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The Official Bryan Talbot fanpage / The Adventures of Luther Arkwright homepage

The Arkwright Thesis: Chapter 1:
Semiosis in The Adventures of
Luther Arkwright: Part Two


Note: the Luther Arkwright Thesis is written and copyright by Robert Cave: I helped Robert to get in touch with Bryan for his research, and in return asked if I could put his thesis on the site: Robert agreed, and here is the excellent result.

The thesis consists of an Introduction, and Chapter One, part one and part two, then Chapter Two, part one and part two, and finally the conclusion. If you've liked this page, then also see the true history of the Arkwright Multiverse page, and also the reality behind Arkwright's arch enemies, the Disruptors.

Furthermore although our title character is aiding the Royalists against what can only be described as a repressive regime, the Royalists are not portrayed as wholly sympathetic, either. They live in violent squalor and sexual excess that is despised by the Puritans. Far from being romanticised, it is viewed as being quite a sordid disease-ridden society. Even their eventual queen, Anne, is quite willing to kill her own brother for what she claims is the higher cause of giving the monarchy a strong leader. These faults are spelt out more obviously in the depiction of the post-battle torture and violence inflicted by either side upon their fallen enemy, and with Royalists burning Puritan literature in scenes reminiscent of Nazi book burnings.

This non-glorification of violence and anti-war sentiment is something incredibly rare in mainstream comics (which have traditionally been patriotic, towing the propaganda line) and it is through this quasi-documentary gore that Talbot challenges the grand narrative of imperial history that rewrites itself to validate its cause and cleanse its own hands.

The final overarching plotline of the race of god-like beings that created the firefrost opal mirrors the British civil war of parallel 00.72.87. However, here there is the creation of the all-powerful entropic firefrost, used as a detterant until, in a direct attack upon contemporary government policy upon the nuclear deterrent on our world, the device is inevitably activated, killing all but a few. Desperate to survive, they enter hibernation, seeding the parallels with servitor monkeys made in their image. Humanity's legacy, is to be the less evolved workers who fight over the scraps whilst around them the Empire of their creators falls apart over an internal squabble. Arkwright, the pinacle of ape evolution, homo novus now rather than homo sapiens, is the catspaw that allows the final few to kill each other, leaving him alone as the herald of a new age of evolution.

Imperial grand narrative of any one nation begins to deconstruct itself here as the empires of humanity are shown to be less encompassing, their grand narrative less grand than that of the empire of the god-like beings. Not only is humanity less powerful than these gods, and less evolved than them, but also to a large extent are unaware of them, save for the most rudimentary folk tales of their existence. Moreover, it is even possible that they, like Arkwright, lie outside of the multiverse in which humanity is trapped, and thus able to travel in it and view it in a way that is fundementally different from humanity's rather limited view of itself.

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Yet even the old god like-beings die, like the recurring motif of ragnarok and Gotterdammerung, both representing a day of doom when the old order shall come to an end. They are not immortal, nor are they omnipotent or omnipresent. They simply had their time, and it has passed. Their imperial grand narrative might have given the world we see an origin, or an endless series of origins, of creator and creations, but fortunately we are not permitted to see it, for such a exegesis would very rapidy would be entirely speculative on Talbots part and would detract from the narrative and any point that Talbot can be seen as having made regarding an imperial grand narrative there. We can only assume that their creators lived for a span, and then died. Like a Sartrean existentialist, the reader is bereft of that holy grail of grand narratives, the ultimate meaning, and left to look for limited meanings where ever he or she may find them. This sentiment is presaged in a conversation that occurs early in the book between Arkwright and Fairfax, where Arkwright explains, "The only reasons for man's existence are chemical ones"

Arkwright himself is a self admitted singularly entity, unique within the multiverse, engineered by one side in the quasi-divine civil war. Indeed, it is this quality that allows him to travel through the parallels, something that others can not do an the basic level of physics because they already exist there. Arkwright has no desire to restore or create a grand narrative. His interference in the continua is a result of his manipulation by the dying god like beings, and once he realises his true origins, his only acts of interference within a parallel are to further attack the notion of an Imperial grand narrative by killing of the leaders of the manipulative Prussian and Russian Empires and ending their authority. These dominant world powers echo the existance of the god-like beings and share a similar fate, again at Arkwright's hand. This action could also be read simply as Arkwright protecting the future of his unborn children, who would be sacrificed for the good of the allied Empires, however given his apparent ambivalence towards their upbringing this seems unlikely. The notion of two allied Empires also deconstrcts the supposed authourity of the imperial grand narrative and its singular universal truth claim.

Arkwright is, at this point outside of humanity and has been truely since his rebirth, and even more so now that he is aware of both his and humanity's origins. This divine status is reinforced throughout the narative around the transfiguration sequence. The first splash page of the second volume conveys it through repeated references to light, with light streaming in to an otherwise dark room, the reporter, Kowolsky, lighting a cigarette, and in the brackground the pre-Raphaelite painting, "I Am the Light of the World." But later the religious iconography becomes more blatent, from direct biblical quotes to a Turin shroud cloth. All this is a clear signal to the reader of Arkwright's messaniac status.

It is within Arkwright's power to take the place of the god-like beings who created humanity, create a new divine dynasty beyond the childen he created with Anne, and establish a new alternative to the imperial grand narratve for all to see, but he does not. He is not intrested in becoming a leader or guru himself, perhaps realising that this path leads inextricably toward the self-protecting imperial grand narrative. Rather, he chooses the path of a Nietszchean superman, living his life by his own rules. His actions to do as his first lover implored him many years ago and renounce violence, in the symbolic gesture of disposing of his weapon, does not appear as Arkwight's subjugation. Otherwise he would have renounced violence immediately when asked. The ultimate act against the imperial grand narrative is to withold his power from it. To achieve this act, Arkwright returns to the parallel from which whe first saw him, 00.38.56, a parallel that believes him dead. Arkwright's apparent demise is a point reinforced by Rose Wylde's presenting him with a 'penny dreadful' that records his death.

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As Arkwright himself states, quoting childhoods end "This is an important historical stage- an eon[sic]-shift. We're poised on the dawn of a new age, humanity freed to follow its own destiny." But what is the shape of that destiny?

Let us at this point return to the second of Arkwright's recurring motifs, that of class struggle. Despite his aid to the Royalists and his taking of Princess Anne as a lover, in parallel 00.72.87 Arkwright is never really portaryed as a member of the aristocracy; his swift orphanage really renders him alone, and as such self-sufficient and working-class by necessity. Not that Arkwright ever actually works per se. He jumps away from the place of his upbringing, an upbringing under the disruptor side of the civil war of the god-like beings, straight into the the mid-'60s of a parallel similar to our own, attempting and failing to live a hippy existence in a squat in arround the Portobello rd. area, an area which Talbot was familiar. It is also here that in a direct contrast to his other fine clothes, Arkwright picks up an army surplus flying jacket, the inexpensive clothing of the masses that has an additional benefit of reflecting some small element of empire. However, to all other intents and purposes, Arkwright is effectively classless.

Of the two main parallels, 00.00.00 appears, at least to our limited perception of it, to offer a wholely egalitairian society, a utopia that is "in complete harmony with itself." Class struggle has been entirely eliminated there and Karl Marx is revered as a god-like figure. Initially this utopia would appear to be the attainable perfection, something that humanity at its best can achieve. However, this observation is brutially undercut by the revelation that both Arkwright and the whole of 00.00.00 were engineered to be the perfect society by one side in the civil war of the god-like beings. While it is implied that they simply sealed 00.00.00 off from outside influence of the other faction and the entropic effects of the firefrost opal in their posession, the ragnarok strategy conceived to remove the firefrost from that self-same faction too conveniently slanted toward that faction's ideaology to be entirely coincidential. This would tend to suggest that while total malevolence classically identified with chaos on parrallel 07.23.05 is unobtainable by man, so is the utopia of 00.00.00. Both these states are products of the god-like beings and consequently part of their (doomed) imperial grand narrative.

The civil war of the god-like beings is, again, one that has resonance of class struggle, as does any kind of civil war. However, detailed analysis is denied us, as we only share with Arkwright a limited insight into the minds of those higher beings. They are the old way, and their time is past, they are the prologue to humanity's destiny. It is the battlefield of 00.72.87 that gives us the best view of humanity's own class struggle, most manifestly in the battle between the Royalists and Puritans.

It could be argued that this battle, with both sides supported by a faction of the god-like beings, is simply a microcosm of their own conflict, but this is, I feel, an over simplification. Niether faction of the god-like beings has any kind of direct control over either the Royalist or Puritans. Indeed, it is only when Cromwell's Puritan reigme begins to crumble in the face of the Royalist uprising that direct intervention in the form of disruptor shock troops is required. Any direct control over the leadership of either side in the British civil war would imply a complete lack amongst humanity of any freewill and consequently of any kind of responsibility for their actions, something that would run counter to the Arkwright's overt anti-war message and its condemnation of the imperial grand narrative.

As with the civil war of the god-like beings, it is difficult to pair sides in the British civil war with classes. The British government is a government by Parliment, yet with the Cromwell line assuming the titled status of Lord Protector, the the head of the government still is not democratically elected. Nathaniel Cromwell has become a king in all but name of a religious dictatorship, and can certainly be counted as a member of the aristocracy, delighting in the pleasures that his position affords him- illicit drink, drugs, and a retinue of concubines. As the truism goes, power corrupts, and whatever the origins of the cause of Puritanism and the Cromwell line, Nathaniel Cromwell and his Puritan Regime in no way can be seen as simply working class. Similarly the Royalists who, even historically, were never an entirely upper-class movement and had some Parliamentary support, are left to fester in areas such as the maze, perhaps a reference to the Maze prison in Northern Ireland, a prison for political prisoners. The maze in Arkwright is a region of slums, a ghetto of dissenters, where it is noted that crime prostitution and disease are rife. While there are such characters as Sir Harry Fairfax who can be seen as a Royalist Everyman there is still discernable within this group a clearly privilaged leadership, Queen Anne and the various sub-leaders of her anti-Puritan alliance. The result of this is a critique upon the practicality of the ideal communism that is advocated in the teachings of Marx, so revered in parallel 00.00.00 and by the fictional character of Octobriana in the text.

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In the final analysis, it is the reports of the journalist, Hiram Kowolsky, that offer the most damning views of either side, standing, like Arkwright, outside the imperial grand narrative, writing for the nutral 'New Amsterdam Herald.' However, unlike Arkwright, Kowolsky remains a human commentator. He exposes both the all to evident totalitarian side of Puritainism, the blatent problems of extremism suggesting the more subtle problems with of a monarchist Empire and the bloody Restoration. But beyond this, Kowolsky writes in the important post-ragnarok stage when, as Arkwright himself admits, humanity is free to follow its own path. His writing reveals some disturbing trends, Anne's fusion of Victorian and Elizabethan Imperialism her increased "defence" spending and the creation of a merchant navy points to her fulfilment of a promise to "build an empire on which thew sun will never set." Humanity appears to have chosen to repeat the conflict inducing imperial ghrand narrative that proved the undoing of it's creators.

Arkwright is pointing out that the that the imperial grand narrative- like history, class struggle and political conflict- are inevitable, a recurring motif that can be observed invarious shapes throughout the parallels. Symbols stay the same; only their meaning shifts. But this inevitability is not a claim for any theory of predestination, but a 'big picture' theory of strange attractors where the entropic supremacy of the firefrost device (and thus of the Second Law of Thermodynamics) asserts humanity as being in the grip of a scientific chaos, a world, like our own where we are forced to find meanings where we can.

Go to part one of chapter two....


Bryan and myself have just completed the Second Edition of the Heart of Empire CD-Rom which contains the whole of the Adventures of Luther Arkwright in normal resolution and also in very high resolution; you can buy it right now from our online shop at Cafe Press. Alternatively you can buy the The Adventures of Luther Arkwright in traditional printed graphic novel format from Amazon.

Also, the Adventures of Luther Arkwright is now available to
read as a webcomic from this very website

The design and content of this page and this entire website is copyright 1999, 2006 by James Robertson: all images are copyright 1999, 2006 by Bryan Talbot