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‘Trillium’ #1 Uses An Inventive Format To Tell A Timeless Story [Review]

In case you haven’t heard, the first issue of writer/artist Jeff Lemire’s new Vertigo series Trillium is a flipbook. That is, it has two covers and two stories. Read one side and you get the story of a future-space scientist named Nika. Turn to the other and you get the story of a World War I soldier returned home named William.

It sounds like it could be gimmicky. And, let’s be honest, it kind of is. But it’s also beautiful.

I won’t spoil the specifics of Nika and William’s stories, but I’ll give you this much: They are exact mirrors of one another. The splash pages in one are in the same spot as the splash pages in the other, and the pages with intricate grids — many pages in here have 12 panels — match up, too. It’s not just structure, either. The two stories share major themes, namely searching for answers, exploration and attempts to grasp other cultures. The settings are very different, but the characters’ journeys are really interestingly parallel.

It makes reading this first issue something of a puzzle, if the reader wants to dig into it that deeply. Finding how one story matches up to the other (and sometimes it can be quite subtle) is really eye-opening.

What’s amazing is that Lemire does all this in just 28 pages. This is easily two issues’ worth of story jammed into one comic that’s split into two 14-page parts. It’s assuredly why so many pages have so many panels, but I don’t think the art suffers for it. Look at the opening pages of both stories, both of which have 12-panel grids, and you’ll notice a pretty astonishing level of detail. One of the two has no dialogue at all, and doesn’t need it. Everything is clear.

My one complaint about this particular issue is over the portrayal of the Peruvian natives in William’s story. His journey is pretty clearly a nod toward pulp stories and post-World-War I imperialism/exploration. The natives feel a tad stereotypical here, though Lemire says it’ll become clear in future issues that’s not the case. I believe him, but I wonder if there are readers who might not make it to the issue where it does become clear.

Vertigo has been promoting this comic as “the last love story ever told.” This issue only hints at the potential of all the possibilities one might find in that tagline, though it does do the key thing any romance ought to do: present two characters who the reader can feel a real, emotional investment in. William and Nika are both really well-rounded people. That one’s a sci-fi super-scientist and one’s a pulp hero just makes it that much more interesting.

Based on this issue, I’d say Trillium is everything Lemire’s previous Vertigo book, Sweet Tooth, wasn’t. That series was 40 issues; this one’s limited to just eight (which makes me wonder whether all the story potential here will be realized). That book had enigmatic characters; in this one, they’re far more open about who they are, in addition to being more self-aware. Sweet Tooth, a lot of it, was about running away. This is about searching.

I think that’s great. Lemire mining new territory, exploring new themes, even trying new artistic styles. The two sides of this book have specific looks that line up with Lemire’s very distinctive art style, but give each story it’s own feel and sense of place. And though this is the only issue of the series that’ll be a flipbook, Lemire says he’s going to try to do something with each issue to make it a special reading experience.

I can’t wait.

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