Tuesday, January 22, 2013


What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free (but not this week), and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Trifecta (Rebellion, 2012).

Many years ago, some 2000 AD readers were having a game of "what ifs" on one of the message boards or newsgroups, and talk got onto one of the occasional huge events in the pages of Judge Dredd. See, there are dozens of spin-off series that are set in the same world as the hero, and tell stories about other judges in other departments, or plainclothes detectives in other cities, or gay vampire occult investigators in the employ of the Vatican's black ops program, or what have you, but the cataclysmic events in one series are rarely ever referenced in the others. Wouldn't it be lovely if a major, world-shaking thing actually was shown to rock the protagonists of several series at once? The idea was cherished, nurtured, considered, and, as things happen on message boards, quietly filed away and forgotten in favor of new conversations.

The twist in "The Cold Deck" is integral to discussing what happens, so here goes: right under everybody's noses, after a few weeks of thinking three separate series were every bit as separate as 2000 AD series typically are, the three were all suddenly shown to be beautifully interlinked. The twist itself was cute, but the execution was more flawless than any ever seen in comics. Nearly forty years I've been readin' funnybooks, and I've never seen it bettered. The three writers, Al Ewing, Si Spurrier, and Rob Williams, have absolutely blown away every antecedent in the genre, from every time the Avengers have fought the X-Men, or DC's Superman learned that it was Marvel's Galactus that destroyed his home planet, of course it has taken the architects building the world's best comic book to show everybody else how to do it best and make it matter.

Here's the part that I liked the most: the story took advantage of last year's excellent Dredd movie to pull it off. As the film was released, the sister comic Judge Dredd Megazine devoted two of its three slots for new comics to a pair of Dredd episodes, and the other to the movie's co-star Anderson, leaving all the many other recurring Dredd-universe series temporarily homeless. For example, the Meg had been the traditional home of a series called The Simping Detective by Spurrier and, in this new story, artist Simon Coleby. At the same time, it also made sense for 2000 AD to beef up its Dreddworld content to take advantage of moviegoers' curiosity. At most, there might be a second story in any given issue set in Dredd's Mega-City One, such as the popular Low Life by Williams and artist Matt "D'Israeli" Booker.

So everything was announced with the happy understanding that the extra Dredd-world content was scheduled because of the movie. Everybody likes Low Life, which features a somewhat deranged and hygiene-challenged undercover judge named Dirty Frank. And everybody likes The Simping Detective, back in action after a few years away, which features another undercover judge, Jack Point, who poses as a private eye. And everybody has been very pleased with the Dredd episodes by Al Ewing, who's frankly considered to be that strip's heir apparent to its main writer, John Wagner, when the day of his retirement comes, and especially when fan favorite Henry Flint is on art duties. There has never been a time when readers have been lulled into such a false state of security.

Here's the thing: Marvel and DC learned ages ago to hype and promote the bejesus out of their big events stories. They send out the press releases, they let everybody know that nothing will ever be the same again, they provide retailers with checklists to pass out to customers, because a new big event, usually built around the temporary "death" of a major character, will cross over from one main title into sixteen or more subordinate ones. I'd like to think that readers know it's a shell game and don't really appreciate it, but deal with it all the same. I suffered through the intrusion of heaven knows how many crossovers into the American titles that I wished to read, for decades, and enjoyed exactly one of them, One Million. That's not a good batting average. (As I'm writing this, incidentally, I'm enjoying a long reread of the 1980s Legion of Super-Heroes, and I'm right at the point between the last of several intrusions from Crisis on Infinite Earths and a two-part intrusion from Millennium. None were welcome.) The point is: the hype is the key. They start excited arguments at comic news and fan sites, even the good ones like The Beat, and they get the comment threads humming and the advertisement views rising, so the fan media keeps covering new hype projects, because - good Lord! - this time, when Professor X dies, he might stay dead for a whole seventeen issues instead of sixteen. This is serious business! Keep talking about it! Surely, if 2000 AD wanted to get more coverage, they'd announce a crossover and promote it, so everybody on every comic fan site can get excited and get the ad views and clicks, right?

No, they'll just print part two of a Dredd episode that ends with our hero kicking down the door of an apartment and then begin the very next page, starting part four of the Simping Detective story, with the occupants of that apartment seeing their door being kicked down by Dredd.

Wait, what?!

I don't know where to begin with it. The visual itself is amazing: it really looks like Judge Dredd has just broken into somebody else's strip. Of course Jack Point and the criminal that he's grafting are unhappy to see him: they're trying to have their own damn adventure.

In retrospect, there were lots of clues that Dredd and Point were actually working on the same case, but nobody noticed them because, over in Low Life, Dirty Frank had woken up a few issues previously with his memory wiped, and he's on the moonbase city Luna-1 and he's very deep undercover as a billionaire about to have an important board meeting with a half-man half-shark. All of the readers' investigation circuits were so engaged trying to puzzle out the tantalizing clues and hints in that strip that it just flat out did not occur to anybody that we should also be looking for anything unusual anywhere else. So when a transmission from Point is received by Dirty Frank on the moon later in the same issue, it's the second forehead-slapping jawdropper in one week. We've got an insanely large corporation led by a shark-dude on the moon, some sort of Maltese McGuffin business in Point's neck of the woods, and ugly politics within Justice Department with an attempted coup, and all these are the same case?!

This just made the next four issues completely wild and exciting, putting all these pieces together along with our heroes, finding connections and seeing a grandiose and huge conspiracy that somehow lives up to the attention. Put another way, two other very good series were running alongside these three in 2000 AD: Brass Sun, an extremely promising new series written by Ian Edginton, and a long-overdue ABC Warriors story in which Pat Mills, brilliantly and masterfully, starts tying together some thirty year-old loose ends, and "Trifecta" - to call this crossover by the name of the issue-length episode, co-scripted by all three writers and drawn by Carl Critchlow, that concluded it - outshined them both.

Everybody involved can take a bow. Between all this, and the conclusion of Nikolai Dante, and the amazing "Day of Chaos", and the Dredd movie, 2012 was simply one of the finest years in the Galaxy's Greatest Comic's 35-year history. If you read any other comic - any - last year, then you were reading second-rate material. The medium just doesn't get better than this.

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