One merry day while exploring online, I discovered a comic book called Trillium by Jeff Lemire and colorist José Villarrubia. As a fan of stories that mix SF and romance, the “love story” tag in the description immediately caught my interest. I love comics, but it’s rare that I find ones featuring a central sci-fi romance (SFR) story.
Jeff Lemire is a new-to-me creator, so I was curious about what someone who’s not an SFR author by trade would do with a story that mixes SF and romance. In terms of genre conventions (e.g., romance’s requisite Happily Ever After), such experiences can go either way once one ventures outside SFR proper, so the first order of business was adjusting my expectations accordingly. My discussion of Trillium isn’t a review; rather, I’m going to share my impressions about how Jeff Lemire executed the romance-SF elements. The combination varies widely and I’m always keen to see how various authors tackle it.
Before I continue, here’s the description:
Award-winning and fan favorite comics creator Jeff Lemire spins the tale of two star-crossed loved through space in time in TRILLIUM!
It’s the year 3797, and botanist Nika Temsmith is researching a strange species on a remote science station near the outermost rim of colonized space.
It’s the year 1921, and renowned English explorer William Pike leads an expedition into the dense jungles of Peru in search of the fabled “Lost Temple of the Incas,” an elusive sanctuary said to have strange healing properties.
Two disparate souls separated by thousands of years and hundreds of millions of miles. Yet they will fall in love and, as a result, bring about the end of the universe. Even though reality is unraveling all around them, nothing can pull them apart. This isn’t just a love story, it’s the LAST love story ever told.
The blurb doesn’t quite clearly describe Trillium‘s premise, so I’ll expand on it further.
In the far future, a sentient virus known as the Caul is wiping out humanity. Nika Temsmith, a botanist, has found a cure, but since Trillium is on a planet belonging to another species, she simply can’t just harvest it at will. William’s South American expedition brings him to a lost temple and, through a series of strange events, he and Nika meet.
Trillium uses upside down panels to convey Nika and William’s parallel worlds and time periods. I can’t speak to the history of this technique in comics, but I feel it helped immerse me in the two separate worlds and timelines. That alone is an approach books could never do, and it added a visual layer of angst to their relationship.
I had no idea where Trillium was going to take me, and since I like unpredictable stories, I enjoyed the ride. I loved the tension of how Nika and William couldn’t communicate when they first met. How would they develop any kind of bond if they couldn’t even understand each other? I found myself rooting for them to overcome the challenge even while it created a delicious intrigue. The far future setting was put to good effect, albeit briefly, as far as exploring how language differences might impact a budding romance.
Nika and William are likeable characters, but they don’t spend as much time together interacting as I would have preferred. The strength of their bond is mainly rooted in their psychedelic cosmic link and the experiences resulting from that. I found the nature of their meet-cute interesting, but I was hard pressed to get a firm handle on how exactly the emotional aspect of their romance evolved.
A physical expression of their attraction would have been out of place given the story’s focus, so I certainly didn’t miss not having one. A romance can be emotionally satisfying with or without physical intimacy. However, it seems like Trillium could have used at least one more issue to flesh out the relationship development. For a comic that strongly advertises a “love story,” the romance felt flat. Even romances with tragic endings can still be emotionally intense.
As far as the science fictional side, there’s plenty to enjoy. We meet interesting secondary characters and I enjoyed the fantastical setting and time travel elements. There’s quite a bit of angst as Nika strives to complete her mission and William struggles to comprehend the events unfolding around him. I did raise a brow, though, at the derivative nature of the blue-skinned native inhabitants to whom Trillium belonged.
Without going into major spoilers, Trillium ends with the Nika and William together—in a bittersweet way. One scene near the end brought tears to my eyes, so the story’s character-driven elements engaged me emotionally to an extent. I found the ending fitting for the tale and felt the promise of a “love story” delivered in a basic way.
Trillium struck me as a story that uses romance as a vehicle for commentary about various themes rather than one in which the romance itself is the main goal. Therefore, I’d categorize it as romantic SF. The romance and science fictional elements were deftly integrated, yet more relationship development would have made the story more emotionally engaging, especially given the heavy emphasis on the love story aspect in the marketing. Should Vertigo have pulled back a bit in that respect? Maybe. Trillium feels more like the birth of a romance rather than a fully-fledged one. But I’m glad I read it!