Saturday, 10 January 2015

Trillium by Jeff Lemire Review

In the 38th century humanity is on the ropes. A sentient virus called The Caul is wiping us out and only a few thousand humans remain, pushed far away from Earth in a desperate bid for survival. On a distant planet called Atabithi, botanist Nika Tensmith believes she has found the cure in a native flower called Trillium but needs to win over the inhabitants, who protect their crop within a temple compound, to harvest enough for a cure. 

Just as The Caul begins to make it’s way to their spacelab, Nika’s gets a break and the Atabithians invite her in to sample Trillium - with unexpected results. Suddenly Nika discovers herself transported to 1921 where she meets William Pike, a former soldier suffering from PTSD, on a exploration mission to South America where he and his group are hunting for a flower that could potentially grant immortality. But, as both Nika and William are going to discover, there’s much more to Trillium than that...

Barring his work-for-hire New 52 comics which are uniformly terrible, I’m a big fan of Jeff Lemire’s work. Essex County was a masterpiece, The Underwater Welder, The Nobody, and Lost Dogs were all fantastic, and Sweet Tooth, though it had its ups and downs, had plenty of good moments to recommend it. So it’s disappointing for me to say that Trillium is the first of his “indie” comics that I really disliked. 

Definitely the biggest problem was the love story. Trillium sets itself up as a romance/sci-fi comic though the romance is much more heavily emphasised, being the motivation behind both main character’s actions. And it’s so unconvincing! Two strangers randomly meet in the middle of nowhere, they’re together - at most - a couple hours, they eat the Trillium petals which transfers their memories to each other, and suddenly they’re deeply in love and their whole reason for being is finding each other again. 

That’s not some “epic star-crossed lovers romance” - strangers meeting, doing drugs together, and trying to get off with one another is called clubbing! 

The sci-fi elements are cliched and ripped off from other, better sci-fi stories. Native blue aliens who live like primitive Earth cultures - that’s never been done before, right? Oh, except in Avatar, the highest grossing movie of all time! Steampunk Victorian London? Never seen that before except in a million other things! And how about that ending where the spaceship crashes into the other spaceship to save the main characters? You mean the exact same ending in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus? Yup! We don’t know what happens in black holes so maybe anything is possible? Like in Kubrick’s 2001? YUP!!! Is anything in this story original!? Nope! 

Lemire tries out upside down panels in this book to show the parallels between Nika and William’s stories but let’s just call this what it is: gimmicky. There’s no reason you should have to be turning the book upside down to read some sequences. It’s the visual equivalent of the forced romance to make it seem like the book has a heart: the flimsiest of veneers to make it seem like what he’s doing is creatively different and important - and it’s not.

Nika’s mother’s death was laughable. We’ve mastered intergalactic space travel in the future but don’t have the tech to know when a massive meteor shower is on the way to warn us when it’s probably not a good idea to go out for a space walk? Ditto William’s brother’s death which was shocking because of how little I cared when I saw him blown up. Oh - was that meant to be emotional for me? Because I honestly didn’t know who he was most of the time - he was a talking moustache who yelled at William every now and then. He was a “character”?

I’m not really sure why William’s past as a soldier in WW1 was mentioned besides giving him a backstory that seemed interesting. I think Lemire was going for a “is this really happening or is it in William’s messed up PTSD head” idea but it was so half-assed, there was no question that it was really happening. 

I’ll give Lemire this: his art in Trillium is his best work that I’ve seen so far - I’m one of those who enjoys his art. I know it’s quite divisive, and I can appreciate that it’s unusual, but it’s certainly his own art style and I really like it. Lemire and Jose Villarrubia’s colours are very strong too. 

But that’s about all I can say I enjoyed about Trillium. It’s a boring, unimaginative - yes, despite it’s time-travel/role reversals, I didn’t see anything here that I haven’t seen before - comic that never goes beneath the surface of its shallow story. It’s really surprising actually that Trillium is from the same creator who gave us Essex County - a raw, powerful story about small town Canadian townspeople - that shows, while his art has improved, his storytelling and writing have gotten much, much worse, almost as if this were his first effort rather than his most recent.


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