There are a lot of comics out there, but some stand out head and shoulders above the pack. With “Don’t Miss This,” we want to spotlight those series we think need to be on your pull list. This week, we’re spotlighting “Primordial” a cerebral Cold War era thriller with a beating heart.
At this point, it feels like Lemire needs no introduction. Incredibly prolific, it’s hard to think of a publisher he hasn’t worked with. (Okay, yes, there are a lot of publishers) But the point still stands: DC, Marvel, Image, Valiant — Lemire’s touched most of the major players, diving into stories with his characteristic mix of introspection, horror, and familial disarray. If you’re a Lemire completist, “Primordial” will be another inevitable edition to the collection. For everyone else, it will be a story worth watching. Of course, we’ll get to that later.
But “Primordial” is far from being solely a Lemire rag. Andrea Sorrentino is the artist on the project, and he’s worked with Lemire on “Green Arrow,” “Joker: Killer Smile,” and “Gideon Falls.” Outside the Lemire-osphere, he’s worked on “All-New X-Men” and “Old Man Logan,” dipping into the Bendis pot as well.
Steve Wands runs point on letters, and he’s no stranger to Lemire collabs. You’ll remember his work from “Descender,” “Gideon Falls,” as well as non-Lemire hits like “Supergirl,” “The Flash,” and so much more. Wands has a delicate yet severe touch. You may not know the name, but you certainly know the work.
Rounding out the creative team is Dave Stewart on colors. He’s worked on “Hellboy” and a bunch of other Mignola comics, a six issue run of Rucka’s “Detective Comics,” and a smattering of Marvel stories in the early 2000s (“Captain America,” “Daredevil,” “Ultimate X-Men,” to name a few). He’s been in the industry for a while, but this is his first time on a Lemire project as far as we can tell.
What’s it all about?
Oh boy, this part is fun. “Primordial” is that special kind of off rhyme, slant poem type sci-fi where things are mostly the same but with a few key twists that turn everything sideways. This is alternative history, and while it’s not as bizarre as a Phillip K. Dick novel, it has its magic in that vein. “Primordial” takes place in the early cold war. It’s the 1960s, and Nixon won the election against Kennedy. The balance of power between the USA and the USSR tips back and forth, and the US has pushed soldiers into Hungary, a reversal of normal history. As a result of the tension, The US has halted the nascent space program in favor of a more terrestrial arms race. On top of that, the US sees the space race as bit of a dead end after sending two apes into space only to have them die before their return to earth. At this time, Dr. Pembrook, a a black scientist and gifted MIT graduate navigates the racism and absurdity of civil rights era America while salvaging the US space program for parts at behest of the powers at be.
Dr. Pembrook stumbles upon something: all those animals in space? Yeah, they didn’t die. Actually, they were abducted…by an unknown force with awesome power. And if it wasn’t clear, Dr. Pembrook was not supposed to stumble on this fact, and now has to run for his life, making allies along the way as he tries to unravel the threads of this great conspiracy.
What makes it so great?
“Primordial” works so well because it takes the paranoia of the early Cold War and mixes it in the cauldron of pure, anthropomorphic pathos. Talking animals may be cheap pulls at the heart strings, but damn does it work. To be fair though, it’s not just cuteness, it’s deftly written dialogue from newly sentient, self-aware primates (and a dog). There’s a special kind of emotional terseness captured in the animal dialogue in “Primordial” that feels like pure Lemire. He knows how to say a lot with a little, and talking, potentially omniscient animals are a great vehicle for that kind of oracle-speak. There’s also something very touching about the actual story of Laika and other spacefaring beasts. These animals, capable of feeling but not communicating, were thrust into an environment full of wonder and awe, wholly unequipped to experience the joy and magic of space. Instead, they died, and were discarded. Sure, there are memorials nowadays, but those service to soothe the humans who put Laika and their fair share of apes, cats, mice, and more in such tragic positions. Lemire gets to course correct that tragedy, and use the power of sci-fi to give us an alternative.Continued below
The specifics of it all are also aptly executed. In Primordial, we see these animals living (existing? vibing?) in an alien dimension (more on the art in a moment) as their animal minds expand, growing their capacities for language, communication, and awareness. As this happens, we’re served a series of scenes in which animal-alien consciousness briefly melds with their animal-terrestrial consciousnesses. Thoughts of wilderness merge with newfound abilities in dizzying displays of mind-melding. Oh, and the humans in “Primordial” are pretty cool. But really, this story is all about the animals.
Sorrentino’s art pries open your third eye and shines it like a spotlight. It’s absolutely groovy. The scenes in the alien dimension are rendered in a photo realist fashion. The animals trot around non-Euclidean geometry of white and black looking both humble yet powerful. They’re cute, too. On the perimeter (or center? It’s hard to tell in alien grid-space/space ship) of area, Sorrentino has his fun. We’re given panel spreads full of colorful cubes, filled with animal vignettes, tumbling and tumbling over one another. Hundreds, thousands, infinite of them. It’s a sight to behold.
Down on earth, things are different, and the art reflects that. Sorrento switches it up and gives us a pure Silver Age of Comics art style, full of rough shadows, two dimensionality, and multiple halftone textures. It’s an acquired taste, but feels right off the shelves of a 60s drug store. The juxtapositions of style really give “Primordial” a sense of grandiosity. We can’t wait to see where this one goes.
How can you read it?
The first three issues of “Primordial” are already out, and can be found via your local comic shop or online.