The last time I saw Jeff Lemire’s work, it was on the New 52’s reboot of Animal Man (although Lemire is currently working on Justice League Dark and Green Arrow). For some reason the grittiness and harsh images from the first issue stuck with me and have become synonymous with his work and name, though of course that Animal Man was pencilled by Travel Foreman. I'm not hugely familiar with Lemire's own artwork on things like The Nobody and Sweet Tooth, both Vertigo titles. So it was largely fresh experience for me as I picked up his new Vertigo title: Trillium.
The first issue of Trillium is a tale of two halves in the most literal sense, which is a strange statement to make but easier to explain when you see the comic itself. On the front cover you have the titles, the barcode and price, a large upside down character and then smaller imagery beneath that the right way up. Flip the book over and on the back cover you have exactly the same but with different images. Suddenly you realise it's not the back cover, but another front cover. Trillium #1 is two cleverly entwined stories, both leading to the centre of the issue and the same geographical and chronological point. Just with them both coming from very different starting places.
Chapter one is set in the year 3797 where we meet a scientist, Nika, who is studying a native tribe called the Atabithians located on a far flung planet. Mankind has been hunted across the galaxy by a sentient virus, but now there is a chance for survival in an indigenous plant that is part of the Trillium species. Sadly it's in located within the Atabithians' village, and the previous attempt to enter ended in fatalities to the first team.
Given that this story can only last for half a comic it moves quickly and before long Nika is finding her way into the village, despite her AI (Essie) trying to persuade her to see sense. Being more culturally sensitive to the situation - or maybe simply lucky - Nika is taken within and experiences a new side of the Trillium. Her limited translation programme can only help out in minor fragments, which means she has a limited idea of what is happening as she is lead away to a temple. Stepping through the temple changes everything though as she is confronted by a man armed with a machete.
Chapter 1.2 is the story of The Soldier set in 1921. Scouring the Amazon as part of an exploration party we meet William. A man who is haunted by his past experiences in the Great War and is having a hard time separating his memories from reality. Whereas Nika’s story has a very current feel to it, William's is more supported with flashbacks and previous events. Essentially a man living very much in his own past.
As they beat their way deeper into the forest, their local guide is getting more and more scared as they approach a “bad village.” Given the sight of strung up bodies and barely compus mentis man (who you may recognise from Nika's story) it's quite understandable. When they are attacked the flimsy line between his mind and the present moment blurs, leaving William fleeing and fighting for his life once more. He barely survives an encounter as he is pounced upon by a native tribesman and fends him off with a machete. Bewildered and disoriented he finds a pyramid temple. Rounding a corner he is confronted by our protagonist scientist from 3797.
Now with the obvious exception of the time and space connotations, I have to be honest that I have no idea of where this is going, but I can think of plenty of ideas. Lemire’s story is a good combination with a unique opening. I have also liked the way in that the individual characters have had their own personalities bleed into their own evolving stories. That said I did find that Nika’s story felt longer and moved quicker.
Lemire's artwork here is reminiscent of Eduardo Risso's work on Spaceman. It's fairly similar if not a lot more colourful. Whilst not the neatest of work, the big expanses convey lots of information without being too intricate. In contrast the smaller frames are filled with nonspecific details. I feel it suffers when it concentrates too much on individuals though, as the faces can lose some of their integrity and look a bit childish.
The presentation of the comic is very interesting and the story itself - coming from two very different angles at the same time - is also intriguing. I'm not sure how it will all unfold but it's definitely worth a look, especially for Lemire fans.
Matt Puddy does his best to not eat strange flowers.