Heart of Empire or the Legacy of Luther Arkwright
By Bryan Talbot
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In the seventies and eighties Bryan Talbot electrified the comic world with his magnum opus: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, an experimental science-fiction adventure that was one of the first, serious attempts at a long-form comic book (or as Bryan Talbot himself categorised it: a comic book that worked like a novel). Full of dynamite action, apocalyptic dread and fun knockabout humour with allusions to (mainly English) history, philosophy, poetry and other strange esoteric pursuits and ideas and starring a white-haired trans-dimensional secret agent known as Luther Arkwright - a cross between James Bond and Jesus Christ (with - I should point out - original inspiration from Jerry Cornelius: as you can see here) this was a comic book that reached further and wider than anything else before: and although it may have taken a while to get to grips with - touched readers in exciting strange new places. So why - in 1999 - twenty three years later after the completion of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright - would Talbot feel the need for a sequel and - more importantly - is it any good? Second question first: Yes. Yes and yes again. It's good. And (thankfully) unlike most sequels which suffer from rehashing what went before - Heart of Empire never feels beholden to it's predecessor instead striking out in fresh, new directions: ditching the brain-twisty structures for a streamlined, relentlessly linear ("Seven Days To Cataclysm") dynamic that pulls you along by the scruff of the neck, and replaces the grainy melancholy black and whites for bold, enlivening colours. If The Adventures of Luther Arkwright was the cerebral, jazz-influenced, ever so slightly stodgy (sorry Luther) older model - the Heart of Empire is the young, go-getting, high speed racing version with paint so fresh it's still wet to touch and go-faster strips everywhere. With resplendent artwork that captures perfectly the architectural marvels and delights of an empire at it's height and mixing a Victorian sensibility to science-fictional concepts: it's bizarre, alien and intoxicating in all the right ways. Splashed with copious amounts of sex and violence and a thoroughly English sensibility that soaks through it's very pores (when the bad guys toast to their victory - they do it with tea and biscuits). As to why it was needed: well - it nicely moves the world of the first book along and throws back the light on it in peculiar ways and (without spoiling things too much) showing that revolutions have a tendency to be co-opted. If you're one of the ones that thought that the first book was too much and too hard to get into - then I would recommend trying this out - and if you loved the first book then I would still recommend this as it contains many of the same pleasures (and a few welcome returns of favourite characters). Excellent.
Links: The Comics Journal Review., Page 45 Review, I Am Not The Beastmaster Review.
Further reading: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Ministry of Space, The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century, The Filth.
Profiles: Bryan Talbot.
All comments welcome.