Review by Frank Plowright
Featuring just 65 story pages The Rallu Invasion is the slimmest of the oversized hardcover Trigan Empire volumes, yet is that any hardship when those 65 pages are Don Lawrence art unseen in English since their original publication in 1971? That art is spread over four stories, and as noted in Steve Holland’s introduction, it’s even more sumptuous than usual as 1971 was one of the few periods during The Trigan Empire’s run when Lawrence wasn’t also working on other features.
Despite their name sounding like many of the alien races Mike Butterworth introduced over the years, the Rallu are the rat-like creatures seen on the cover, and the tale Butterworth weaves around them is a cracker. He adds the knowledge of a disgraced Trigan military commander, a renegade Lokan community and the accidental loosing of Peric’s scientific experimentation in a fourteen page thriller. A few loose ends aren’t tied up, but Butterworth plotted in two page episodes, and introducing the next story was more important.
It’s not as good. Surely even the young readers of 1971 would have seen the contrivance and fortunate luck stitching together ‘The City of Jewels’. While the idea of a supreme competitor losing his touch and fearing growing old is nicely tied into the idea of eternal youth, that’s about as good as this tale of a lost city gets.
‘The Unscrupulous Servant’ returns the quality. Lawrence’s character designs are peerless, and Butterworth’s story of a lost hero returning home has an evocatively plotted inevitability, almost a tragedy in fact. However, there are some fine twists thrown in, not least a perfect ending. That comes mid-episode as Butterworth and Lawrence segue into the final story ‘The Duplicator’. It’s another story where the Trigans are unable to see someone’s true character, in this case that of the cheating Robi, appointed to assist Peric in his scientific endeavours. From there, though, Butterworth takes it into some wild territory using the possibilities of the duplicating machine referred to in the title, even managing a philosophical ending. Holland’s introduction points out some plot holes readers may or may not notice. Another is Butterworth providing a tidy ending with Robi’s capture, when he surely would have been more likely to keep silent as no-one would have been any the wiser.
Plot elements are repeated throughout The Trigan Empire, but a few points should be made in mitigation of Butterworth. Firstly, and most importantly, he may resort to repeating some devices, but he applies them differently, this volume’s lost city story barely resembling that found in The Red Death, for instance. Secondly, editorial wisdom at the time was that readers grew out of a boys’ comic in three to four years, and thirdly unless readers kept their back issues, which would have been unusual at the time, the chances are they’d have forgotten earlier stories. Even The Trigan Empire being exceptionally unusual in having a 1973 collection issued only restored the earliest episodes to print.
Also to be taken into account is that no matter how good Butterworth’s stories are, he wrote plenty of others during a long career, and only these have been translated all over Europe and issued in collections. The truth is that Butterworth’s craft is only seen as an adjunct to Lawrence’s glory, and the two sample pages deliver his strengths in contrasting Rockwellesque portraits with stunning action.