Jeff Lemire’s return to Vertigo is also one of his most ambitious, thought-provoking and rewarding debuts to date.
A great deal of fuss has been made in the press over the so-called ‘relaunch’ of the Vertigo line in October, bringing with it a hefty slate of big names and new titles. Yet for the last few years, the imprint has been bringing out some of the most consistently engaging titles including American Vampire, The Wake, Punk Rock Jesus, The Unwritten and writer/artist Jeff Lemire‘s own Sweet Tooth. With the launch of Trillium, we get a reassurance that Vertigo are still doing what they have always done best, and allowing creators an unfettered playground to express themselves in wholly original works.
Having overhauled and revived both Green Arrow and Justice League Dark for the DC Comics mainstream, his latest work sees Lemire turn to something wholly original. Trillium is a tale that spans thousands of years, telling the dual narratives of two explorers with pressing motivations. In the year 3797, botanist Nika Temsmith attempts to communicate with the natives of a distant world, hoping to secure the titular plant that holds the secrets to curing a plague that has wiped out all but a pocket of humanity. In 1921, William Pike struggles to put the horrors of the Great War behind him, and hopes that the fabled “Lost Temple of The Incas” lives up to its fabled healing properties. They are thousands of years apart, but they are also fundamentally connected.
The brilliance of Trillium as a first issue is that it appears to give us so much world building, across two distinct time zones no less, but leaves us with far more questions than it does answers. The print copy is presented as a flip-book, and it is up to the reader to decide which story to tackle first. The stories mirror each other, meeting at the same panel, glimpsed from opposite sides. As such, each reader is going to come to the turning point with a different set of assumptions depending on where they started. Lemire pushes the boundaries of sequential art, getting out of his own comfort zone both stylistically and thematically.
As the artist on Trillium, Lemire leads with a visual sense of storytelling. The stories don’t simply mirror each other, but the layouts and panel counts are identical in each chapter as well. As such, Lemire is perhaps returning to the very essence of comic book narrative, and telling us a fable that could only possibly work within the confines of a comic book. Each section has a distinctive style, but is tied together with a common palette. For the futuristic setting, one that swings between lonely and embracingly loving, Lemire paints this with a soft watercolour, perhaps in stark contrast to what you’d expect from the ‘future’. José Villarrubia digitally colours the 1921 pages, but uses the same palette. In this way they are visually different, but linked by their commonalities, much like the lead characters.
Lemire has dealt with elements of science fiction before (Sweet Tooth), and explored the depths of love and loss (Essex County, The Underwater Welder), but never before has he attempted such a grand examination of humanity. In this first of an intended 10-issues, Lemire has baited and captured us, laying out a world of possibilities in front of us. If Lemire’s work has taught us anything, he might just surprise us and tackle them all.
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