Vertigo miniseries tour Part 35: Jeff Lemire’s Trillium

Jeff Lemire, writer & artist
Vertigo Comics, 2014

Trillium is an eight-issue miniseries based upon a very creative sci-fi concept, involving teleportation across both space and time. The story begins in the year 3797 on a distant planet. Scientist Nika Tensmith searches for the rare Trillium flower that is thought to hold the cure for the dreaded sentient virus that is on the verge of annihilating humanity. William Pike is a soldier in 1921, trying to recover from his experiences in the Great War, and seeking a fabled lost Incan temple. The two meet early in the story. The fantastical means of their meeting, and their resulting relationship, form the core of the series. Lemire has said that this is fundamentally a love story, something that can be obscured by the grand science fiction trappings. The original teaser images (which can be seen on Lemire’s blog) even have the tagline “The Last Love Story Ever Told.”

From the start it’s clear that the two share a maverick spirit. They’re explorers, and they push on despite the opposition they each face in their respective time periods. When they enter the Incan temple–which appears primitive to both of them (despite the presence of an alien race on Nika’s planet)–it quickly becomes clear that there is something mysterious going on. Suddenly they encounter each other in the jungle. Nika can’t understand William’s language, which is a nice realistic touch. No reason to believe that contemporary English would still be comprehensible hundreds of years from now, much less thousands. They manage to communicate their home planets and times by sign language, so Nika is able to use her A.I. to translate his ancient Earth language when they meet next. There’s no explanation of how these two particular years are linked–in the end it seems fairly random–but the story carried me along without thinking about it most of the time.

Promo Image: the lovers & the flowers

Promo Image: the lovers & the flowers

An explosion in the temple in Nika’s time somehow causes them to switch time periods. Chapter 5 (“Starcrossed”) features the novel experiment in storytelling that results. Nika’s report from 1921 runs across the top half of the page, while William’s from 3797 runs across the bottom (in the opposite direction, read upside-down). Far from reading as a gimmick, Lemire tells two coherent stories which intersect visually at key points. I imagine the planning involved far exceeded the usual single issue requirements.

Trillium Ch. 5 - 2

Parallel stories from Issue 5

The pair each find a way to get back to the jungle and seek out the temple. Nika encounters the alien race she had met in her own time, and is shown that the temple is merely a facade hiding great machines used for teleportation. More than that, the portal seems to link many worlds. That realization is interrupted by William and Nika reuniting in the future, where they are immediately faced with a crisis. The plague is about to reach their world, so the colonists must escape immediately.

Flip-book covers from Issue #1

Flip-book covers from Issue #1

When a problem requires someone to stay behind while the ship continues on in search of an inhabitable planet, neither will let the other volunteer alone. So their story ends with their entry into a black hole, a hallucinogenic sequence reminiscent of the finale of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Their precise fate is ambiguous, but the implication is that they are going out into the stars together. There’s a nice final page (basically an epilog) that shows the settlers safely arrived and encamped on some distant planet, so at least we get closure on that plot point. If the couple did sacrifice themselves, it was not in vain. I suppose that also means that William and Nika’s story will probably not be the “last love story” (maybe that’s why Lemire dropped the slogan before the series started).

There are just a few supplemental pages in the back, but they include information very useful in understanding the series. There is a chart of the alphabet for the invented alien language of Atabithian, sufficient to translate the dialog in the story (there are partial translations throughout, but there are gaps: Nika and William’s final brief dialog is presented entirely in Atabitihian ). Lemire also discusses his world building process, as the series included the first landscapes not based on the real world in his creator-owned work.

About marksullivan5

Freelance Journalist & Musician; Senior Contributor, All About; writing on comics at & No Flying, No
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