As interesting as it is uneven, Jeff Lemire’s “Trillium” #6 is emblematic of the series’ typical strengths and weaknesses. After Nika and William hit the reset button on the nature of reality, their worlds were flipped and merged, and now they’re trying to get things back to normal. Issue #5 was primarily devoted to establishing this new status quo, and with that work done, this issue is able to concentrate more heavily on the thematic concerns of isolation and memory. Superficially struggling to realign reality, the protagonists struggle on a deeper level to trust their own minds and stop feeling so utterly alone.
Unique among the sci-fi titles currently on the shelves, “Trillium” is at its weakest when painting alien worlds and fantastic landscapes. Lemire’s uneven, almost ugly line work can sometimes appear warpedly otherworldly, but it rarely results in anything truly immersive or imaginative. (Mangual’s amazing alien calligraphy is an exception to this rule.) It’s most effective at the micro level, where its unevenness intensifies the sense of the characters’ horror, disorientation or pain. At their worst moments, Nika and William look crumbling and all out of proportion — a poignant visualization of how disjointed mental anguish can make a person feel.
As effective as the art can be in this way, the layout remains a frustrating gimmick. Having to flip the book every few pages often takes me out of the story, and when there’s no clear rhyme or reason to the timing of the flips, I feel less as if this layout has been created to serve the story at hand, and more as if the creators are trapped with it after it worked so nicely in the first issue. (It’s also particularly annoying on all the digital devices and services I’ve tried, but that’s more a problem with the developers, not the creators.)
This isn’t to say that the merging of the two storylines isn’t interesting. The last three pages of this issue were beautiful to look at and thoughtfully combined. If I were viewing a single page or two in a gallery, I’d love to dissect and admire the work being done. However, monthly comics are meant to tell a story, and these panels just aren’t practical in terms of actually reading and following along. I constantly have to reorient myself.
Yet, I’ve still got “Trillium” on my pull list every month. For all its flaws, this series is engaging, because it isn’t afraid to let the reader be confused along with the characters. No one in the cast seems to have any answers. They’re human beings who messed with the fabric of space and time, and now they’re drastically out of their depth. It’s tempting in science fiction to include a know-it-all character who can explain the phenomena on the page and provide an intellectual framework for the characters to problem-solve with. The characters in “Trillium” have no such sounding board. Instead, they have to feel and fumble their way toward a solution, and that approach, though sometimes frustrating, feels much truer to the actual process of human discovery.