First published in 1982, the graphic novel V for Vendetta depicts a near-future version of a dystopian Britain in the 1990s, following a nuclear war that decimated much of Europe and the world. The racist, homophobic, neo-fascist Norsefire party has restored postwar order, but at a serious human toll: at gruesome Resettlement Camps, the party imprisoned, tortured, and killed all citizens it deems to be undesirable, including gay people, immigrants, racial minorities, socialists, dissidents, Jewish people, and other non-Christians. The authoritarian Norsefire government, led by Leader Adam Susan, allows its surviving citizens very few freedoms, and they also suffer from food shortages and environmental-induced illnesses. Surveillance cameras record people’s every move and word, any form of dissent is quickly suppressed, and state-produced propaganda, broadcast through The Voice of Fate program fills citizens’ minds with a steady stream of lies and disinformation.
In Book One, “Europe After the Reign,” opening scenes show sixteen-year-old Evey Hammond dressing and readying herself for a foray into prostitution as a way to earn much-needed money. It’s November 5, 1997, a significant date in British history. On this day in 1605, the infamous Guy Fawkes attempted (but failed) to blow up London’s House of Lords in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot. Now, nearly 400 years later, V, the book’s protagonist, disguises himself in a Guy Fawkes mask and recalls the plot to Evey after saving her from being raped and killed by a group of secret police known as “fingermen.” V then successfully blows up London’s Houses of Parliament and brings Evey to his home, the Shadow Gallery, which is filled with books, film, music, and other forms of culture that Norsefire attempted to wipe out after the war. There, Evey reveals she’s been alone since her mother died and state forces imprisoned her father, a former socialist.
Though V remains largely mysterious and his true identity is masked throughout the book, much of his backstory soon comes to light at the Shadow Gallery. V has recently abducted Lewis Prothero (who serves as the actual voice behind The Voice of Fate), and at the Shadow Gallery, V recreates scenes of the now-closed Larkhill Resettlement Camp for Prothero, who had been the camp’s commander. Prothero quickly realizes that V was once imprisoned there, in cell 5, or “V.” Though Prothero insists he was merely following orders, V forces him to recall the atrocities that occurred there as he burns Prothero’s revered doll collection in the Larkhill ovens that Prothero once used to discard human beings.
Larkhill’s history unfolds as V tracks down and kills all those who committed crimes against humanity there, including Bishop Anthony Lilliman, a serial pedophile abetted by the state who spreads its lies in sermons at Westminster Abbey. Soon after, V kills Dr. Delia Surridge, who tells him she knew he would come for her after she learned the suspect has been leaving Violet Carson roses at each crime scene.
Investigator Eric Finch later learns more about Larkhill Resettlement Camp while reading Dr. Surridge’s diary, conspicuously left in her bedroom, on the night of her killing. Its contents, which Finch reveals in detail to Norsefire’s Leader, Adam Susan, tell a horrific history: Aided by Prothero, Lilliman, and others, Dr. Surridge conducted hormone testing on Larkhill’s prisoners, who she describes in her diary as being subhuman. Prisoners, also routinely tortured, developed grotesque appendages and atrophied genitalia before dying painful deaths. V, however, demonstrated no physical changes and instead experienced a psychotic break that led to increased intellectual powers. Those in charge, considering V harmless, allowed him to garden, and he increased the camp’s food production and grew Violet Carson roses. V’s work allowed him to gather ammonia-based fertilizer, which he later used to create an enormous toxic blast that killed many guards and allowed him to escape Larkhill.
In Book Two, “This Vicious Cabaret,” V kills a crew at Norsefire-controlled studios responsible for producing racist films, and then he takes over London’s airwaves to deliver a message. Human beings, he says, have committed heinous crimes throughout history. V condemns dictators but also berates those who put them power and remained silent as people’s lives and freedoms were stolen. He calls on London’s citizens to be better.
After state police capture and imprison Evey, she discovers a note left in her cell by a former prisoner named Valerie, a lesbian actress rounded up and then killed by the government. In her letter, Valerie decries Norsefire’s persecution and oppression, but she tells her reader that if people can live with integrity, they can ultimately preserve their personal freedom. After Evey chooses death over signing papers falsely accusing her of crimes, guards say she’s free to go. Once she walks out of her cell, she realizes that V has somehow simulated her entire imprisonment. Though Evey is outraged at first, V tells her he did this because he loves her and wants her to be free from the mental prison that she and her fellow citizens have been locked in under Norsefire’s reign.
Book Three, “The Land of Do-As-You-Please,” begins precisely one year after the book’s opening. As V continues to destroy critical state infrastructure and take over London’s surveillance systems, chaos, looting, and riots consume London’s streets. V’s grand plan is that this phase of disorder will soon give birth to one of creation and true anarchy, a state of order without leaders where people are free to lead themselves. At the defunct Larkhill Resettlement Camp, Eric Finch takes LSD in an attempt to get inside V’s mind and solve the case. His hallucinations begin with grotesque images of corpses strung on barbed wire but eventually lead way to those of happy people of various races and sexual orientations. Suddenly, Finch sees how badly these people were treated, laments the role he played in their demise, and realizes how much he misses and loves them. Finch’s revelations ultimately lead to his mental rebirth and a newfound freedom from Norsefire’s lies.
As chaos continues in London, Rosemary Almond, the widow of Norsefire’s former head of secret police, assassinates Leader Susan. Finch later tracks down and mortally wounds V in an underground train tunnel beneath Victory Station. V tells Finch that he can’t kill the idea and the principles that V represents. Later, V dies in Evey’s arms in the Shadow Gallery, leaving her with a parting request and an enigmatic mission. She then gives him a Viking funeral inside an explosive-packed underground train that blows up Downing Street above and also resolves to discover “who V must be.” Evey’s conclusion leads her to take on V’s cause, and from high on a rooftop, she calls on Britain to now choose freedom and true order over oppression and chains.