During the mid-20th century Cold War the Soviet Union were first to send an animal into space, the dog Laika orbiting the Earth. Two years later in 1959 the USA launched monkeys Able and Baker into orbit, and two years after that Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to escape the Earth’s atmosphere. On the alternate Earth presented by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino, one where Richard Nixon was elected US President in 1960, Primordial begins with Doctor Donald Pembrook being sent to Cape Canaveral where the US space program is being dismantled. A neat, although in this case distressing character touch, is the automatic assumption that Pembrook is one of the cleaning staff on the basis of his dark skin. Before his accreditation is revoked, Pembrook discovers printouts showing the monkeys remained alive four minutes after their announced death. Soon afterwards he learns Laika didn’t die either.

After collaborations on Gideon Falls and Green Arrow Lemire and Sorrentino are a creative partnership of proven quality, and Sorrentino’s art is a wonder to behold. He uses three distinct styles. The activities of Pembrook set in the past are naturalistic, but blurred, as if viewed through the prism of time, while the scenes of animals are almost photo-realism, very attractive and set against a stark white background. There are also fragmented dispersals as scenes dissolve, a work-intensive trick Sorrentino frequently uses, but of greater relevance here than just a stylistic quirk.

However, strip away the artistic wonder and not much remains. The long journey home is what counts, and faith through the years, while all other plots fall by the wayside. Pembrook is the way into events, but surplus to requirements from halfway through, and there are no answers to the bigger questions. The animals are intercepted and their intelligence increased, but the means and purpose aren’t revealed, and telepathic dialogue along the lines of “Laika bigger now. You be bigger now, too. Big. Bigger. Not Alone” doesn’t make for enthralling reading.

Primordial features big, widescreen art on what’s eventually a small, intimate story, usually a great strength of Lemire’s, but this is a misfire.