Saturday, August 24, 2013

2000AD - Trifecta

The big 2000AD event of last year is now out in a smart hard cover format. Trifecta by Al Ewing, Simon Spurrier, Rob Williams, Simon Coleby, Henry Flint, Matt 'D'Israeli' Brooker and Carl Critchlow.

Spoilers ahead! Last year the forums exploded after 2000AD pulled off the coup of combining three stories in the Prog when Judge Dredd kicked in a door on his last page only to crash through onto the first page of the next story. Opinions varied as to how well the three stories meshed together after that, and about some of the plot devices required to make it all work, but what wasn't in any doubt was the shock that this has been done with no forewarning at all. To pull off a comic surprise in the age of the internet and a sea of spoilers was an amazing achievement. And now we can read the whole story in one book.

The three separate stories feature Dredd himself, Dirty Frank from Lowlife, and The Simping Detective. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear from the start that the three strips are part of a larger whole. There are hints and strange panels featuring a mystery character who likes a cup of tea and a nice biscuit. This is later revealed to be Judge Smiley whose behind the scenes manipulation and physical appearance are clearly based on Alec Guinness in the BBC adaptations of the John Le Carre novels. Judge Smiley has placed some hypnotic memory blocks in the minds of the lead characters but they get strange flashes as their memories start to break through. At the time it wasn't clear what all this meant but reading again all is much clearer.

I have waxed lyrically about Henry Flint and D'Israeli's art before and their work here is outstanding. Particularly D'Israeli's ridiculously detailed Moon cities and his fantastic recreation of some of the more obscure monsters from Dredd's history. I was completely unfamiliar with Spurrier and Coleby's Simping Detective strip before this event, and I confess that I didn't pay much attention to the early episodes until Dredd's boot crashed through into Jack Point's world. And it's Simon Coleby's art that is the revelation in this volume. It's got that shadowy black and white look that suits the film noir private detective setting, but what I didn't remember were the vivid splashes of colour he uses particularly when Point seems to be hallucinating flashbacks to his meeting with Smiley. It's a wonderful blend of styles and I was particularly impressed when Coleby pulled off some 3-D effects with the introduction of the villain Turner.

The writing is pretty spectacular as well, especially when they pulled off the big crossover. Al Ewing captures Judge Dredd almost as well as John Wagner, and Rob Williams continues to delight with his hilarious Dirty Frank. Simon Spurrier writes the Simping Detective and gives Jack Point some very snappy dialogue with a long list of jokes and similes to describe the various perilous situations he finds himself in. Spurrier is clearly a very clever writer, possibly too clever in places and I wished that Point's introductory patter could have been turned down a bit as the story progressed. It is his distinctive feature (apart from the red nose that is), as he reminds us several times "I'm all about the funny, me". It just began to wear me down a bit as the finale approached.

Which brings me to the vexed subject of endings to comic book events. Like a perfect gymnastic landing they are apparently incredibly difficult to pull off successfully and Trifecta is no exception. The bizarre complexity of Smiley's plan to save Mega-City One depends on so many different events happening exactly as he predicted that disbelief isn't so much suspended as it is balancing perilously on the edge of a precipice. Not to forget the idea that a senior Judge can apparently hide himself in a secret room next to the Chief Judge's office for 20 years and nobody notice. However even the endings of acknowledged classics like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns can be similarly criticised. Maybe we comic fans just enjoy the journey more than we do the destination.

The medical details are a bit far fetched. Dredd is shot several times and appears to be bleeding to death at the end of one episode, only for a couple of bandages and an adrenaline injection to have him back on his feet in the next. I'm afraid adrenaline won't do that in real life, but as the main villain of the piece remarks Dredd always could take a beating.

One final criticism about the collected edition and its extras We get a beautiful lenticular cover by Henry Flint. All the related Prog covers are included in the back matter, along with some promotional images and character sketches, plus a brief paragraph about each of the creators, and that's it. I was hoping for some more material from the artists and what I really wanted was an introduction. I don't know who could have written it, maybe Tharg himself could have talked a little about the original conception for the story and how such a big surprise remained a secret. The old Titan books used to manage this but Rebellion editions seem sadly lacking in this regard.

Still when all is said and done it is a great story and well worth a reread. 4 out of 5 Sirian Rosettes from me.

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