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It was the best of comics, it was the worst of comics. The artwork was better than any other of its time, the writing was so overblown it would have been laughed out of a pulp magazine. It aspired to tell the history of a whole civilisation, but the writers were making it up as they went along.
The Trigan Empire was published in installments in a number of British and European comics during the 1960s and '70s. The artwork was originally by Don Lawrence, and was way better than anything else available at the time; indeed, you'd have to look to modern day artists as Alex Ross or Serpieri to see it bettered, yet Lawrence was paid a pittance.
The story is set A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away on the planet Elekton, which has twin suns and twin moons (although another "moon", Gallas, falls to the planet in an early story). Elektons look basically human; the Trigan race looks Aryan, but there are no black people. Their place is taken by people in various shades of green. The Lokans, enemies of the Trigans, are pale green, and look like a cross between very ugly black people and Yellow Peril-type orientals. In fact, they were yellow, in the early stories. Daveli are a more turquoise colour, and are very good-looking. Their chief, Imbala, is Trigo's blood brother, and Imbala's son Keren is one of the good guys, usually the only non-white among the good guys.
To begin with, the story was entitled The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire, and tried to trace the development of the title civilisation from a humble beginning as a bunch of nomads to becoming the greatest power on the planet. Presumably, a decline was supposed to happen after this.
However, as the story progressed, it became a series of adventure stories featuring the same cast of characters, principally Trigo, the emperor; Brag, his brother; Janno, Brag's dashing son; Keren, Janno's friend; Peric, a wise architect and scientific genius, and his daughter, Salvia. Later, Janno and Keren aquired another friend, Roffa, and Trigo had three sons of whom one, Nikko, lived to be a major character.
In the early stories it made sense that the leader should do his own adventuring, as he was a young hero founding an empire, but later it made even less sense for the leader of a superpower to keep running about swashbuckling and leading expeditions than for The Captain of the Enterprise to keep leaving The Bridge to lead landing parties in person. But that never stopped Trigo, any more than it stopped Kirk or Picard.
The writing style was very purple. Probably not since Robert E. Howard wrote that Conan the Barbarian was destined to "Tread the Jewelled thrones of the world beneath his sandalled feet" has there been more overblown verbiage in a piece of popular entertainment. Certainly, not many characters in modern comics "slake their ravening thirst" at waterholes or "feel the icy fingers of terror course down their spines"; but maybe the world of comics, and the English language, are the poorer for it.
The writers and artists often got things wrong. A fleet of hundreds of aircraft was retconned into six aircraft between one episode and the next of the very first Story Arc. Trigo confronted a sabre-toothed tiger (the Sacred Yalt) wearing his breastplate and cloak; by the time he wriggled free of its claws, he was wearing the remains of a white shirt. And so on; but a fan could forgive that.
Another problem was that, as time went by, there were fewer and fewer new ideas available, and old ones had to be recycled without even observing the Fleeting Demographic Rule. The most common stories were:
- Villains, often officers or councillors appointed by Trigo, who must have been a Horrible Judge of Character, try to usurp the throne or place upon it a puppet emperor; happened lots of times.
- Aliens invade; at least three times.
- A plant or contaminant that makes good people evil arrives from outer space; happened at least three times.
- Trigo or his relatives set off on an expedition to some continent that had never been mentioned before; at least twice.
- A Dread Curse menaces the Imperial Family; at least twice.
- Someone seems to have the secret of eternal youth; at least twice.
- Failing these, the Lokans could try to undermine the Empire... again.
Overall, the story quality could be cheesier and mouldier than a well-matured Stilton, but there was still something great about it. It has the same kind of place in the hearts of its fans that the old Batman show with Adam West has.
Not to be confused with Trigun.
A few, just a few of the tropes and cliches in this epic series are:
- Alien Sky Twin moons and twin suns.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The Lokans as they first appear. Later a sympathetic Token Minority Lokan appears. A Token Lokan, in fact.
- Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: Kreeds (rhymes with 'steeds') = horses, Nobras (rhymes with 'cobras') = poisonous snakes, The Sacred Yalt = a sabre-toothed tiger.
- Catch Phrase: Many. "By all the stars!" "Look your last upon the sky!" and "Many shall fall before Trigo falls!" are particularly good ones.
- Climbing Climax: A number of villains felt the need to go up high when Trigo chased them.
- Dramatic Ellipsis: "And then... It Happened", "And then he saw... IT", "And then... sheer blind panic", etc., ad nauseam.
- Evil Twin: Triplet, in this case. Twice. Trigo was one of a set of triplets, one of whom, Klud, was a stinker. Trigo later sired triplets, of whom one, Argo, came under the influence of an evil alien.
- Fantastic Racism: White people will turn on Green ones if the story requires it, otherwise they're all sweetness and light.
- The Glasses Come Off: Roffa had Nerd Glasses when he first appeared, but he still got a job as a fighter pilot. One day, he dramatically took off his glasses, and never put them back on again. He could still see well enough to be a fighter pilot.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: Flash Gordon, ancient Rome and Arabian Nights stuff all mixed up in lovely colour. Verges on Crystal Spires and Togas.
- Hollywood Healing: Nobody stays hurt longer than dramatically necessary.
- How We Got Here: On a huge scale; the very first story is about the last of the Trigans crash-landing on Earth.
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Janno, Roffa and Keren get marooned on an island ruled by a sadistic loony who likes to hunt humans for sport.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Villains never hit. The goodie always runs away with "projectiles screaming around his bent head".
- Killed Off for Real: Argo, the son of Trigo who was controlled by an evil alien, has King Kassar, his own grandfather and previously a major character, executed.
- Argo himself later dies.
- Mighty Whitey: The blond, blue-eyed heroes always outperform the greenies.
- Mooks: Guards can arrest and oppress when needed, but as soon as the rebellion occurs they can be pushed aside by angry civilians. Guards who fight heroes go down like skittles.
- Mook Chivalry: If the hero needs to spot something in mid-fight, the enemy will pause while he looks round.
- Never Say "Die": Actually, they never say "kill", always "eliminate" or "destroy" or occasionally "dispatch".
- Actually, they generally say "perish" rather then "die" as well. Even while shooting guns or swinging swords at their enemies, "Perish, curse you!"
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Peric begins as an architect. Later, he builds space rockets, discovers the elixir of youth, and invents a way of turning people into intelligent, electrically charged water!
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Daveli in general, King Imbala in particular.
- King Kassar of Hericon, too.
- Retcons and Reboots galore. Facts could be changed whenever the story needed it.
- Rule of Cool: Swords against guns? Surviving huge explosions? Nomads on funny camel-things against tanks? No problem, as long as it looks good and makes a fine story.
- Scooby-Doo Hoax: Both times a curse was put on Trigo, it was a fake. Once the arc even ended with unbandaging the "mummy" to reveal a person you'd never have suspected. And he almost got away with it, too!
- Soft Glass: Trigo, pursued by Mooks and promising that many will fall before he does, smashes out the window in his short tunic and kilt. He isn't even scratched.
- Tap on the Head: People are always getting "laid low" with "the flat of the blade". It never does them lasting harm.
- Weird Science: Any old whitebeard, dressed like a wizard but calling himself a scientist, seems able to invent almost anything.