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The Official Bryan Talbot fanpage / Heart of Empire homepage

Dark Horse publicity for Heart of Empire


This page has got some of the publicity put out by Dark Horse for Heart of Empire. Firstly there is the short version:

In a world held in the iron grip of a totalitarian empire, the dying Pope, guided by a vision from God, sends his top assassin to the Imperial Palace with a dire mission -- but the countdown to total destruction has already begun! Meanwhile, the Princess Victoria embarks on a quest that will turn her world upside down. The long-awaited stand-alone sequel to The Adventures of Luther Arkwright is finally here. Bryan Talbot has created an amazingly complex, yet accessible universe filled with action, adventure, romance, heroism, and betrayal. An epic tale that builds inexorably to a roller-coaster ride that will have you hanging on every word and every image!


This is the more detailed publicity text from Dark Horse:

The Legacy of Luther Arkwright continues

With the coming of Spring comes the promise of eternal renewal, as well as the long-awaited renewal of one of Dark Horse's most fascinating adventure stories of all time -- The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. Award-winning creator Bryan Talbot continues the legacy of his greatest hero with a new nine-part miniseries -- Heart of Empire -- a rollicking, bloody, Victorian sci-fi take on revisionist English history, balanced deftly between historical accuracy and outlandish fancy.

Twenty-three years after the events depicted in The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Talbot visits Princess Victoria -- Arkwright's only living offspring, and the phenomenal young heiress to Britain's embattled throne. Her mother, Princess Anne is being stalked by the Pope's (yes, THE Pope) chief assassin, and she'll soon be killed if she doesn't relinquish control over Britain to the decrepit powers of the Vatican. Within the first many pages, the Pope summons his assassin with this in mind: "Rome shall assert its divine right to empire. This I shall achieve."

It's a brash statement for an old man to make from his deathbed, but with the power of the Catholic Church behind him, one doesn't doubt the Pope is thinking within reason.

"I like to think of Heart of Empire as a story in its own right, rather than a sequel," said Talbot. "It's very different in nature to the first story, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and is designed to stand on its own, with no need to read the original. For one thing, it is not as self-consciously experimental as the first and, unlike that one, has a linear storyline. It is much more accessible but, at the same time, is not `dumbed down.' In a way, it's much more sophisticated."

The sophistication Talbot mentions is inherent in almost all the work he's ever done, and at times it seems Talbot doesn't recognize how challenging his work can be to approach because of its unwavering sophistication. For viewers of Talbot's art, one of the first conclusions that can logically be drawn about it is that much patience and time has been dedicated to its creation. His black and white work in particular is laced with exaggerated, textured landscapes and backdrops that could make L. Frank Baum's grand imaginings pale in comparison.

It's also typical of his work that you won't find any female characters who look like Witchblade, but there's more sensuality to the typical Talbot panel than anyone comfortable viewing airbrushed art could imagine. The sensual textures of skin and materials is especially notable in his uncolored pages (the first Luther Arkwright collection published by Dark Horse was printed in black and white), but the rich jewel tones of Heart of Empire embolden the futuristic British cityscapes and deepen the strange pallor of many of his subjects. "Another difference is the protagonist; Heart of Empire is set twenty-three years later and centres on Arkwright's daughter, Victoria. Raised as a princess, heir to a rapacious British Empire that dominates the world, she will be, to most comic readers, a problematic heroine," Talbot predicted. "As opposed to the usual hourglass-shaped comic book heroine, she's nearly seven foot high, sickly and anorexic. Constantly plagued by migraine headaches and vomiting, she's consequently in a perpetually foul mood. And, oh yes, by dint of her privileged upbringing, she has racist tendencies."

The writing is complex, but so is the art (and more importantly, so is the world Talbot is depicting). Any story that attempts a revisionist history of a country as old and rich and jaded as England damn well better be capable of conveying the many layers of classist tendencies, political malfunctions, social unrest, and grand traditions related to its history. To achieve this, a certain complexity in storytelling is called for.

Together, the writing and art serve up an intensely intimate look into an entire series of events. In most cases when anything goes down, the readers are treated to such a close look at the occurrences that it's easy to spend a number of minutes looking at a single page. Talbot's books are typically not page-turners in the common sense of the word -- rather, they are dense adventures filled with as much emotional pull as high-flying action, and if you jump the gun to get on with the story, you're likely to miss half the information on the page.

But anyone who spends just a few minutes reading will discover Talbot's work quickly becomes a rollercoaster, page-turner of a read. In one city scene, a passenger train named Hermia (named after the character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream -- perhaps the ultimate literary example of nothing being what it seems) pulls in to station, serving as yet another allusion on Talbot's part that what you see in this world is often deceiving. A panel of a mural in Rome depicts, among other things, Andromeda chained to the rocks and rescued from a sea monster by Perseus bearing the head of Medusa, and two women cavorting sensually with large birds. One might be Theodora of York -- known for enticing geese with corn so they would bite her erotically, and one is certainly Leda -- one of Zeus' many married lovers, who became impregnated with twins when he took the form of a swan and had sex with her.

This direct parallel is another reminder that Luther Arkwright -- who fathered twins with his lover, Anne -- is at least an evolutionary step above the fray of mankind, if he's not close to being a deity himself. There's also a great deal of humor subtley infused in the greater story, as well as a great deal of out-and-out body ribald stuff. A favorite example (and only one of many) is found when Victoria's strange doctor lends her an heirloom tantric sex toy to help relieve her migraines.

It's hard not to find this sort of bizarre intimacy highly appealing in the context of an intriguing and complex epic like Heart of Empire. If you don't catch the mythological or literary references, that won't in any way affect your ability to enjoy the great, action-packed stories Talbot is renowned for crafting. At the same time, readers who appreciate great literature and history need look no further for the comics read of a lifetime than Heart of Empire and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

Heart of Empire is a nine-issue series by Bryan Talbot. The first issue of this epic series, colored by Eisner Award winner Angus McKie, contains 29 pages of story, letters from Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Garth Ennis, spot illustatrions by Dave Gibbons and Grant Morrison, and a hilarious illustrated "parallel biography" of Talbot. It debuts April 14, and is priced at $2.95.


The whole of Heart of Empire - together with all pencilled and inked pages, 60,000 words of annotations by Bryan and the whole of the Adventures of Luther Arkwright is available on a CD-Rom for only 18 US dollars.


The design and content of this page and this entire website is copyright 1999, 2006 by James Robertson: all images are copyright 1999, 2006 by Bryan Talbot