Time has stopped before us / The sky cannot ignore us / No one can separate us / For we are all that is left
The Beginning is the End is the Beginning, Smashing Pumpkins
Shelby: While the execution is a little more angsty than I might prefer at my advanced age of 29, the lyrics to The Beginning is the End is the Beginning from the soundtrack of The Movie Which Shall Not Be Named very well match Jeff Lemire’s penultimate issue of Trillium. More than anything else, the song’s title (as well as its partner, The End is the Beginning is the End) seem to capture Lemire’s whole approach to time and the relationship of William and Nika. It’s an interesting love story that finds its beginning at the end of the universe, possibly at the end of time itself.
Everyone is running out of time. William’s brother Clayton figured out his little ruse, and is on his way to get him. Back in the jungle in the 20’s, Nika encounters one of the Atabithians, who gives her a trillium flower to eat. Slowly, Nika begins to understand their language as the alien reveals what looks like an elevator shaft, explaining that the temples existed only to hide the “great machines.” At William’s insistence, he and Clayton begin to dig for … something, while Nika is betrayed by Pohl, who used her to find the source of the Atabithian’s power. In a truly badass moment, Nika warns Pohl not to come after her, that “there is only madness here for you,” and jumps down the elevator shaft, ending up…uh, somewhere.
William and Clayton aren’t having any luck with their digging, and time is up; the last ship of human survivors of the Caul is approaching, and they need to get in their own ship and join up with it. At that point they hear a noise in the rubble, and Nika begins to climb out, finally reuniting our ill-fated couple. Unfortunately, she’s too late; it seems the Caul broke out on the transport ship, and is on it’s way to the surface to destroy the last dregs of humanity.
This issue is just “time’s up” moments stacked on top of each other. Time’s up for William and Clayton to leave the planet, time’s up for Nika to remain in the past, time’s up in general for humankind. Their relationship was the beginning of the end of everything, and we can see time ticking down to that moment in the layout of the book. William’s pages are the right side up, and read left to right, while Nika’s are upside down and read right to left; his story progresses forward while hers (to us, anyway) progresses backward. Lemire rights everything with a vertical double-page spread as Nika jumps down into what I perceived as the space between time. I love the way through this whole title Lemire has forced us to physically manipulate the book in front of us to experience these characters’ story. We have become active players in this disorienting view of the end of time.
Another somewhat disorienting aspect of the story has been the language of the Atabithians. It’s a straight-forward substitution alphabet that I decoded all the way back in issue 1. I haven’t been translating it as the story progresses, however, for two reasons: 1. I wanted to experience the story the same way the characters were. I wanted to have the same confusion they did when they encountered these aliens. 2. I was lazy and didn’t want to go to the effort every issue. Interestingly enough, Lemire and Chris Ross, a letterer and book designer, provide the Atabithian alphabet at the end of this issue. Ross also offers some really cool insight into his design process; the amount of thought he put into these glyphs is astounding. Even with the decoded alphabet in hand, there was only one message I was interested in figuring out. Both William and Nika experience a vision of child Nika, shortly after she lost her mother. For William, it occurs during a flashback to a time he killed a soldier in the war.
She says to him, “My mommy’s gone and I’m all alone.” I love what this means for William; he’s physically all alone on the battlefield, having just committed an act that will mentally isolate him from his loved ones, leaving him in a state of always being alone. Also, if he saw that vision of young Nika while he was in the war, this story started even further back than I realized.
Nika also gets a vision of her younger self as she wanders through the fields of trillium and temples in the space between time. The message for her, though, is a little bit different.
Nika is told, “My mommy’s gone and I’m all alone. You’re all alone too, but you don’t have to be.” What a stunning contrast. For William, this story began when he was in the war, with realization that he was alone with the things he’d done and seen. For Nika, this story ends with the realization that she’s been alone this whole time, but that she has a choice, that she doesn’t have to be. It’s a scary revelation for both; the idea that you’ll be alone forever with the horrible things you’ve seen AND that the state of being you’ve known you’re whole life is something you can step away from. It’s a beautiful concept that I could probably talk about for pages and pages. Patrick, what did you take away from the second-to-last issue of this wholly unique title?
Patrick: It is hard to know what exactly to make of this one, but the thing I find most striking is how much of the issue is presented at a single orientation and read in a single direction. The issue starts with some now-standard flipping around of the book, but the latter half of the issue gives us no such familiarity. If you were reading all seven issues in this series in row, the flipping and spinning and book manipulation would have driven itself up to a fever pitch right up to that moment that Nika falls between worlds. Then it simply stops. It’s almost like we were getting too comfortable rotating the thing in our hands, so Lemire was like “okay, then, stop doing that.”
Shelby’s made this point as well, but Trillium is less about the narrative of “the last love story” and more about the experience. I mean, honestly, what “happens” in this series? Between the trippy flowers, the life-swap and claims that “time is broken,” I’m not sure anyone is qualified to comment on what did and did not actually happen. But that’s immaterial – we’re presented with William and Nika’s experience, and in turn, we have our own experience with the book.
I love Shelby’s description of the place Nika stumbles into as “…uh, somewhere.” It seems like she’s nowhere, a place out of time and space where she can interact with a memory of herself and be surrounded by a sea hallucinogenic / time-travel flowers and pyramids. When Nika looks up into the sky and sees a swirling black vortex, she identifies it as “the mouth of God” – it’s a very spiritual, abstract kind of experience that she’s having in that moment. But it’s not the mouth of God that reunites Nika with her love, it’s a peculiar statue, way off in the distance. Lemire makes the landscape so flat that we can always see the thing, no matter how far away it is. Naturally, it’s not until Nika’s right up next to it that we’re able to recognize the figure as a pregnant woman, with a doorway opening at her vagina.
That’s an equally surreal experience, but instead of being grounded in an abstraction, like the “mouth of God,” this is a more concrete expression of physical love. I believe Lemire’s collapsing a lot of different experiences and relationships into one “love” idea, and making Nika reverse-reborn to her original time emphasizes this idea. Is the statue a stand-in for her own mother, who we’ve seen lost in flashbacks? Does the statue represent a potential child of Nika and William’s? Or, if this is the last love story, and time truly is broken, is this story the “child” that William and Nika’s love has created?
Shelby, you started us off with a Smashing Pumpkin’s lyric, and while I get your criticism of Corgan’s on-the-nose angst, the guy was sure able to get at some emotionally honest ideas without being literal. I used to listen along with my Pumpkins’ records reading the liner notes, trying to figure out what the fuck a given song was about, but nine times out of ten, they were more satisfying as evocative word paintings. That’s largely how I feel about Trillium. The individual ideas and turns of phrase hold up well to scrutiny, and the overall work means more for having no grand, unifying theme. As we move into the final issue, and our lovers are reunited, I have literally no idea what to expect. Even with a ship full of dead colonist hurtling towards the planet, it’s not clear what that means for our heroes who may or may not be committed to this specific reality anyway.
Actually, it reminds me of a different Smashing Pumpkins song.
Corgan’s explained that this song isn’t intended to be a romantic “let me give the world you to,” but rather an exasperated “let me give the world to you, because nothing else is going to fuckin’ matter.” That’s where William and Nika are: they’ve given up their own worlds and each other’s worlds just to be together.
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?