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High Concept, Mixed Execution – Trillium by Jeff Lemire

TRILLIUM-PROMOb-600x911Trillium is a creator-owned comic published by Vertigo. For that alone, it gets my respect. Jeff Lemire also earns my respect for his high concept sci-fi, which mixes portals through time and space with a star-crossed (literally?) lovers story. Here’s how the publisher describes it:

It’s the year 3797, and botanist Nika Temsmith is researching a strange species on a remote science station near the outermost rim of colonized space.

It’s the year 1921, and renowned English explorer William Pike leads an expedition into the dense jungles of Peru in search of the fabled “Lost Temple of the Incas,” an elusive sanctuary said to have strange healing properties.

Two disparate souls separated by thousands of years and hundreds of millions of miles. Even though reality is unraveling all around them, nothing can pull them apart. This isn’t just a love story, it’s the LAST love story ever told.

There’s a lot going on in Trillium. There’s a riff on colonial fiction and attitudes of the turn of the 20th century, the “jungle” narratives and assumptions of savagery. There’s also an invasive, adaptable virus decimating humanity, creating levels of the colonization theme, but also supplying the motivation for characters to take risks and act impulsively, if not irrationally. There’s the back stories of trauma and loss that both Nika and William have – hers the loss of parents, his the experiences of World War I. Then there’s the portal through time and space that brings them together, the psychotropic flower that allows them to communicate and then bond, and the rewriting of time that they bring about. Finally, they have to find each other again and save the last of humanity from the virus.

trilliumThe execution of all of this is mixed. Nika and William are drawn so similarly, I predicted their relationship would be long-lost relatives or even dopplegangers rather than the lovers they are revealed to be late in the book. The artwork in general is sketchy, with visible jaggedness and an unfinished quality. I wasn’t a fan of it. But Lemire inventively uses symmetry and mirroring to show parallel aspects in the two timelines and re-orients the image in the boxes to suggest the flip-flop of narrative when the timelines get crossed.

Not until the end was I engaged with the two characters, but at least by that time, I was drawn in enough to appreciate the sweet, thematic conclusion. Recommended for high concept sci-fi fans who don’t mind a humorless story.