It started with the Judge Dredd episode 'Bullet to King Four' in prog 1803. The Simping Detective storyline (protagonist Jack Point), titled 'Jokers to the Right', ran from progs 1804 to 1811. The Low Life storyline (protagonist Dirty Frank), titled 'Saudade', ran from progs 1805 to 1811. The Judge Dredd storyline (protagonist... take a wild guess), titled 'The Cold Deck', ran from progs 1806 to 1811. Trifecta culminated with an extra-long episode featuring all three protagonists called 'Trifecta' in prog 1812, written by Ewing, Spurrier and Williams and drawn by Carl Critchlow.
Readers were initially unaware that the events of the three strips were connected, because 2000 AD, in a stroke of genius of the type so regrettably rare in the hyper-commercialised world of modern comics, hadn't announced that any sort of huge game-changing crossover was imminent and just let the stories work their magic. It's hard to know if it was Jack Point or the readers who were more surprised when Judge Dredd forced his way into his strip (literally — he broke down a door) in prog 1807.
The story: Judge Dredd suspects that evil Judge Carolyn Bachmann is plotting a coup. Jack Point gains possession of a mysterious doll resembling a medieval court jester when he accidentally kills an undercover Judge disguised as a fatty and is forced to seek sanctuary with the sinister Church of Simpology. Dirty Frank wakes up on the moon and discovers he is now a major shareholder in Overdrive, Inc., a mega-corporation run by a man with a shark's head.
Then it gets more complicated, as it turns out that all three protagonists are being manipulated by a shadowy puppet-master: Dredd voluntarily (he occasionally receives cryptic instructions through his helmet com), the other two less so (they suffer from amnesia but have flashbacks featuring three flying ducks backed by wallpaper, and a biscuit being dipped into tea). It gradually becomes evident that Bachmann, Archmime Turner (the head of the Church of Simpology) and Enormo Overdrive (the CEO of Overdrive, Inc.) are all involved in a plot to take over Mega-City One. The citizens would be brainwashed into compliance using mind-control techniques developed by the Church of Simpology. Those accepting Bachmann's rule would be permitted to live in the 'godcity', a huge, fish-shaped flying city secretly being built by Overdrive, Inc. on the moon. The rebellious would be condemned to a life of squalor in the streets of Mega-City One below, in the shadow of the hovering metropolis.
The man trying to stop the three villains (whose names are a reference to the band Bachman-Turner Overdrive) is Judge Smiley, an eminence gris who lives secretly in the walls of Justice Central. (His room is decorated in a hyper-chintzy 1950s style, hence the flying ducks, and he has a mild addiction to tea and biscuits.) Smiley enlisted Dredd's help because in addition to being reliable, scrupulously just and genuinely selfless, Dredd has a "mind like a clenched fist" (as Bachmann puts it) which enables him to resist the probing of Bachmann's cadre of telepaths. Point and Dirty Frank had had their memories erased by Smiley after being briefed, and because they had no idea what they were doing (although Smiley had correctly predicted how they would act) they were therefore immune to psychic scanning.
Once Dredd had awoken Point and Dirty Frank's memories by broadcasting the codewords "Bullet to king four" to tiny robots hidden in their teeth (just roll with it), the three were able to work together to successfully prevent the godcity taking over. Archmime Turner was killed by members of his religion who had had their conditioning reversed. Enormo Overdrive was killed by Judges and Carolyn Bachmann was shot in the head at point blank range by Judge Smiley.
That doll that Jack Point was briefly the owner of? It contained a list of all the Judges in the Wally Squad — at least, it did until Miss Anne Thropé (yet another pawn of Smiley's) switched it for one containing a dummy list. Dredd then deliberately waited long enough for Jack Point to hand it over to one of Bachmann's men before bursting into his strip. That meant that when Bachmann tried to eliminate the Wally Squad, the people she actually killed were citizens whom Dredd and Smiley had reckoned would be better off dead — the city's "problem children." Hence the title of the Dredd story: a 'cold deck' is "when you swap out a clean deck for a stacked one," while the players' attention is elsewhere.
Trifecta was notable for many things, including the introduction of Sensitive Klegg and the revelation that Dirty Frank's insanity had been induced or facilitated by Judge Smiley because he wanted to have a man in the Wally Squad whom he could trust. More details on the plot can be found by clicking on the names of characters mentioned on this page.
♥ Games and gambling: a 'trifecta' is a bet that pays out when the gambler correctly predicts the first three horses to cross the line in a race. Gambling is illegal in Mega-City One, but the game that Smiley is playing is with people's lives rather than with chips. He successfully wagers that his three horses (sturdy carthorse Dredd, highly-strung stallion Point and pantomime horse Dirty Frank) will act in the way he has predicted. Dredd's code words to dispel Point and Dirty Frank's amnesia, "Bullet to king four," refer to the chess game being played in the opening episode, which Dredd 'wins' by shooting his Lawgiver at the board. And, of course, there is Dredd's 'cold deck', the doctored Wally Squad list. Promotional material for Trifecta shows various characters as playing cards. Dredd and Judge Hershey are the King and Queen of clubs (i.e. daysticks, the Judges' truncheons); Bachmann is the Queen of spades (spades being the 'unlucky' suit); Judge Smiley is the Ace of spades (because he's the ace in the hole, i.e. the hidden resource that wins the game) and Jack Point is the Joker (he always dresses as a clown). Dirty Frank is a card from a Happy Families deck, 'Mr Frank the Filth' ('the filth' is a derogatory term for the police) — as he is probably/occasionally insane, it makes sense that he'd be from a different deck altogether.
♦ Ethics: Judge Smiley and the Judicial system he represents aren't on the side of the angels. (There aren't any angels.) They're just (probably) better for Mega-City One than the Bachmann/Turner/Overdrive alternative. Smiley could have let Dirty Frank have a password that gave him control of Overdrive, Inc. much earlier, thus saving many lives, but he waited for Bachmann's treachery to become blatant and unignorable before letting Frank do this. It was all part of the game plan. When Frank challenged him about this, he silenced him by obliquely reminding Frank of the circumstances in which he had lost his sanity: a mission he had completed for Smiley years ago which left him with a strong feeling of guilt and a desperate need to forget his past. Readers don't yet know what it was that Frank did for Smiley, but it was definitely something pretty... well, dirty. Smiley successfully used Dredd, Frank and Point's deep-seated sense of morality to get them to save their city, but his own motives remain unclear. He could be just as icily moral as Dredd (i.e. doing the 'right thing' but without any human warmth), or he could be acting from enlightened self-interest — if Bachmann's plan bore fruit it is unlikely that he would have been able to live inside the walls of the godcity, secretly running everything while relaxing in a cosy armchair and eating custard creams. Chief Judge Hershey, who is supposed to be in charge, is sidelined and left in the dark throughout, and is furious when she discovers what has been going on. Her most significant contribution to Trifecta is to make a speech about the exigencies of leadership which neatly references the 'Judge Child' storyline of 1980.
♣ Religion: the Church of Simpology, the symbol of which is reminiscent of a dollar sign, is a parody of the Church of Scientology, a 'religion' which is widely seen as an efficient means of extracting money from the rich and credulous. The Church of Simpology's followers sing a hymn based on the Christian hymn 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' and use language which is based on that used in Christian worship: "Halle-loon-jah!" The fact that their godcity is in the shape of a fish may also be significant, as the fish is used by some Christians as a symbol of their faith. (The in-story implication is that Enormo Overdrive, the megalomaniac shark/man, built it in the shape of himself.) Jack Point also makes a couple of derogatory references to Catholicism, but these are just throwaway remarks.
♠ Big business: capitalism is depicted as being utterly ruthless, with no compassion for the weak, and a fundamental lack of comprehension of anything that doesn't come with a price tag. The board of Overdrive, Inc. are a bunch of pillocks who relax by eating money (the satire at this point is possibly a little heavy-handed), and their CEO is literally a shark. Moreover, his personality appears to be a combination of the worst traits of Sir Richard Branson, Donald Trump, and anyone who has ever appeared on The Apprentice. His godcity will be the dwelling-place of the successful, the high achievers and those who treat business as cannibalism by other means. It is an immensely satisfying moment when he is defeated by a dishevelled tramp who smells like a dustbin and who tells him that the one thing his money cannot buy is justice.