Image Comics’ Primordial has always been weird. It’s an alternate take on the history of the space program, with a dash of otherworldly influence, all centered around three unsuspecting animals. But up until now, Primordial has been quite simple. The strangeness has been in the margins, while the meat of the story has been about Laika the dog and Baker and Able, two monkeys. Writer Jeff Lemire, artist Andrea Sorrentino, colorist Dave Stewart, and letterer Steve Wands treat Primordial #3 as a shift in gears. While it still has our wonderful animals at the heart of the story, it fully embraces its weird, sci-fi undertones.
Lemire tells multiple stories in this one issue. He shows a history of Baker and Able, our space monkeys, and we follow a scientist that is beginning to learn about the mysteries surrounding these animals. But the truly shocking thing in this issue, is how much time we spend in an – as of yet unexplained – otherworldly realm. Lemire leans into the mystery of it all. He doesn’t offer answers, but the rules of this realm begin to slowly unfold. It’s an exciting shift that’s masterfully executed. In the hands of a less experienced writer, this shift in tone could feel forced or cheesy. But Lemire’s script inextricably links the supernatural goings on of this series to the emotional heart of the story – the development of our animal characters. One thread of the story isn’t being interrupted for another. These threads are one and the same.
Sorrentino spends a good ten pages of this issue drawing in a style that’s not familiar to us as readers. Instead of the shadowy images he often presents, Sorrentino shows us pages and pages of a more traditional linework. He proves he’s just as moving in his storytelling in this format as he is in his usual wheelhouse. In fact, there’s a beautiful layer that’s added to these scenes – or rather, stripped away. Sorrentino strips back the filters, the Ben Day dots, and the inky blacks that often obscure the characters’ expressions, which he so often uses to brilliant effect. Without all of those things, the characters almost look naked. They’re simplified and laid bare. It’s downright beautiful. Sorrentino imbues these deeply complex scenes with a layer of poignant simplicity.
Stewart also gives these scenes a sense of lightness. While the scenes that take place in the “normal” world are often dark blues, greys and browns, the scenes in the otherworldly realm have a brightness to them. Sure, many of the scenes are almost completely white. But when color does find its way into these scenes, it’s undiluted. The pinks, purples, reds and greens that we see are vibrant. Every other scene that Stewart colors has such a sense of place. You can feel the cold breeze, squint through the night air. And the otherworldly realm is scattered and placeless, in a joyful way. In a sense, Stewart still gives us a sense of place. He shows us that this is a place that feels like no place at all. It’s jarring and beautiful all at once.
When we first see Able and Baker, they communicate with “Eee! Eee!” noises. Wands writes these in simple word balloons. The font looks slightly different to actual English words, a little less refined. But when we see Able and Baker in a flashback, the same letters look quite different. Wands shows us large yellow and green “Eee! Eeee!” noises bursting out of the confines of their word balloons. The panic and desperation of the moment is as clear as day. Separately, when Able is piecing together things he’s hearing, we see one line of dialogue split up into two disconnected caption boxes. The lettering for each half is on a simple white caption box and the rest of the panels on the page have little empty white boxes scattered all around. Wands gives us the feeling that Able is being hit with all kinds of information and he’s picking out little, relevant details.
Image Comics’ Primordial is a delight. It’s good to see that it not only does the emotional, grounded storyline of Able, Baker, and Laika right, but it nails its sci-fi elements too. Pick up Primordial #3, out from Image Comics today, at a comic shop near you!