Friday, 17 July 2015

Trees Vol 1: In Shadow by Warren Ellis

Trees Vol 1: In Shadow written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Jason Howard collects the first eight issues of the ongoing comic book series Trees. I read Issue #1 back in May and was intrigued and then picked up the first volume when I came across it in my local genre bookshop. If you read my short review of issue #1, let me just say, the first issue barely begins to scratch the surface of the awesomeness contained within this series.

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.

First things first, there are no chapter breaks in this volume, so it was impossible to tell where issue #1 ended and issue #2 began, which was slightly confusing at first but not a hardship to reread the first issue again. And the issue covers are included at the end so you're not missing out. This lack of structure makes Trees feel much more like a continuous story than a lot of other comics I've read. Even Marvel's multi-issue arcs tend to have little recaps at the start of the issues, something that was completely lacking in Trees. A good choice, I think, lending a sense of coherence.

As I had already seen in issue #1, Trees follows several groups of characters in different parts of the world — a world in which towering alien structures have landed and then done not much else. A lot of the story doesn't directly involve the Trees, but some of it does and, of course, what kind of a story would it be if nothing continued to not happen? (Answer: a boring one.) But Trees doesn't stick to tired tropes when dealing with weird things happening with the alien structures. It subverts tropes and brings the Volume to a close with an unexpected bang. I have no idea what to expect in Volume 2, aside from maybe some of the things a couple of characters were planning.

Genre tropes aren't all that Trees subverts. What I found wasn't at all hinted at in Issue #1 was the scope of the gender issues dealt with in this comic. Most obviously there's the story in the Chinese artists' enclave under a tree, where the new boy a) learns that trans people exist, b) explores his own sexuality and c) deals with everything better than anyone particularly expected him to. I'd say it's worth reading just for those bits (actually, I'd say Trees is worth reading for any one of the individual storylines). There's also a strong feminist story in Italy, where a gangster's girlfriend learns some life skills from an older guy and takes matters (and the town) into her own hands. There was one thing the older guy said to her that particularly struck me. I was going to quote it but looking at it again it doesn't quite work out of context. But it's along the lines of the older guy feeling bad for contributing to a world where women like her (no money, minimal education, etc) are marginalised. He's helping her to redress the balance and has zero interest in her sexually, which I appreciated.

The other storylines involved scientists studying the Trees, which I don't think I can say too much about, a politician in Manhattan who will obviously be relevant in Volume 2, and the president of an African country. The latter story was left on a bit of a cliffhanger and I'm particularly interested in seeing what happens next. Hopefully it will be developed further and, hopefully we will eventually get some answers as to what the Trees want, where they came from and why they're here. I look forward to finding out.

Trees Vol 1: In Shadow was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to all SF and comic fans. In particular, I think readers who enjoyed Saga but are (also) interested in a more down-to-Earth SF read would do well to have a look at Trees. I am very much looking forward to the next volume, which I'm sure will be just as though-provoking.

5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2015, Image Comics
Series: Trees, ongoing series. Volume 1, collecting Issues #1–8
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased from a physical book shop

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