Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Heart of Empire - Bryan Talbot

This is a sequel to The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. Such a bald statement, however, conceals a great deal. In the previous book we are presented with a highly complex story, rendered in detailed black and white drawings. The visual impression is one of darkness and drabness, entirely fitting to the portrayal of a puritan fascist dictatorship. Heart of Empire takes place twenty three years after the overthrow of the Cromwell dynasty and in tone it could not be more different. To begin with, the book is rendered in full colour. And the drawing style, whilst beautifully detailed, is lusher and more in keeping with the decadent royalist empire it portrays. For whilst it is colourful, the contrast between the bright colours of court life and the sickly, drab colours experienced by everyone is highly marked.

The story itself loses nothing for being less complex. Much of the complexity has been told in the previous story and lies in the background. Here we are presented with a counterbalancing tale that shows us there are many kinds of dictatorship. The puritan commonwealth and the royalist empire are two sides of the same coin. Subject peoples are still trodden into the dirt by an elite whose only concern is their personal well being.

It would be interesting to see a third volume. At the end of Heart of Empire a democracy is established. We know from watching the news every day that establishing and maintaining a democracy is no easy matter, and that democracies are just as easily corrupted to evil as any other political system. Perhaps it is time Luther Arkwright returned.