Trillium. A whole bunch of unique white flowers and the “last love story ever told”, from Jeff Lemire and Vertigo. Nika and William are separated by almost 2000 years and millions of miles. But despite all this they share a setting, and they will meet and they will fall in love. And none of it will be cheap. None of it will be forced.
Here’s the gist of the story as it unfolds in issue #1: At the eclipse of humanity far away from long-forgotten Earth, a virus called The Caul actively seeks out the last human settlements in space and eradicates them. Nika is a biologist who tries to get her hands on Trillium, a rare flower with properties that can inoculate the remaining humans against the virus. Trillium is in possession of the little-understood Blues, an indigenous species on Atabithi, where Nika’s station is located. Visiting their Temple complex over the course of weeks, she’s getting closer to the flowers, but time is running out and nobody really knows what Trillium does.
But that’s just one half of it. Way back in 1921, traumatized and unhappily married World War 1 veteran, William Pike, is on an expedition to a fabled Inca Temple in Peru. I don’t know what the British are doing in South America looking for shit in the jungle, but I guess it’s that colonial mentality and there’s enough treasure and miracle rumored about to make the thing worthwhile for them. In any case, as William is haunted by flashbacks to war horrors and his group is attacked and decimated by the natives, he barely makes it and accidentally stumbles on the damned Temple, only to find…
The whole of of Trillium is impressively woven through dualisms, now coming together, now again drifting apart. Lemire seems to love to split up his protagonists and shake things up in paradoxical ways, and I can’t imagine it done better anywhere else. The paradoxes, though, make their own paradoxical sense within the story and the world of Trillium. There is a sort of chaotic elegance to all of it. The narrative’s consecutive layers click with one another: Nika and William; their immediate and always shifting environments; the story’s two historical moments unfolding across definitely more than two event-lines; the Blues and the Incas and their Temples bringing a sense of the indigenous to counterbalance the techno-stuff; the Caul as bringer of doom; and finally the universe with a gaping hole on the horizon. All of this is laced with a sense of incomprehensibility and otherness: Despite any and all human efforts to colonize it, be it in the past or in the future, the world just will not let itself be grasped and known.
Over the course of 8 issues this brilliant little book grows into a 10/10 monster. That’s right, I said 10/10. There is some magic in Trillium. The thing is not only conceptually impressive but also emotionally gripping. There is really an awfully weird but believable love story unfolding here. And Lemire, who both wrote and illustrated the mini-series, lets the magic work its way through the reader by not committing any major blunders along the way. Even though the Blues look like they came straight from Avatar and William is fairly unrelatable, well, fine. At least nobody’s pretending by having the Blues be green and saying they came out of nowhere. And odds are traumatized WW1 vets were the most cheerful folk out there. And it’s good that William is not morose in a sexy-cheap way, either. He really is British.
I am actually very glad Lemire did almost the whole thing by himself. It paid off. Trillium is no pretty comic. Sometimes it’s downright ugly, and I’m glad there was no Jim Lee or whoever here to smooth things out. Lemire’s art is beautifully careless, free, and minimalist, but never in a sterile and soulless way, with very little of that disgusting computer generated shit. It is often downright child-like, and occasionally something like a mere shorthand for his narrative ideas, but it always picks out from the story just what you absolutely need to see. That’s just it: Trillium is not about looking pretty and shiny and dazzling. It’s about wanting to show you something. And that something is well worth a sustained look.