Review by Frank Plowright
The House of the Five Moons continues Don Lawrence’s artistic run on The Trigan Empire, covering his work originally published over the last nine months of 1973. Thankfully there’s no sign of flared trousers and platform shoes in these five timeless adventures in Elekton.
As ever, Mike Butterworth plunders literature for his plots, but more in terms of suggesting an atmosphere rather than outright adaptation. The opener is titled ‘The Secret of Castle Doom’, and despite a planet of scientific wonder and savage monsters, Butterworth largely restricts the action to a gothic castle on a lake. Lawrence forebodingly presents the imposing structure, the cold interiors and the embittered occupant. Butterworth teasingly keeps the secret hanging over the story until the end, but the pay-off is lazy and unconvincing, and a collection that Butterworth never anticipated in 1973 highlights variations on the same scene with three different people. The compensations are a tense rescue mission, a clever final page solution, and the magnificent art.
The title story reconfigures plots used previously in the series while condensing The Man in the Iron Mask, except here the mask is worn by the villain, simply yet effectively designed by Lawrence. Trigo is missing, then replaced, while the less capable Brag lacks the stature and mindset to take the decisions of a ruler. It’s a surprising choice to highlight a dashed off story by giving it the volume title, although as much as anything it could be defined by Lawrence later producing a cover painting based on an action moment.
Would any citizen really believe the Emperor’s nephew convicted of treason and sent to the Outlaw Planet? Gloss over the lack of plausibility because Janno having to locate a break-in expert on a dangerous planet populated by criminals gives Lawrence the opportunity to paint some great action scenes set in a remote icy location. Janno’s mission is more reminiscent of Lawrence’s later Storm series, but the potential is squandered by a rushed pace when a few more tension-filled episodes would have been more advisable.
Still, “rushed” doesn’t even begin to cover ‘The Glass Palace’, at just four pages the shortest Trigan Empire story. It bears all the hallmarks of a staged event Butterworth couldn’t figure out how to shoehorn into another story, but Steve Holland’s introduction – one provided for every story – explains the brevity being due to a scheduling necessity. The premise is clever, but stunted, and it doesn’t give much chance for Lawrence to impress.
He certainly does on ‘Terror From Tarron’, though, in which a returning astronaut is menaced by life-threatening hallucinations that only he can see. There’s a creepy terror throughout, Butterworth varies the dangers and as seen on the sample art, Lawrence makes even a child’s eccentric toy carry a sinister threat.
While Lawrence is a contender for the best artist to have worked in British comics, by his own standards there are signs of shortcuts and less time taken, although that still ranks him above 90% of the competition. When he’s on form these pages have the lush quality expected. The same can’t be said of the stories, which are a mixed bunch, with only the final entry truly a success.
The Sun-Worshippers follows, while these stories are also available in the smaller format 2022 paperback The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire Volume IV.