Primordial feels like an important comic, one of those books that takes itself very seriously and needs you to, as well. It feels as if it has some grand speculation to impart, some revelation to provide, or at the very least be viable for adaptation into a bang-up, beloved streaming TV show.
Some of the gravity of the book is in its reimagined history concept, which always brings with it the weight of research, of the imperceptible fragility of history — points where something could have taken a sudden turn and spiraled our world in a much different direction. In this reality, Able and Baker — two early test flight primates who, in our history, returned the Earth alive and well — died during their mission. At least, that’s what the government told the public. In reality, something entirely other occurred, and whatever it is has brought global space exploration to a halt.
Set in the early 1960s, the book follows a scientist unraveling an interstellar mystery; charged with helping disassemble the U.S.’s space exploration program, he uncovers some information about that mission that proves to be the first stray thread of a much larger conspiracy, one with cosmic repercussions.
Those are some heavy concepts with some vague connection to current events. The earthbound mystery, however, isn’t the full narrative hook, as we’re presented with abstractions of Able and Baker’s voyage, and what bigger mystery than the cosmos exists?
But the ‘important’ vibes don’t stop there: the talent also speaks volumes for how seriously the book can take itself.
Jeff Lemire has several big-deal games running right now, including another new series that started only last week. With Black Hammer being hugely beloved and the Netflix version of Sweet Tooth pulling a new audience to his comics work, this is the perfect moment for him to be kicking up dust.
What really presents the idea of Primordial being an important book, though, is artist (and Lemire’s Gideon Falls collaborator) Andrea Sorrentino’s work. As the book approaches its 2001: A Space Odyssey moments of complete cosmic unknowables, Sorrentino breaks the bounds of sequential storytelling. His dark, photo-realistic figures feel ripped from newsprint, adding another layer of depth. It’s hard not to take the book very seriously when it looks like this.
Conversely, under the bright cosmic wonder, we’re presented with an altogether more vibrant, detailed rendering of Able and Baker, and the dissonance between the two styles of imagery cements a sort of conceptual illumination, as if the flat perception of man cannot contain the mind-expanding space.
The question is, does this first issue of the book earn its vibe? With its measured tone, its curt pacing, and its subtle mysteries (which lay over much more horrifying, galactic existential dread), the answer is a resounding yes. It’s a quiet and restrained book that allows itself large, abstract spectacle. It presents a sort of inferred contract with the reader: this will be a slow ride, but it’s going to be a big ride. Buckle in.
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