Thursday, 14 August 2008

Review: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

Before I get to the main review, may I just say that the binding of the collected edition of Luther Arkwright is absolutely fantastic. You know how you often get graphic novel covers printed on a special kind of textured card (actually its probably some form of lamination) that feels nice and smooth and looks good, but after a while it gets scratched really easily and creases really badly? Well Luther Arkwright's backing has a similar texture, but is a lot more resilient, doesn't get scratched at all and you cant get mucky fingerprints all over it either. Why more Trade Paperbacks arn't printed like this, I don't know.

Anyway, onto the actual story. I'd been trying to get hold of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright by Bryan Talbot for some time now, not least because I'm a completest when it comes to British comics, but also because it includes one of my favorite subject matters, Parallel Universes. As far as this subject goes, the set up is superbly explained on the opening page, and we don't get too bogged down in a load of different universes. Most of the action takes place in a world where Oliver Cromwell's family line kept hold of the throne after his death, and hold control of the British Isles well into the 1980's.

The story switches narrative between flashbacks, and at times, at the start at least, it becomes a little hard to follow, also, Luther ends up on some kind of Doctor Manhattan type trans-humanist trip, and we get a lot of psychedelic scenes. Bear in mind this is not for the casual reader, You'll probably have to have some foreknowledge on myths and legends and a bit of history to be able to follow the meandering parts, but the good side is that Bryan Talbot rewards the well studied reader, not dumbing down anything for the idiots. The story is a bit of a slow burner, but we are eventually rewarded with some brilliantly drawn battle scenes and a genuinely heart pounding climax. Most importantly of all, Luther remains a likable protagonist, despite his whole 'chosen one' epiphany.

All in all, Talbot's done his research, apart from being a bit too wordy at times, his only real flaw comes from the fact that he is genuinely harsh on the Puritan regime and the Parliamentarians. Obviously the whole story is an analogue for the state of Thatcher's Britain at the time, but there seems to be some schizophrenia in popular culture over weather Cromwell was a good guy or a bad guy (Making his way into the top ten of 'Greatest Britons' to being represented as a villain in everything else), regardless, you'll get some people genuinely miffed to see Puritan England represented as a dictatorship.

Of course the big question I'm asking myself is 'is The Adventures of Luther Arkwright better than Watchmen?'. Because yes it is that good, and its climax manages to out-tense that of Watchmen. Its a difficult question to answer, both stories reward the keen eye and feature millions of clues and hidden extras. Both are well researched and enjoyable. Hell, the back of the book has a quote from Alan Moore himself, so it must be good! It is an unanswerable question, but I can say that if Talbot and Moore were both chefs, Watchmen would be a well prepared succulent Steak cooked to perfection with just the right amount of sides and vegetables, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright would be something more adventurous, like Lamb or something, with Quail eggs and all sorts of other things going on, It would not only be delicious but also keep you interested, but you wouldn't quite know what to think of it.

Best Panel: Tanks! Explosions! Holy War! Awesome!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Review: Y: The Last Man

So one day, a friend of mine who was known and respected for his high standards when it comes to films and books, and refers to Star Wars as 'fucking shite', one day is quizzing me on comics, a medium he had little experience of, and mentions in passing that he'd heard of a series called Y: The Last Man and expressed an interest to read it. Well I thought if someone with such sophistication when it comes to films is interested then it must be good. So I went off and began reading one of the best comic book series ever.

Y: The Last Man tells the story of the last two males left on the planet, a lad and his monkey and has constantly battled with other series to what my favorite comic series of all time is. The characters are well rounded, realistic, flawed and likable, the atmosphere is flexible making room for tragedy, suspense and black comedy and the story takes us on a globe trotting adventure to rival both Indiana Jones and James Bond put together (A sort of Frankenstein's monster, Jamesdiana Bones). But it wasn't till I got the final volume and read the whole series in its entirety that I realized just how good Y: The Last Man was.

Writer Brian K. Vaughan takes no sides in the story, presenting how the world would be a better and worse place without men around, and how women are both two faced beasts and grounded emotional rocks (an interesting comparison, I watched the end of Alan Bleasdale's G.B.H last night and he said something similar in the interview afterwards). The series covers a lot of ground, and I like to think I've matured a lot because of it over the last three years, I guarantee that no matter who you are there'll be some part of Y: The Last Man that really means something to you. Vaughan writes the series like a well written classic, having done a Degree in English Literature, I'm well versed in spotting all the set ups that Vaughan seeds in early volumes that lead to connotation a long time later in the series. He also throws us lost of lovely comic book and pop culture references, the best being the Preacher references and slight Manga deconstruction in a later volume.

Of course, the whole series is not without a few minor shortcomings, the glaringly obvious one for me is that the series fall foul of the 'all women are hot' syndrome. This happens all too frequently in comics and in Y: The Last Man's defense its not the worst offender, not by a long chalk, but this kind of thing almost breaks the reality bubble. Are we supposed to believe that practically every woman Yorick comes into contact with would be a stunner? Really? All his female companions, from Scientist, to Secret Agent to Russian soldier, I would not say no to. By and Large all his antagonists and even Yorick's mother aren't half bad looking. Taking into account that there's a fair few lesbian scenes the whole things starts to sound a bit like a soft porn movie, but seriously, I can't help but feel Vaughan missed a trick where he could have included a far from good looking character who could have worked as a commentary on men's idolization of perfect women. I mean really, Post Apocalyptic, All Men Dead, would you really find that many hot women in that kind of society?

Another minor niggle is that, great piece of literature the end of the series was, we seem to have been left with no real moral of what the story represents. Be it Garth Ennis' Preacher's promotion of cowboy values, or Grant Morrison's The Invisibles celebration of individuality, most comic books by and large have some kind of message to bring across. Y: The Last Man is cryptic when it comes to such a message, what it it? Women are better off without men? Women aren't better off without men? Given my previous point on the seres eye candy, is this series doing females any favors or not? At the end of the day Y: The Last Man is a great piece of entertainment, but surely all stories should strive to be more than that, to educate, pass down our values to our descendants?

Despite all that Y: The Last Man is still one of the best comics ever, and its far and away better than most of the other things on the shelf or any piece of knickers galore Manga Japan can throw at us. Whoever you are, whatever you do, go out and buy Y: The Last Man now. Right Now.

Best Panel: Too Many to choose... I'll go for....... This One:

...What are you still doing here? Get buying