Zeb Larson reviews Trista and Holt #1-4…
Trista and Holt is Andrez Bergen’s retelling of the Tristan and Iseult legend from the Middle Ages set sometime in the 1970s. After reading Bullet Gal, the style of the comic feels very familiar, and I’m digging Andrez’s use of noir tropes for the book. This is a summary of the first four issues, albeit without any spoilers.
In an unnamed city sometime in the ‘70s, the Holt and Cornwall crime families are vying for power, and the Holts currently have the upper hand. Issy Holt is the heir to the Holt fortune, and Trista Rivalen is the advisor to Marcela Cornwall, nicknamed “Queenie.” The two families are fighting after a bomb kills two of Cornwall’s men, and throughout the first four issues there is an escalation in the number of murders. While the head of the Holt family appears weak, certain people are pushing Marcella into greater violence, which Trista now finds herself at the center of.
Andrez is a witty writer, especially for people who dig jokes about pop culture: when one character describes staying home to watch the latest episode of his favorite TV show and the reveal is “CHiPs,” I kinda lost it. There are lots of these little references, some of which are right over my head, such as commercial jingles from an Australian soap company. Then of course there’s the visual imagery, which is done in Andrez’s usual pastiche style. Have fun noticing all of the different pictures he uses.
Andrez also likes to pack a great deal of symbolic content into his storylines, which consequently makes them fun to unpack. Most of the allusions to Tristan and Iseult are out there for you to parse, down to the King of Cornwall being changed to Marcella of Cornwall. The two poets who composed the earliest versions of the Tristan and Iseult legend were Thomas of Britain and Béroul. The two characters that die at the beginning of Issue #1 are Thomas and Béroul. What is Andrez trying to tell us with this? By killing the original authors, is it a way to try and set his work apart from theirs? Or is it just a reference for nerds to look up because we all need to read meaning into minutiae?
Still, I worry we might lose sight of the comic if we focus solely on the Tristan and Iseult connection. The escalating war between the Holts and the Cornwalls makes for good reading, and four issues into the book there’s no sign yet of courtly love between our two main characters. This is a crime story, albeit with a hell of a lot of references to medieval literature. Marcella Cornwall is an explicit enthusiast of that literature, which I suspect may be a factor in later issues. I’m curious to see what comes next, in part because I’m waiting for Andrez to subvert our expectations and turn the story into something else. Maybe that’s just a holdover from reading Bullet Gal, though. Let’s wait and see what comes next.