Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jeff Lemire
Colors by José Villarrubia
Published by Vertigo
The preeminent accolade bestowing body in comics, the Eisner Awards, has just released its list of nominees, a long, disparate collection as diverse as the medium itself. More so, considering it doesn’t have to look at comic books as a whole. Where as weekly solicits are overwhelmed with capes and tights (not there’s anything wrong with that), the Eisner’s can hone in on the titles and artists that really brought it creative-wise, even if they might not have made the most sales (there’s definitely not anything wrong with that). The Eisners try to look past the business of comic books to what makes readers, writers and artists get into them in the first place: the unique medium of sequential art. There are things that literally can’t be done in any other medium, and out of the long list of works nominated, Jeff Lemire’s Trillium made the short list for best limited series for by embracing comics’ unique story-telling abilities and trying to reach beyond self-imposed limitations.
Sequential art is the beating heart behind comic book story telling, and Trillium takes aim at sequence from issue one. The intersecting tales of Nika and William start at opposite ends of the issue, and opposite directions. They’re also about as far apart as settings can get, with Nika researching a cure to save all man-kind in outer space in the distant future, and William investigating a mysterious temple in South America shortly after World War I. The parallel stories of trauma have to be flipped by the reader to be read correctly, first going all the way to the back, then turning things upside down. It’s an approach Lemire uses more and more as the series goes on, flipping adjacent pages and panels with increased disorienting frequency as the two stories collide, mashing up the realities of Nika’s futuristic space refugees and William’s first world war shock.
Lemire uses the extreme displacement to illustrate the effects of the lead characters’ actions and to mirror to their shattered psyches. Nika and William discover the same temple at different ends of the universe and during different epochs. Eating the titular plant sends Nika across time and space, kicking off the whole story genre mashing story. It’s important that the leads are being plucked out of two of comics most cliched and currently slightly out of favor genres. Science fiction and war stories have been with comics to some degree from at least the Silver Age, and their collision on the pages of Trillium adds to the feeling that Lemire is using the medium of comics to talk about the limits of comics.
The structure that facilitates Nika and William’s meeting looms over the narrative in the form of an ancient inscription found in the temple, depicting a humanoid space thing connecting the two temples in the lead characters’ worlds. In the figure’s belly are many more temples, though each with a primitive grid inside two lanes. These grids could be read as the two genres Nika and William have escaped from to find each other. If that follows, then the grids in the figure’s belly would have to be different genres, all of the ones comics deals with outside of this particular book. Given the degree to which Lemire’s already messed with space time in these characters’ lives, it’s not hard to imagine that an infinite number of situations are within their reach once they follow the ‘map’ down its mouth.
The series ends in panels being sucked in and twisted by the gravity of that black hole, and looking at the map, readers can see that in the figures belly, any number of worlds might welcome Nika and William. It’s the perfect ending for Trillium, where so much has been invested in these characters with so little real development between them. It’s not the strength of them individually, but the limitless potential they represent, the infinite possibilities of their future, that is Trillium’s and the medium of comic’s greatest strength.