"Trillium" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Vertigo
Originally published as Trillium #1 - #8
Written and Illustrated by Jeff Lemire
2013, 192 Pages
Trade Paperback released on August 6th, 2014
If there's anything to be learned from science fiction, it's that the human race will probably screw something up and become extinct sooner or later. Whether we're surviving a nuclear apocalypse or fighting aliens in space, it can be a pretty bleak future. Jeff Lemire's Trillium takes place in a similar landscape with mankind on its last legs thanks to a virus called the Caul. Its only hope lies in a flower that the comic takes its title from, which is found on the planet Atabithi, but the Earthlab colonists are unable to communicate with its inhabitants. Nika is working on that, but the Caul is spreading at an alarming rate.
Nika's story is only half of Trillium. The other part comes from William, an explorer in 1920. The two are destined to be together despite the fact that they are separated by centuries and light years. They both encounter mysterious temples with the power to transcend space and time, which is how they come into contact with each other and how they're driven apart. They share an instantaneous bond despite only being together for a short time. Unfortunately, this act has major repercussions across the fabric of the universe, causing ripples that alter the timeline. They don't get back and find out it's raining donuts or something, but things get shaky. Now they have to figure out if their love is worth potentially destroying everything that's ever existed. That's a pretty stressful first date.
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Lemire manages the perspectives of both characters seamlessly. When I first started Trillium, I thought that it would get confusing bouncing between not only different characters, but completely different settings. Instead, it feels like one story regardless of the time period. Nika's tale picks up where William leaves off and vice versa. This is excellently shown when they first meet and are unable to communicate. Lemire spends one page showing Nika's dialogue and the next showing William's and nothing is lost in the conversation.
It can be a little hard to understand how Nika and William can fall in love after such a chance encounter. This is probably where the Trillium flower comes into play. In an attempt to regain access to the temple, Nika eats one of the flowers and they share what looks like a mind meld. Instantly, each is aware of everything that has occurred in the other's life, warts and all.
Lemire dives into the dangers and the power of love in Trillium. While there are crazy sci-fi elements, the main theme is this tragic relationship between the two main characters and the lengths that they're willing to go to be together. They've both suffered horrible losses in their lives, with Nika watching powerlessly as her mother drifted into space and William dealing with PTSD after World War I.
This is also reflected in Lemire's artwork. It takes some getting used to as it's not your average style. His characters aren't very attractive. They have flaws and are often lanky or a little awkward. Nika and William specifically have a desperate quality about them. Each has placed a great deal of hope in the trips to these temples, as if these buildings hold the solution to all of their problems. In a way they do, as the temples lead them to one another.
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The aforementioned “mind meld” effect from eating a Trillium flower is both beautiful and creepy. It jolts the body and sends a series of jagged lines of light from the person's mouth, forming an outline of an ancient totem. Meanwhile, the summation of one's life is shown above the other person. Lemire sums up each character's past in a single shot, clearly explaining what's going on without a single piece of text.
Lemire plays with the parallel timelines with the art direction for Trillium. There's a moment where William has blown a hole in the side of the temple in an effort to save Nika. As she passes through the temple in her time, there's a double page spread showing her perspective right side up and William's upside down. This happens again later on as the two are racing to try to repair the timeline. One character will appear right side up with the next panel upside down. It can be a pain reading on a tablet, but I'm sure it works great in print.
Trillium captures a deep sense of loss and desperation but also shows how these can be overcome by the power of love. I know that sounds incredibly cheesy, but this isn't a Nicholas Sparks novel here. It's not The Notebook in Space. Instead, you've got humanity facing down extinction with two star-crossed lovers potentially destroying the fabric of the universe. The comic was marketed with the phrase “This isn't just a love story, it's the last love story ever told,” and that fits incredibly well.