Sunday, June 5, 2016

Trees, Volume 1

I just signed up for Comixology Unlimited, a service where multiple titles from certain publishers (not Marvel or DC, but some big name ones like Image and Fantagraphics) are available to read for a single monthly fee. One of the first things I read on my Samsung Galaxy tablet using this service was this book, Trees. I bought the first issue when it came out from my local comic shop, but I decided to wait for the trade. Apparently I lost track of when it came out, but I am glad I got to catch it here and now.

This book collects the first 8 issues of the series, but I have the say the whole thing reads more like a graphic novel. I seriously did not realize when I was reading it when one issue ended and another began, because the story just transitions so smoothly.

The narrative is a science fiction one, focusing on the mysterious appearance of giant alien trees in a number of urban areas worldwide. Their presence caused great destruction initially, but for the next ten years they seem dormant. Over the course of this book we get to see the effects of the trees on three specific, very different areas. In China a "special cultural center" has sprung up in the shade of the tree; in Italy a fascist gang runs the town, and in Norway a research team studies the alien life. Much to their surprise, they learn that the trees have not been dormant all along and that some sort of change is imminent.

What I enjoyed most about this book was how it followed three compelling scenarios that were populated with complex, interesting characters. The narrative bounces around a little, but in a short amount of space I felt I learned much about each context and its players, and what is more I came to care about what happened to them. Perhaps most impressively, even though those three locations are distant, still the events in each combine to portray the big picture of what is going on in the world. In the end, this book ended up being more human drama than sci-fi adventure, and I am very interested in seeing where this series goes.

Trees is a collaboration between writer Warren Ellis and artist Jason Howard. The multiple award winning Ellis writes both novels and graphic novels, and his comic credits include Red, Fell, The Authority, Planetary, Global Frequency, and a recent run on Moon Knight. Howard is a relative newcomer to comics compared to Ellis, but he is known for his co-creation SuperDinosaur as well as his work on The Astounding Wolf-Man. Both creators speak about their take on this series in these interviews: Ellis & Howard.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly summed up that it was "A fine addition to the tradition of SF that exaggerates tomorrow’s problems to better paint a picture of today." John R. Parker called it "an intelligent, magnetic, and challenging debut." Michael is a big fan of Ellis's work, but also added that here he "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."

Trees was published by Image Comics, and they have previews and much more available here. This book contains extreme violence, sexual situations, and some profanity, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle those things.

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