REVIEW: Image Comics’ Primordial

Over the past few years, Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino have become one of the most prolific and exciting collaborative teams in contemporary comics. Their upcoming horror universe The Bone Orchard Mythos promises to be just as unsettling as their previous horror series Gideon Fall. But the two creators have never limited themselves to one genre. In Primordial, the two explore science fiction and alternate histories. Image Comics recently collected the six-issue series in a gorgeous hardcover that makes for an amazing reading experience.

Beginning in 1961, Primordial follows Doctor Donald Pembrook, a scientist from MIT, as he attempts to make sense of a bizarre discovery he made while helping the government dismantle its space program. Pembrook uncovers evidence that suggests that the monkeys NASA sent into space might still be alive. When he tells his commanding officer about him, he is promptly removed from the project, but a Russian scientist reaches out to him, and together they try to contact the animals.

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Lemire has crafted a fascinating alternate history of the space race. In Primordial, John F. Kennedy lost the 1960 election to Richard Nixon and both the United States and Russia have shuttered their space exploration programs. This reimagining of history encourages the reader to suspend their disbelief from the very beginning. So, by the time Lemire introduces talking animals, the story already feels believable and grounded within the context of the world he’s built. By giving the animals a limited vocabulary, Lemire maintains their innocence. Even with their new abilities, Laika and her primate friends are still out of their depths, making them easy to root for, while also functioning as a searing indictment of animal testing.

Sorrentino does a masterful job bouncing between the gloomy Cold War cloak-and-dagger adventures of Doctor Pembrook and the bright, psychedelic saga of the animals in space. He uses a consistent six-panel grid to tell the story of Pembrook and the Russians on Earth. But his page-layouts of him become much more experimental once the story moves into outerspace – as if the structure of each page is no longer restrained by gravity. This contrast helps to underscore how utterly alien the animals’ experiences are.

Sorrentino’s depictions of the animals’ surreal space journey are confounding at first, but upon further inspection, they go to great lengths to unravel the mystery at the heart of Primordial. As surreal as some of these scenes are, Sorrentino is still careful to capture the emotional lives of the three animals. He is able to depict a surprising range of emotions that help the audience develop a personal connection with the characters.

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Primordial is a thoughtful, beautifully drawn piece of science fiction that subverts the audience’s expectations at every turn. Lemire and Sorrentino are at the top of their game in this gorgeous story. They refuse to hold the reader’s hand or spell things out, but even at it’s most challenging — Primordial is thoroughly entertaining and well-crafted enough to reward multiple readings. This book is sure to impress fans of Lemire and Sorrentino’s other work, as well as anyone looking for a good sci-fi story.


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