On one level Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s ‘Primordial’ #1 is a classic Cold War thriller in the making. But it’s also far more ambitious than that, with a sci-fi storyline at its heart and visuals evoking ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Primordial #1 is one part John le Carré and another part Arthur C. Clarke.
Imagine a world in which “Tricky Dicky” Nixon won the 1960 Presidential election and then went about dismantling the space programme that would one day see America win the race to the moon nearly decade later. That’s the world in which Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino set their newest collaborative six-issue series, Primordial. It’s also a world in which shadowy government agents are also working behind the scenes who have a vested interest in the dismantling of the space programme, but for very different reasons to Nixon one assumes.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the scene is set when we are introduced to one Doctor Donald Pembrook, mistaken for a member of the janitorial staff because… well, this is 1961 and he’s black. But, with his credentials quickly established, we learn of the fate of NASA under Nixon’s watch. After all, in reality this was very much Kennedy’s dream project, so it would make sense that in this alternative history Nixon would want to break it up it in favour of more military spending. The Cold War was in full swing at that time, even though later events in this debut issue suggests both the USSR and the USA are working together when it comes to matters involving space. And the previous space missions they both spearheaded involving canine cosmonauts and monkeys. Animals, as history reveals, were the first travellers into space, but in this reality they never returned to Earth. And there in lies the extraterrestrial mystery that Lemire and Sorrentino only just begin to touch upon here. A mystery scratched at when Pembrook makes a startling discovery that finds him become a person of interest to the men in black.
What is also of interest – and something unbeknownst to the shadow state agent he meets – is Pembrook’s susceptibility to suffering from cosmic visions that come and go, causing him to space-out momentarily from reality. It is in these moments that Sorrentino’s art is allowed to break out and produce creative, celestial centrepieces that contrast with the otherwise drab world of ‘60s America thanks to the bright colours of Dave Stewart. I can see why Image Comics are positioning this as the love child of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The visuals are very evocative of that film and equally and purposefully opaque. Although there are hints of these visions are linked to the missing space-faring animals somehow.
Lemire lays down a script that is both trippy and tense in equal measures. And as this is set in an alternative history, timeline anything can happen. This issue introduces and establishes the main players, the central character of Doctor Pembrook and a number of intriguing questions too. Why is Pembrook having these cosmic blackouts? What happened to the previous space missions that saw Abe, Baker and Laika taken? And taken by what, and where?
Primordial #1 is out Wednesday 15th September from Image Comics