Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Trillium 5, originally released December 4th, 2013. Shelby: Like all the issues of Trillium before it, this one has a trick to it. Again, like we’ve seen before, there’s a separation between Nika’s story and William’s; Nika’s story runs along the top half of the page, with a note to “…read upper section of report first.” At the end of the issue, you flip the book upside down, and read back along the bottom to get William’s story. Nika’s end is his beginning, his beginning her end. That in and of itself is beautiful, but being the stubborn fool that I am, I read the whole thing straight through first, flipping the book over and over. Between my correct and incorrect readings of Jeff Lemire’s sci fi/apocalypse/time travel/romance, a beautifully balanced set of parallel stories emerged.
The story starts back in England after the expedition to the Amazon, except that it’s Nika who’s living the addled, post-war life. Despite feeling that something is very wrong, she lets her sister Sylvia take her to the exhibit of the exhibition, where she runs into
Commander Captain Pohl. Pohl reminds her confused comrade about how after the war against the Blues, they went to the Amazon and discovered a treasure trove of secret artifacts and blew the hell out of a temple. The whole scene leaves Nika more confused than ever, and she goes home. She discovers, pressed between the pages of a book, a single trillium flower, and suddenly it all comes back to her.
Flipping over to William, he wakes up in an Earthlab quarantine tank. See, he was caught by his brother Clayton wandering near the ruins of a temple, and they thought he might have the Caul. You can see where this is going. He feels like something is wrong, but would rather just get back to work. He asks Essie for the files from the night before, because he can’t really remember what happened, and she is surprised to discover that she doesn’t have any files. While working on the ship to save humanity, another worker is hurt. As he dies, he murmurs that “only she can save him,” and William begins to insist that something is not right. Back in the ship, Essie says she found some files from the night before, but that she can’t reconcile them with all her other data. She plays back what she has, and as William sees an image of a woman in a space suite, suddenly it all comes back to him.
Looking at just the plot of what has happened here, it seems Pohl’s rash decision to blow up the temple(s) caused a serious temporal backlash, re-writing both the past and the future. The past appears to have been more heavily affected, with World War II taking place not between the Allies and the Axis, but between Great Britain and “the Blues,” whom I assume to be Atabithians. It’s Nika’s politics, told through William’s lens. It’s also Nika herself; never before have we seen her so impotent and addled, just as we’ve never seen William so assertive and in control of himself. I really like that the temporal damage was so severe, even Essie was affected. Sassy personality or no, she’s ultimately a computer, and data is data. The effect of blowing up the temple was so great, even her data was over-written, her memory altered. I love that Essie was confused by what was happening, that she knew something was wrong and thought she recognized Nika in the end.
As intriguing as the plot of this title continues to be, the format (especially this issue) elevates this book to something really unique. Read correctly, the looping story is a great continuation of the way Nika’s and William’s stories have reflected each other. Instead of the two meeting in the middle like we saw back in issue 1, one is always moving forward while the other is moving back through time, no matter who’s story you’re reading. It creates a sense of how necessary the two are for each other; there’s nothing more romantic than the idea that my timeline no longer moves forward until we are together. At the same time, there’s nothing more tragic than the idea that I can’t move forward without you, but we are always moving in opposite directions. Just when we thought these two lovers couldn’t be any more star-crossed.
Read incorrectly, by just reading each page and flipping the book over and over, the parallels between the two stories just make the whole experience that much sweeter. On one page, Sylvia reminds Nika their mother died years ago while William’s comrade dies in his arms. While at the museum, Nika gets a flashback to her own time in a quarantine tank while the working conditions on the ship give William a flashback to the war. The most beautiful moment, I think, is when Nika is talking to Pohl at the museum, and Pohl says they’re going back to the jungle as William tells Essie not to bother looking into the error in her files because he just wants to move forward. Lemire put in the emphasis on those opposing ideas, and it perfectly exemplifies the two characters. Nika looks to her own past, the loss of her father, humanity’s past to try to find a solution to the Caul, while William is stuck in his past with his PTSD and would like nothing more than to move forward from his memories. I could write a book analyzing this book, so I’ll just turn things over to Patrick. What was your experience with the forward/backward nature of the narrative in electronic form? Or did you opt for a physical copy of this book?
Patrick: I read this one digitally, which mercifully basically presents the issue twice so I didn’t have to flip my computer upside-down. I’ll admit that I grumbled when I first saw the upside-down panels — with a recent update to the comixology app on my Kindle, I no longer know how to tell the thing not to adjust to my rotating the device. But crisis averted!
Shelby, I think the most interesting part of my experience with this issue may also have been the most interesting part of your experience: we both wanted to read the bottoms of the pages as they were presented and not as we were instructed. What is it about a note that reads “Please read the upper portion of the report first” that essentially dares us to disobey? Maybe it’s the “please.” We’ve got an authoritative voice reaching out to our sense of decency and asking that we experience the narrative as it was intended. It’s just begging for transgression.
Remarkably, that’s exactly the scenario Nika and William find themselves in. They both know that there’s something they’re not seeing quite right, but they each have a set of authority figures trying to convince them of the validity of their reality. Every time we flipped the book over in the middle to see what William was up to, pages before we were supposed to, we were making that same decision to go against the will of the person who seems to know better. We trust our own perception of reality, thank you very much. But, like, we’re not very well rewarded for that defiance, are we? Shelby made a handful of neat connections between the top and the bottom, and there’s the continuing use of identical layouts (which is a storytelling feat I’m certain we’re not nearly impressed enough by), but there’s no greater truth that we can divine from breaking the rules. What does that mean? Are we trapped in an alternate version of time or are we trapped in the consciousnesses of Nika and William? What are they experiencing now and how do we undo it?
I want to talk about the use of coloring in this issue. Jose Villarrubia has been chipping in on coloring throughout the series, seemingly just applying his more solid craft when Lemire’s watercolors didn’t quite have the heft he was looking for. The coloring assignments in this issue are dictated by the form of the issue, with Villarrubia doing the top and Lemire painting the bottom. The only exception is when the wrong memories creep in – as in that last page Shelby posted above. Notice how the weird flashback is painted by the incorrect artist. Lemire almost seems to be making a point of it – look how much bleed there is from the top panel to the bottom. And here’s another example – Nika remembers being in the tube at precisely the same moment William remembers being in the war, and the colorist again reverse for a single panel.
I think that might be a hint that our characters aren’t actually trapped in the wrong timelines, but experiencing their counterparts memories as their own.
Or, who knows? As much of a treat as Trillium is, the series is much more a meditation on what two people can mean to each other, and less about understanding the hows and whys of this world. This issue asserts that they are more than star-crossed lovers, destined to be together, but people whose identities are tied up in the memories of the other. It doesn’t make the most literal sense, but I totally get it. When you’re close enough to someone, their perception of you helps to actually shape who you are – just usually not nearly this catastrophically.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?