Last month, "2000 AD" readers were shocked to discover that all three of the currently running series based in Mega-City One, "Judge Dredd: The Cold Deck," "Low Life: Saudade" and "The Simping Detective: Jokers to the Right," were part of a secret, surprise crossover. This week, the storyline culminated in "Trifecta," an epic, giant-size adventure featuring Judge Dredd, Jack Point and Dirty Frank.
"Trifecta," written by Rob Williams, Al Ewing and Si Spurrier, shows the three writers' stories merging and taking over every page of "2000 AD" prog 1812, replacing the anthology's usual fare of five different stories by five different creative teams. "Trifecta" features the art of "Thrud the Barbarian" artist Carl Critchlow.
In our second talk on the super-secret crossover, Spurrier, Williams and Ewing discussed the origins of "Trifecta," why keeping the readers in the dark about the crossover until the big reveal was so vital, convincing Editor-in-Chief Matt Smith to go along with not promoting the event in advance and more.
CBR News: Can you bring readers up to speed on how "Low Life," "The Simping Detective" and "Judge Dredd" dovetailed into one issue-long epic with "Trifecta?"
Rob Williams: In "Low Life," Dirty Frank, undercover Mega-City One Judge with hygiene and mental health irregularities, has found himself on the moon with no idea how he got there. He has been given the identity of a super-rich board member of a mystery multinational that is building something very secret within one of the moon's enormous craters. Frank's job -- besides working out whether or not he's finally snapped -- is to reveal to Justice Department the exact nature of the enormous lunar building project, why there's an alien army arriving in proper big spaceships and, perhaps most importantly, to find out who put him on the moon with a false identity in the first place.
Al Ewing: In the wake of Chaos Day in "Judge Dredd," SJS head Buell brings a problem to Dredd -- a top-secret Justice Department file, potentially devastating to the department, has been stolen. If the theft becomes public knowledge inside the department, it could lead to a power grab from Dredd's political enemy, the corrupt Judge Bachmann, with ugly consequences for a city already on its knees. Dredd, aided by a small team of trusted associates and a mysterious figure from the past, races to recover the file and block Bachmann's moves -- a deadly political game that could spiral into something much more apocalyptic. Because nobody knows just how far Bachmann's willing to go...
Si Spurrier: "The Simping Detective" is Jack Point: a hard-boiled, hard-drinking, hard-to-get-along-with undercover-cop who dresses like a clown. See, this is Mega-City One: a town where "blending in" means looking and acting like a grade-A kook. He's got an alien super-predator for a pet, a twenty-a-day carrot addiction, an ex-judge girlfriend and a serious case of vocational crisis. Truth is, he's just not cut out for the whole "Judge, Jury and Executioner" thing -- and not just because he looks stupid in a helmet.
In the wake of the Chaos Bug that decimated so much of Mega-City One, Jack's home -- Sector 13, "Angeltown" -- remains as sleazy and grim as ever. But it's All Change for our red-nosed noiranaut: currently on the run from his own colleagues. See, he had a run-in with an informant acting crazy -- killed her by mistake -- and it turns out she, like him, was an undercover judge. So Jack's on the lam -- suspecting some sort of setup but just as befuddled and beboozled as ever -- and his only hope of escape is to earn enough hard cash to buy himself a seat off-world. And for that he plans sell the creepy little clown-doll he took from his victim's corpse: a doll which everyone, up to and including Jack's corrupt boss, seems to want. At last, it looks as though he's found a buyer...
Where did the idea to mix your three Mega-City One set series together in "Trifecta" originate?
Spurrier: We got drunk and decided it would be funny.
Ewing: It was all Si and Rob's idea, so all credit goes to them. Then they asked me if I wanted to be the Dredd guy.
Williams: Al threw up in a bin in Covent Garden, Si commented that he looked like a pirate and it all sort of grew from there.
Ewing: Do we have photos of the bin-spewing incident?
Spurrier: Actually, didn't we start-off wanting to do something like this in a non-Dredd story? Like, an Image anthology or something? Then we realized it would be really difficult to have that "surprise! It's all a crossover!" moment if you were blatantly putting out three stories side-by-side in a dedicated mag, so we got excited about the idea of sneakily doing it in the "2000 AD" prog -- i.e.: already an anthology -- instead.
Plus, we all really like money, so, y'know. Work for hire FTW.
Ewing: Yeah. The Image book was a really good idea -- I seem to remember it was all about the nature of fiction -- but we were all busy at the time, so it never came together. This one did, and very quickly.
Williams: Do you know, I honestly can't remember how it came together now. We did get together in various London pubs and co-plotted something we never ended up progressing with. But that sort of convinced us it could work. I'd done a few "writers' room" projects with Marvel, working with Rick Remender, Jeff Parker and others on books like "One Month To Live" and "Venom: Circle Of Four." That convinced me that this sort of thing could work as an experiment in "2000 AD." So when we were at NYCC last year we all sat down -- again, in a pub -- and started knocking the thing together.
Spurrier: Rob mentioned Marvel! DRINK! Pubs have indeed been a recurring motif.
Williams: Si said pubs. Drink!
Ewing: I have memories of a vast plate of ribs being served. That was key to the process.
How important was it for "Trifecta" to be a surprise?
Spurrier: Short answer: the surprise was very important. There've been several memorable moments in "2000 AD's" history where the readers think they know what a story's about and then the rug gets pulled from under their feet. We wanted to do something the same -- but marketing the thing's a nightmare.
Ewing: I think we decided early on whether to have the BIG SURPRISE element or the ADVANCE PR element, and we went for the option that was more fun, and would be more memorable and exciting for the readers. Save the PR for... now! Hello world!
Was "2000 AD" Editor-in-Chief Matt Smith on board right away?
Ewing: Matt's been really supportive of something which -- let's face it -- has to be the biggest headache in Headacheville. We couldn't have done it without him.
Williams: I think so. We approached Matt with it and he was good with the concept. We thought we might have some problems getting the "we'd like the whole prog of '2000 AD' for the final act" request, but he was cool with that, too. That was exciting for all of us, I think. I'm not sure that's ever been done in "2000 AD" before -- maybe once. "2000 AD" is always an anthology, but the final act of "Trifecta" is a 28-page storyline co-written by the three of us. I'm sure we all had a little moment of feeling like we were doing an old school Wagner/Grant co-written Dredd epic there. When John Wagner and Alan Grant were writing together, they'd use the pseudonym TB Grover and you couldn't see the join. Hopefully, that's the case here.
Matt, as all good editors should do, let us run with the storyline we wanted to do, but made a few key additions of his own that really lifted it. One in particular was pretty great and very big and hugely visual. You'll see it in the final part.
Ewing: "Dredd" and the second "Rogue Trooper" had an issue-size crossover, I seem to recall. Prog 900.
Spurrier: Never a Dredd-centric tale, as far as I know.
Was that "Dredd" and "Rogue Trooper" crossover a surprise?
Spurrier: It! Was! Not!
Why'd it take so long to bring "The Simping Detective" out of retirement?
Spurrier: Various reasons. 1) Frazer [Irving] was basically off the table -- like, failing to do "Gutsville," too, but let's not talk about that, ow ow ow get off that nerve -- 2) Marvel (DRINK!) and Avatar came along and started keeping me super busy, and 3) I didn't have any sudden explosive ideas I felt should/could only be told using Jack Point. When the "Trifecta"-in-Dredd-world thing was mooted, it made perfect sense. Our three respective characters are serendipitously at three corners of a good/lawful/sane triangle.
Actually, that's not true. They're not at three corners -- they're just all very uniquely distributed inside that metaphorical infographic.
Ewing: It's a Venn diagram. Each character is two of those things.
Williams: That's a good point Al. Each lead is two of those things.
Spurrier: Don't you out-infographic me, Ewing. But you're right. Shit.
You guys even made Venn diagrams for this? I like the dedication.
Spurrier: There was a lot -- a lot -- of sitting around and working things out. Usually in pubs.
Do all three of your storylines end in the same issue, or will they weave back out again after "Trifecta?"
Ewing: The big bang final issue is the last of it -- no TO BE CONTINUED. But I think the fallout from the event will carry over to various extents in the individual strips. I know there's some character fallout I'd like to deal with in the long run with Dredd, and I have a feeling that future "Low Lifes" and "Simpings" will deal with some of these issues, too.
Spurrier: They all end together, although I think we've all built-in the means to take our respective characters off and tell "fallout" tales further down the line.
We made the rookie error of not only making the grand interwoven masterpiece cleverly complex, but each of the three stories is also magnificently twisty. So there was plenty of bleeding-from-eyeballs, pages of notes, groans of collective realization as "that won't work," etc. And beer. And Al puking, as has been mentioned, in a bin.
Ewing: IT WAS SO COMPLEX. I HAD TO LET THE COMPLEXITY OUT, THROUGH MY STOMACH HOLE.
Spurrier: I feel it's important that we regard that moment as central to the development of the "Trifecta" project.
Will "The Simping Detective" will be sticking around for a while?
Spurrier: More "Simping Detective" -- at some point. (Hahaha, that's clever, because, like, the main's character's name is ohpissoff) Or maybe the strip will continue in some other form, because it ain't a safe assumption that all three guys will walk away at the end undeadified.
Frankly, "The Simping Detective" is the single most time-consuming and brain-hurty thing I write -- So! Much! Wordplay! -- and my magnificent artist will probably be burnt-out for a decade after dealing with all this shit I've made him draw. So, yeah. Maybe, but not immediately.
Did you think about involving Al's other Mega-City One series "Tempest" or Andy Diggle and Jock's former undercover Judge series "Lenny Zero" in to the mix?
Spurrier: Frankly, it was complicated enough with the three of us. Adding a Guinnessed-up Diggle, or Al's alter-ego, to the table would've ruined all of us.
Ewing: Yeah, "Tempest" is off the table for the foreseeable future. He's still down in the Undercity with all his supervillains, carrying on as normal. One day he will be back.
I was a bit worried with the "classical music" reference in the prologue that people would think that Dredd's "little glowing friend" was Tempest, actually. But that might be good in throwing-'em-off-the-scent terms.
Williams: As Si and Al said, this was complicated enough with three of us. The final act script went through 21 drafts. Adding more writers would've pushed it over the edge.
Well, I hope we do see Tempest soon Al, I miss that series. Moving on, what would Judge Dredd, Jack Point and Dirty Frank think about each other's methods?
Ewing: Hypothetically? Dredd has time for Frank. He's unorthodox but he gets results, and Dredd's softened a lot over the years since he killed Judge Lopez for having a moustache.
Jack Point on the other hand... Dredd hates him like poison. He is flies in Dredd's soup. Pooey to Jack Point from Dredd, etc. They really do not get along -- Dredd sees Point as everything wrong with the Wally Squad.
Williams: Frank has worked with Dredd before. I think they have a healthy respect for each other. Disparate methods, yes, but both are all about the law. Frank likes Jack. Again, they have history. They're both on the "insane" scale within the Wally Squad, but the difference is Jack's quite sane and Frank isn't.
Spurrier: Point's whole thing is about whether he's an irredeemably selfish little shit who enjoys gaming the system for his own sleazy ends, or whether he really does have a modicum of Basic Goodness inside him. Either way, he has no great respect for the "by the book" version of the law -- and enjoys rubbing Dredd's face in that -- but gets on well with Frank. Frank's kinda the rose between thorns, in this weirdo ménage-a-trois. Which is not a way, I imagine, Frank would ever expect to be described.
Ewing: I -- I just had a vision of a Frank sandwich. It was oddly arousing. I will write the fanfic under my nom de plume of Thrust Beefly.
Williams: Here's a question: How much of us are like our individual protagonists? Discuss...
That's a great question, Rob! How much are you each like your individual protagonists?
Williams: Good question. I'm glad you asked.
Spurrier: Rob's favorite character has poor hygiene, a cherished teddy bear, bizarre speech-patterns, frequently hallucinates and is named for a rubbish Pearl Jam B-side. This tells you everything you need to know about him.
Al's helmet, on the other hand, is very, very shiny. I have photos.
Ewing: Um, Dredd's very depressed at the moment? Actually, I find my face and body language changes when I write Dredd. I get scowly and grunt. Anyone else get that?
Spurrier: Way to bring everyone down, Al.
Williams: And one of my eyes is knackered and near blind. Oh god, I just realized that now after writing Frank for years. It's like Facebook chatting with a crack team of Viennese Freudian psychoanalysts.
Ewing: Sorry! Dredd's also living in a terrible, broken economy, which is something we can all share.
Spurrier: Jack relishes the notion of being an amoral sneaky weaselman, but is constantly disappointed by his own inherent goodness. THAT'S ME, THAT IS.
Williams: Aside from the inherent goodness.
Spurrier: Point. (DRINK!)
Ewing: I think it was the Mindless Ones who said that Mega-City One's current smashed-up state is reflective of the state of the real world.
Sorry, I'm going further into the darkness here. Um, Dredd has... a bath? So do I!
Al, how does it feel to take the reins from John Wagner on the main "Judge Dredd" series for such an ambitious crossover?
Ewing: Well, I'm not really taking the reins from John -- Mike Carroll's been in the prog for the last few weeks, and he's been doing some amazing work on picking up the plot threads John left. So I'm taking over from him.
The fans like to believe there's a "line of succession," but there's not, really. If John were to retire, I imagine it'd become a free-for-all and a successor would emerge from that quantum foam.
If the question is "How does it feel to write Dredd?"... fantastic. It's the equivalent of an American guy who's loved Spider-Man since he was a kid getting to write Spider-Man. And, obviously, John's one of my writing heroes.
"Trifecta," featuring Judge Dredd, Dirty Frank and Jack Point, begins in "2000 AD" prog 1812, available now in comics shops and digitally in the App Store.