If Brian Bendis is comics’ David Mamet, and Grant Morrison its David Cronenberg, then Alex Robinson is its Robert Altman. Tricked is a sophomore-slump-busting blend of Nashville and Short Cuts, a sprawling work of interlocking lives, lost loves, and unexplainable coincidence. Though only half the length of Robinson’s massive Box Office Poison, it’s no less dense. Six seemingly unconnected strangers—washed-up musician Ray, deceitful counterfeiter Nick, lost daughter Phoebe, mentally unbalanced fan Steve, lovesick waitress Caprice, and shy office assistant Lily—are inexorably drawn together as the chapters ominously descend from 50 to one. Robinson wants us to feel fate’s hand pushing these characters toward a promised violent climax; the book’s circular structure (loops of six chapters, one for each character) resembles a bunch of water drops racing to the bottom of a drain.

Though Robinson drenches his pages with precisely chosen words, he’s an equally adept visual storyteller. Tricked‘s opening panels showcase more understanding of the sequential art form than most mainstream comics do in a year, and the conclusion’s kaleidoscopic vision is a headrush. Like Altman, Robinson lets his flawed characters make bad decisions and resists the urge to sentimentalize their frequently bleak lives. The result is heartbreaking and, to borrow Robinson’s climactic image, eye-opening.