I first became aware of Bryan Talbot's work in the Eighties when the Luther Arkwright work was showcased in an RPG magazine called Imagine. He went on to draw Nemesis the Warlock in 2000AD, a tricky task after Kevin O'Neill. Of course, since then he has produced amazing and unique works (the tale of one bad rat, grandville, Alice in Sunderland) but this is his pinnacle in my opinion. The foreword for this book- a combination of the original three volumes- can be no coincidence. Talbot drew heavily on Moorcock's Jerry Cornellius and ideas of the Multiverse. But this is in no way derivative: the work is absolutely unique. It pulls together astonishing art, collages, typed pieces, beautiful full page spreads and then classic comic book framing. It's violence is brutal in a mad with an air brush way, the sexual content is well handled, and the story is intricate and intriguing. In short, it's a masterpiece- of both science fiction and of comics. It should be there amongst the top ten ever comics along with Watchmen, Sandman and Maus.
I read "The Adventures of Luther Arkwright" as a student way back, picking up the comics as they came out - brilliant. I only found out about the audio version recently, and was intrigued as to how it was going to work. On the whole, I would have to say "pretty well", with David Tennant making an excellent Luther (his relationship with Rose (Wilde) foreshadowing another one with a rather more famous Rose in "Dr Who"). Paul Darrow is suitably vile as Cromwell (the Hitler-esque "One people, one Commonwealth, one leader" speech being particularly effective), and the supporting cast universally good. The sound effects employed can be annoying and are somewhat limited in range, but this doesn't detract overly from the story.
The adaption is generally excellent and runs more or less true to the original story (the American reporter - whose name escapes me - with the Royalists has been excised from the plot with no great loss) and I found myself fitting the words to images from a comic I last read over a decade ago with remarkable ease. It is this last point that forms the basis of my only criticism. There are times in the audio production when it is not altogether obvious what is actually going on - I could get 'round this by prior knowledge of the comic (though even I, on occasion, couldn't quite get what precisely was supposed to be happening...), and I wonder how well a complete "Arkwright virgin" would cope. It's for this reason alone that I can't give it five stars - you'll need the comic with you to get the most out of this otherwise recommended production.
I had all the original twelve books back in the day and then lent them to someone. This volume replaces them. Great story and art that starts a bit crude and shaky but just gets better and better. You can see a comic great blossoming into a true genius. Superb!
In a parallel world where Imperial Russia and Prussia still flourish and a descendant of Cromwell is Puritan dictator of England a multiverse-travelling spy battles to avert cosmic apocalypse.
In some ways this is even better than Watchmen. In several ways it anticipated it, and (the first volume came out in 1982) pioneered techniques and themes Moore and others are generally credited with.
It's a rare work that can survive being influential, but Arkwright not only survives it but still looks fresher and more original than almost everything that came after and was indebted to it.
Re-reading it, in fact, I was struck more by the ways in which Arkwright hasn't been influential than the ways it undeniably has. It wasn't just ahead of its time when the first volume came out: it's STILL ahead of its time now. I'm simply not aware of anyone having picked up the gauntlet it threw down with some of its innovations and achievements of storytelling and layout.
It recalls avant-garde film in its use of juxtaposition, montage, time-fracture. Even in the more conventional passages the art is excellent and often jaw-dropping. There are wordless action sequences that have never been surpassed for tension and impact and only matched in the best of cinema. There are breathtaking architectural vistas, sumptuously detailed scenes of glamour or squalor, grandiose alternative-world war machines lovingly rendered.
The writing is equally superlative, and often would be merely as prose alone if it were to be removed from context - for example there's a stream-of-consciousness in the second part where the gravely-wounded hero remembers the loves of his life in a series of astonishing collages, the text of which is some of the most exhilarating prose-poetry I've read. There are frequent passages of quite electrifying verbal collage jamming together literary, pop cultural and historical fragments in a way reminiscent of Burroughs, Joyce or Eliot.
One should also mention its chutzpah: e.g. there's a parallel-world English princess called Anne, who looks awfully like our one at times, who is not only a machiavellian intriguer but a bit of a goer too.
Complex, adult, wild, deep, dark, glamorous, horrific, fun, sexy, sown with pathos and humour and social comment, mind-expanding in its range of allusion and metaphysical speculation, daring and ambitious and succeeding in its ambitions, it's like nothing in comics before or since and enthralling every step of the way. To hell with my earlier caution, this IS the best.
For me, Bryan Talbot was the workmanlike artist who took over from the sublime Kevin O'Neill on the 2000AD strip, Nemesis in the Gothic Empire, I can still feel the disappointment at realising that O'Neill would not finish that strip. Talbot's art work is slightly fussy, but legible.
Not only is he a proficient artist, he is also an accomplished writer. This is one of those works that seems remarkable that it should even exist. The hours that must have gone into it are incredible.
It is very much of its time, with tantric sex and a punk-ish approach, it has a disaffected seventies vibe to it. Luther Arkwright is on a mission across the different dimensions of a multiverse facing imminent destruction. The narrative is similarly fractured, parallel strands start to make sense as the action unfolds in others. The overall tone is very much like the Jerry Cornelius books by Michael Moorcock or Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. While much admired, those are not exactly easy reads with fractured narratives, dark tone and intellectual show-boating. However, and remarkably, Talbot pulls it off here.
After a slightly boys own opening, the different narratives start spinning, and very quickly he is expertly juggling a mix of strands. This is strange and compelling from an early stage, and he manages to maintain this momentum till the end. Often the payback from a fractured narrative comes late, here it pays of early and just keeps on working.
The book explores tropes that other comics would go on to mine for years to come, for example much of Pat Mills later work, or even Alan Moore. The tantric sex does rather date the book, and make it uncomfortable reading on public transport, but all in all, this warrants masterpiece status.
This is an amazing read, I've been meaning to buy the collected version for ages having got a couple of issues of the american format in the late 80's. It's been worth the wait, the story line is complex but that's what happens when you have multiple earths and a heady mix of , gothic technology, psychic abilities and european history. Different periods of history are juxtaposed and updated so that one is strangely familiar with the various strands but unaware how the mix will pan out.
The art is sublime and perfectly suited to black and white as is the story. While this isn't as well known as some of Alan Moore and Frank Miller's famous works it definteily ranks up there with them.
Luther Arkwright is probably the best comic book published in the last 15 years - better than even Grant Morrisson's Invisibles, or Garth Ennis' Preacher - a cult classic that deserves fullest attention. One of the most sprawling and complex plots, which at the same time is simple enough to follow, it's hero owes a big debt to Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius. It's wry mix of political satire, sci fi, fantasy, adventure and fart gags make this a magnificent work of art.I can't recommend this enough. 5 Stars, and that's only because Amazon don't let me award 20.
I'm not even going to pretend I followed most of what was going on in this book, it needs re-reading when I have time. What I could follow, though, was incredible. Huge battles across countless multiple universes that skip through several time periods, the death of an empire, and the birth of a new. Metaphysical arguments, the evolution of a new species of human. Gore, subtle humour, fart jokes, graphic sex... There's room for it all here, and more. The story is far too complex to go into, but it involves Luther Arkwright, a typical heroic type, who works for a multi-dimensional watchdog sort of thing that keeps a track on all of the other dimensions and keeps it's enemies at bay. Things mount and mount, building tension right the way through to the final battle. Bryan Talbot ranks up there with Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for bringing intelligence back into comics (and he draws his own scripts), but for some reason doesn't get as much attention... Check out the sequel, 'Heart of Empire', which may or may not be released as a trade paperback soon. If not, pop down to your local comic shop and ask about it, it was nine issues long and ran during 1999. It's a very different tale and doesn't actually feature Luther Arkwright himself, but focuses on his daughter about twenty years after the end of this volume. It's very good. Buy this first though.
Somehow the idea of producing an audio book version of a comic, particularly one as visual and complex as 'Luther Arkwright', had never even occured to me. But this is a very valiant attempt and it's hard to see how anyone could have done it better.
While a few elements of the Arkwright story are a little cliched decades after it was first put on paper, it still works well and the writer of the audio adaption has done a good job of converting the comic into dialog and sound effects; though I could imagine a few parts might be a little confusing to someone who's never read the comic. The acting is good, it's nice to hear Paul Darrow in a role more recent than 'Blake's Seven', I particularly liked the portrayal of Harry Fairfax and Queen Anne, and the mix of adventure, SF, humor and romance kept me following it to the end.
It's well past time someone made a 'Luther Arkwright' movie, but until then this is probably the closest we'll get. I'm sure that if someone does make a movie they could learn a thing or two about how to adapt the story from the audio version too.