Jeff Lemire moves forward to the second half of his science-fiction series in “Trillium” #5, if forward is the right way to describe the progress of this dually-focused and distinctly non-linear story. This issue returns to the split-story format similar to that used in the series’ first issue, focusing on two different main characters, explorer William Pike and scientist Nika Temsmith, and two different eras and locales, namely an Earth space colony in the 38th century and Earth itself in 1921. Only now, after the destructive events of last issue, both characters awaken to two very different realities than the ones they knew.
The reality-changing, all-encompassing white-out has been used before in comics’ “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and television’s “Lost.” And the future setting of this series has carried a pretty strong “Avatar” kind of vibe, right down to the blue aliens and highly coveted natural resource of their planet; namely, the trillium flower in this case. Similarities aside, Lemire continues to maintain a pretty tense and intriguing atmosphere, particularly in this issue where the once-familiar gives way to the oddly-different. The strange connection between the series’ two protagonists begs to be explored all over again, and Lemire does just that in this issue and gives the series a midseason refresh that it didn’t really need, but enhances the fascination regardless.
As per the book’s title, the trillium is what links both eras; it’s a humanity-saving resource in the distant future and a puzzling, mind-altering substance in the past. This remains clear despite the alterations to the status quo of the series, and also remains a plot device and clever hook that holds readers’ interest. Another hook of the series has been the gimmicky method of splitting the two storylines, often by flipping one story upside down, but it’s one that’s not so welcome in this issue. It was a neat trick in issue #1 that brought the two stories together, but has been more of an annoyance in subsequent issues and particularly in this one. Lemire tells one half of the story solely on the top half of each page throughout the comic, and the other upside down on the bottom half that starts on the final page. The fundamental flaw with this method is that the last panel of one story is right there on the very first page, albeit upside down, and while there’s no major spoiler that’s given away, it’s just awkward and impractical.
Lemire’s unconventional and arguably ugly artwork is also probably off-putting to many. Some impressive layouts often have offset the unattractive linework, but the split-page format of this issue limits his ability to stretch out and consequently the bulk of the story is told through smaller panels to fit the format. The nature of the story is enough to carry it despite the artwork, but one can’t help but wonder how much better a lush, flowery alien world would have looked with a little more detail and realism.
The flip-book gimmick and not-so-pleasing art tag-team to knock a couple notches off the score for this issue, but “Trillium” #5 is nonetheless a compelling story that makes it all worthwhile.