I Speak for the Trees!
Hey there, Alley-ans! It's Jim here once more, checking in with my weekly comic book recommendation. As long as we're waiting for new comics to return, I'm going to keep highlighting some cool graphic novels that you may have missed. Hey, I might even keep doing it when we're getting new stuff, I'm keeping my options open. If I can provide even one of you with some new reading material during this seemingly endless wait for haircuts, I'll have done my job. Oh, and I'm calling you Alley-ans now, by the way, it's a whole thing.
Today I'm going to provide you with an escape from the nightmare of a monolithic system that couldn't care less about you... into... well, it's kind of exactly that, but in this world, the monoliths are real literal monoliths. They're called trees.
The comic is also called Trees.
Trees, written by Warren Ellis, with art by Jason Howard, and published by Image, is set in the future, ten years after mysterious alien creatures? vessels? land all around the earth, throwing all of human civilization for a loop in the process. We call them Trees: pillars so tall that you can't even see the tops from the ground, and all attempts to communicate with them or even destroy them go completely unheeded. We are insects to these Trees. And not termites, either, because then we could really show those trees who's boss.
The story is split into several locations around the world, exploring different aspects of life under the Trees, and the societal and political impact they have had. Trees in Rio de Janeiro have just leaked some sort of green goop all over the city, destroying everything in its wake. The president of Somalia shakes the world by using the trees as part of a strategy and a political power move in his efforts to take his country's resources back from pirates. A girl in a lawless Italian Tree Town is helped by a mysterious stranger in wresting herself free from her fascist gang leader boyfriend. A young artist in mainland China travels to a walled in city built around a Tree, where he discovers a haven for outsiders and like-minded people similar to himself. And a group of scientists studying Trees in the Arctic must try not to fall apart while on the verge of learning something about the Trees' true intent.
I only read the first volume, so I can't tell you how or if all these threads come together in the end, but I found them all to be very compelling. What ended up being my favorite of the threads didn't win me over right away. It's the story of the young Chinese artist, Chenglei. His is a journey of self discovery, a romance, and a tragedy that ended up packing a real emotional punch, but it started out a little shaky for me, in particular with Ellis' approach to writing a transgender character (it was 2014, people were only just dipping their toes into these waters). But as the series continued, he seems to have listened to some feedback and course corrected, and the character quickly becomes one of the most interesting in the series.
I don't read a ton of Warren Ellis' comics, despite the fact that I like him. Part of that has to do with his retreat from the superhero genre, which is what 90% of my monthlies tend to be. The other part has to do with the fact that I don't think his stories read as well in the single issue format. But reading Trees in book form really served to show me how well his stories can flow altogether. With the title and credits pages removed in the collected format, I don't think I could actually tell you where one issue would have ended and the next would have began. It reads smoothly, like one whole story, as it was probably intended.
Another piece that I would be foolish not to mention is Jason Howard's art. If the story flows well, it's just as much, if not more, because of him as it is Ellis. Something I've noticed in Ellis' comics is that he has a lot of silent sequences of just action, letting the art do the talking sometimes for several pages. I always wondered how tightly this is scripted and how much of it is finding the right collaborator and letting them work their magic. I'm inclined to think he trusts Jason Howard.
That's it for now, friends! If this review intrigued you and you'd like to give Trees a chance, call us, or reach out to us by email or Facebook! The info is available elsewhere on this site. We have options for shipping, and delivery and contact-free pick up is available if you are in Chicago and are reading this during quarantine times. If you're reading this in the future and the sun doesn't burn your giant cave-dwellers' eyes and your atrophied limbs can still support your giant pulsating head, stop by our shop! Thanks for reading!