By: Jeff Lemire (story & art), José Villarrubia (colors)
Over time, every writer develops a repertoire of subjects, themes, and motifs he’s clearly more interested in than others. I’m talking about Grant Morrison’s obsession with the nature of storytelling, Geoff Johns and what it means to be a hero, Scott Snyder’s reflections and manifestations of fear. These are the things which become identified with a writer’s narrative personality, as much as the stylistic elements of their writing itself.
Even though Lemire has relatively few major works to his name, he’s already revealed certain patterns in his storytelling. That he enjoys spending his time on the purer side of science-fiction is quite obvious. Trillium, involving a plot which traverses not only the far reaches of space, but also between the expanses of time, certainly fits the bill. There’s even a bit of conceptual ingenuity reminiscent of Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. in Lemire’s notion of a sentient virus with a particular vendetta for Earthlings, wherever they may reside.
Lemire also has a fascination with new frontiers and end-days scenarios, with a scattering of people facing an uncertain future. There’s an obvious connection between this series and Sweet Tooth in the way plague threatens humanity’s survival, although the scope of Trillium is far more expansive. Looking at one of the last science colonies, perched on a practically barren planet on the far edge of known space, a massive black hole barring any other paths of escape, and the weight of isolation and loneliness here is equal to any felt by the humans surviving in Sweet Tooth’s wilderness.
These are bleak odds for Nika, a researcher tasked with recovering the eponymous flower* which offers her people one final stab at salvation. If that burden isn’t challenging enough, she must struggle against authoritarian figures whose desperation may force her to compromise her scientific principles, as well as ingratiate herself to a completely alien culture who have possession of her prize. Lemire makes it easy to root for her; she’s smart, compassionate, and well-intentioned, but she has a layer of toughness that makes it clear she’s no naïve dreamer.
Yet Nika’s quest is only half of Trillium’s story, though perhaps the clearer half. In contrast to her pure and simple goals, William “Billy” Pike’s search for a mythic lost temple has more mysterious motivations. His journey has no less urgency than Nika’s, but his is entirely personal. He seeks not to save others—he already failed to do so in his WWI travails—but to save himself. Even the beseeching of his brother Clayton fails to awaken his awareness.
Given the differences between our two protagonists, why should they be brought together? In fiction, there is no meaningless meeting, so why Nika and Billy? How will their collaboration serve the plot? Well, we know the Caul, the enemy virus of Nika’s time, is systematically targeting humans. A very good question is why humans and, apparently, no one else? Perhaps there’s a hint in the garbled translation of the alien emissary Nika communes with. The emissary uses the word “undo” in her speech to Nika; it’s quite likely that the Caul’s one-sided war with humans is the result of some thoughtless transgression humans committed in the past, maybe even during Billy’s time.
I’m always of two minds about Lemire’s art, which hardly anyone in the world can seriously call attractive at first glance. His rough, primitive style is both scribbled and flat, almost haphazardly splashed with blotches of color. And yet there’s just enough control and intention in Lemire’s work to evoke exactly the bleak tone he wants to convey, as if the art merely reflects the degrading civilization within the story.
Conclusion: This ain’t your usual time-traveling doomsday premise. The plot has emotional gravity and a despairing note of poetry that sets it clearly within Lemire’s narrative and artistic wheelhouse.
- Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Trillium is a rare and delicate flower, easily killed even by simply plucking off small parts of the plant. In the real world, it has some medicinal properties, though none that rise to the level of a vaccine for anything. It’s not hard to see why Lemire chose it for his series motif; it is the official flower of his native Ontario.