Trees Volume 1 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard
Ten years after they landed. All over the world. And they did nothing, standing on the surface of the Earth like trees, exerting their silent pressure on the world, as if there were no-one here and nothing under foot.
Ten years since we learned that there is intelligent life in the universe, but that they did not recognize us as intelligent or alive.
Trees looks at a near-future world where life goes on in the shadows of the Trees: in China, where a young painter arrives in the “special cultural zone” of a city under a Tree; in Italy, where a young woman under the menacing protection of a fascist gang meets an old man who wants to teach her terrible skills; and in Svalbard, where a research team is discovering, by accident, that the Trees may not be dormant after all, and the awful threat they truly represent.
Collecting issues 1-8.
We’re fans of Warren Ellis here at The Dinglehopper. Erin’s favorite comic prior to the advent of Bitch Planet was, and maybe still is, Planetary. I have a shelf full of trades that’s seen a lot of wear. Even so, since our toddler was born we haven’t seen the inside of our local comic shop more than a handful of times.
What I’m trying to say here is that Trees is something that I should have known about for almost a year now and I’m kind of sorry I didn’t. Like all of Ellis’s best work, there’s a mystery at the center of it. A mystery that the reader, and the characters, have a small piece of. Enough to wonder, to want more.
The mystery is, of course, the Trees; immense mineral cylinders stretching up into the sky, plunked down in the middle of Rio or the middle of nowhere. Their tantalizing power owes a debt to Jason Howard’s renderings of the cityscapes and natural surroundings. The sense of comparative scale evokes a sense of wonder that’s in direct contrast to the representation of life in the shadow of the Trees.
For most of the characters on the page, the Trees are quotidian. Less important than the local authorities, border disputes, mayoral campaigns, or even sexual awakenings. And it’s there where the real story lies.
It’s less about the Trees than it is about us. All science fiction, whether its about the future or aliens, or space travel is really just an exploration of what it means to be human. Here, all the Independence Day heroics or disaster movie chaos happened a decade ago. The Trees are a context within, or beneath, which human dramas play out.
Trees isn’t structured like a typical comic. In particular, reading it as a collection it wasn’t exactly clear when one issue ended and another began and that’s an incredible strength. This is really one long narrative that I got sixty pages into before even asking that question.
While there are more than half a dozen locations and attendant casts to keep track of, much of the story is about how they’re interrelated. United by similar circumstances. Here again Howard’s art provides crucial assistance. similar but not identical faces subtly elide the separations between Cefalu, Shu, and Svalbard.
Multiple concurrent narratives initially alternate in service of introduction but come to score and comment on one another. Informing and elaborating, echoing off the page. The wreck of Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema flows effortlessly into Blindhail Station on Spitzbergen, sharing imagery and intent. The plight of Rio youth is inconsequential to the massive indifferent power of the Trees, which, frankly, might as well be us.
The sites aren’t chosen haphazardly, though it might seem so. They’re a representative sample that provide a stage for tense juxtapositions. In Norway, strange flowers bloom in the permafrost as a single man’s obsession endangers an isolated crew. In Mogadishu an economist-cum-president gambles his country’s future atop the world’s shortest Tree. In Italy, the vestiges of two Golden Dawns vie for supremacy. In China, the citizens of a free city explore the boundaries of art, gender, and sexuality.
Within just a few pages, I’d already experienced shocks of recognition, intense curiosity, pathos, humor, and awe. Ellis has once again teamed up with the perfect artist for a project. Howard’s sketchy lines give the pages and what they depict a rough, lived in world with a vibrant kinesis.
Recommended for fans of Orbiter, Ocean, and the ineffable other.