Luther Arkwright review: from Popimage
The groundbreaking multiverse caper that catapulted Talbot into the spotlight
and Artist: Bryan Talbot
Reviewed by Scott Grunewald
Futuristic Ragnarok averting adventure. Espionage world spanning caper. Political and social power struggle. Science-fiction-tinged alternate history. Quasi-religious spiritual journey. Bryan Talbot's THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT is all of these things, and more.
Under normal circumstances, a story as top heavy as this would crumble under its own weight, but Talbot keeps everything coherent and stable. More then stable, in fact; he manages to interweave more and more plot points into the story without missing a stitch. Everything has a purpose, everything has a part to play in the drama, and when it all comes together at the end it's nothing short of breathtaking.
THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT tells the story of a multiverse of possibilities. Endless parallels of our earth, only one step away from each other. All alike, yet upon closer examination all totally different. Luther Arkwright, however, is unique. A man without parallels, without alternate selves, and gifted to walk between the realities under his own power.
Parallel 00. "Ground zero," you might say. The most advanced and peaceful parallel in all of reality that chooses to shepherd the others and protect them from the mysterious and dangerous Disrupters, dark men of the shadows and just as advanced as the citizens on Para 00. But rather then aid the many realities, the Disrupters want to control and ultimately destroy them. Enter the Fire Opal: a machine of unknown origins, a machine (if it can truly be called that, as it is so much more) with one purpose...the total destruction of all existence. The Disrupters have it, and worse, have activated it.
However, Para 00 has a plan. Luther has been directed to Parallel 00.72.87. Once there he is to aid the dethroned royal family in their efforts to overthrow the pious, oppressive Puritan government (a puppet of the Disrupters). With Luther's aid, the Royalists stand a chance of winning, or at least cause enough problems for the Disrupters to be forced to send aid to protect their interests. This will allow W.O.T.A.N (a super intelligent computer in the service of Para 00) to locate the Disrupters and track down the Fire Opal before it ends all of reality.
Ambitious? Damn right it's ambitious, and I've only scratched the surface of this epic adventure. Talbot mixes all of the great genres into one reality-spanning tale that redefined what comics are capable of. Mixing romance, action, sex, humor, obsession, perversion, science fiction, religion, spirituality and heroism is no easy task, yet Talbot makes it look effortless.
THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT deserves to be lauded as one of the great pieces of fiction in comic form. However, the reality is that it doesn't get nearly as much credit as it should. It was originally published in what I refer to as the "Coming of the End." Collected in 3 volumes in the UK between 1981 and 1990 by Valkyrie Comics, it was finally published in its intended 9-chapter form by Dark Horse (with new covers) in 1992, when Image was a fresh babe fouling the air with its dirty diapers and comics were turned into the get-rich-quick scheme of the moment. Nevertheless, somehow it got published, and the world is better for it.
Okay, maybe that's going a bit too far, but it definitely raised the bar in comics. THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT showed us that genres do not need to be re-invented when there is still so much fertile soil left to till. Talbot very wisely doesn't attempt to be revolutionary with this book, and it's that very act which makes this an important work in comics.
The book isn't perfect; there are times when the art gets a little cluttered and confusing, and Talbot breaks the flow of the story with long text pieces that are only effective half the time. However, when the art is good it more then makes up for the few times it gets confusing. And when the long text piece work, they are extremely effective. Talbot's skill literally grows as the story moves on, sometimes making astronomical leaps.
This is an artist finding his footing, and growing into a strong and talented voice. Never mind that he's currently outdoing himself 8 years on with the slower paced, introspective and carnally charged sequel HEART OF EMPIRE - this is where we should look for his artistic roots. This is where he learned his chops, and where he became the man who gave us THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT.
Bryan Talbot is one of the premier comic creators working today. If you haven't read this book, track it down. It stands as one of the significant markings along the road to critical acceptance for comics.
Scott Grunewald is Editor in Chief of PopImage
If you have arrived here as part of the guided tour then you can either go back to the main guided tour page or go on to the next page in the tour which is Popimage's review to the sequel to Arkwright, which is Heart of Empire.
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