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!