death had the same experience when he unmasked a red-garbed intruder who was his own personalised death.

At the end of V for Vendetta, V's assistant, Evey, does not unmask the dead V but realises that her face must be behind the mask. She becomes V. His sabotage and assassinations have overthrown fascism. She hopefully will oversee without needing to intervene in the growth of freedom. But, like Asimov's Second Foundation, she and her new assistant will be able to intervene if necessary. In The Foundation Trilogy, an unpredictable mutant disrupted Seldon's Plan but the hidden Second Foundation existed to guard and restore the Plan. After the events of V for Vendetta, neo-fascists could seek to regain control. Evey/V might be able to prevent counter-revolution by encouraging more popular action. (She will not continue V1's strategy of individual assassinations.)

Bond conventionally contends with agents of a foreign dictatorship but does not change himself. The self-sufficient No 6 potentially frees himself. V, inspired by Valerie, and helped and succeeded by Evey, potentially frees society. Thus, the successive series form a progressive conceptual tetralogy:
first, Ian Fleming's twelve James Bond novels in which Bond mainly opposes Russian Intelligence (in fact, SPECTRE involvement in three of Fleming's later novels is film-derived);
second, the first five Sean Connery James Bond films culminating in Bond's meeting with No 1, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, plus two further films with Blofeld as the acknowledged villain;
third, the seventeen episode Prisoner TV series culminating in the Prisoner's realisation that he is the unmasked No 1;
fourth, the V for Vendetta graphic novel culminating in Evey's realisation that she must be the masked V.

I exclude post-Fleming Bond novels, post-Connery Bond films, Prisoner spin-offs and the V for Vendetta film. At the time of writing, December 2009, I have not yet seen the new Prisoner TV series.

Who is V? When leading Evey to the roof of the building at the moment of her psychological liberation, he resembles a robed Christ but we should not regard a multiple manipulator and murderer as the Messiah. When addressing the public on video, he speaks as if he were mankind's creator but this is ironic. It has been suggested that V is Marvelman, who is deified in his own series. The only evidence for this identification, I think, is that, when seen in silhouette before donning the mask, V seems to be crew cut. Both V and MM result from, very different, government experiments. V's experience motivates him to overthrow that government. MM and his Pantheon are so powerful that they effortlessly displace the nuclear powers and the UN. V destroys a dystopia. MM builds a utopia. Their stories are complementary, not convergent. Like Superman (day) and Batman (night), they are archetypal opposites.
The anarchist V opposes all governments but has additional personal reasons to resist Norse Fire. He assassinates individuals not only because of their present positions in the state apparatus but also because of their past dealings with the man in Room V. For example, he forces the Bishop of London to consume a poisoned Communion wafer. The Bishop, who preached sermons dictated by the Fate computer to congregations including high Party members, had also previously been the concentration camp chaplain.

Much of the characterisation, dialogue and plot in V for Vendetta is realistic but V's omniscience about the other characters is surreal. On the one hand, he is a particular character whose face was seen by his captors, though not by us, in the concentration camp. On the other hand, he is endlessly resourceful and manipulative and supremely confident that the state police will not find him hidden in the heart of London. Only the disaffected detective is going to find him and V somehow knows what the outcome of that encounter will be. He knows which Party widow will assassinate the Leader. Only the author can know so much about the characters. 
Authors can be incarnated in their stories. Very occasionally, the first person narrator really is the author. For example, CS Lewis exchanges letters with Ransom at the end of the first Ransom novel and meets him at the beginning of the second. But incarnated authors need not be narrators. The comic strip is mostly un-narrated and Alan Moore's incarnation in it is masked. Evey cannot see his face because she would have to look off the page to do so.

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