Graphic Novel Classic Library: Luther Arkwright
by Bryan Talbot
Bryan Talbot’s visionary tale is the very definition of epic steampunk sci-fi. That it still, some 31 years after initial publication, stands up as both a masterpiece of sci-fi AND of experimentation in the narrative art of comics is testament to the vision and skill of it’s author.
Luther Arkwright; parallel-world hopping secret agent is sent to a puritanical alternative Britain where Cromwell won the Civil War and his descendants have ruled ever since. This is a Britain meticulously detailed by Talbot as some Victorian steampunk nightmare; a land of Armstrong-Siddley Vibro Beamer weapons, Rolls Royce motor carriages and a populous living in squalor and wearing fashions that haven’t moved forwards in centuries.
(How’s that for a wonderful opening page? From The Adventures Of Luther Arkwright by Bryan Talbot)
Arkwright’s mission is to destabilise the Cromwellian regime and reveal it’s secret otherworldly masters – at which point he has to infiltrate their base, find a mystical doomsday device and prevent the destruction of the multiverse. In doing so he’ll rub shoulders (and much more) with Royalty, duel with Disruptor secret agents, organise a Royalist rebellion against Cromwell’s increasingly repressive regime and, in the middle of it all he’ll face death and rebirth, becoming a new superhuman species in the process. But this is no spandex clad super tale – this is beautifully constructed science fiction, reminiscent of classic 60s Brit sci-fi and Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius.
(Bryan Talbot’s quite beautiful artwork in Luther Arkwright, dense, detailed and spectacular)
The tension builds until the spectacularly beautiful and cinematic climax where Talbot creates something truly innovative and experimental; a new dynamic of comic storytelling, incredible jump cuts and a new understanding of the way time works in comic panels to bring his multiple storylines to a finale with absolute, perfect control.
Luther Arkwright is a stunning, dense and beautiful work of science fiction in comics form. It was at least a decade ahead of it’s time and I’d argue long into the night with you that it still hasn’t been surpassed to this day.
Thanks to The Official Bryan Talbot Webpage for the images used here.