Richard Kirwin plants a review of Trees Volume 1

“Even here in sleepy old Cefalu. The Trees affect everything. The way we behave. The way money moves around. The things we believe.”

Trees vol 1: In Shadow (issues 1-8)
Warren Ellis
Jason Howard

Just to get it right out of the way – I am a Warren Ellis mark. In terms a non-wrestling fan can understand, I’m a big fan. If something has a name on it, there is a good chance I will give it a read.

As a writer, he possesses a real gift for taking a concept or premise in a direction you would never expect. He does this while managing to not get stuck in any one creative lane and over a wide variety of characters, from mainstream super-heroes to independent science fiction.

Because I’m a trades guy, I came across Trees while picking through the 3rd floor of BMV (Bloor and Spadina location in Toronto, amazing selection).

With Ellis name attached I felt comfortable grabbing something I had no ideas about going in. As usual, Mr. Ellis did not disappoint.

Trees is an alien invasion story without space battles, blue beams blasting into space or heroic presidential speeches. Instead, it is a personal, social and political examination of a world that exists following any unprecedented event. One day, giant, towering monoliths fall from the sky and imbed themselves into locations across the earth. After the initial destruction, humanity has had to find its way to living around the trees and their enormous shadows. Ten years later, where the story picks up, the Trees are still just standing there.

The reader is dropped into the lives of a cross section of characters from around the world, each unique, sharing only the presence of a Tree in their immediate surroundings as a through line for their stories to intersect. From there, very much in the way that World War Z (the novel) connected very real social and political commentary to a book about the living dead, Trees also uses its sci-fi premise to walk us through a world not so different from our own.

It is also a world that artist Jason Howard brings to life in a unique and perfectly complementary fashion.

At its best, the graphic novel marries words and pictures in such a way that you absorb and appreciate both in the same way that you would words and pictures on film. With Trees, I found myself rereading lines of dialogue while taking extra time to enjoy particular panels in equal measure.

While I don’t feel it necessary to delve into the particulars of the characters in this book, I will note that the inclusion of non-binary and international characters makes the book both a contemporary piece (similar to Sense8 on Netflix) in the age of globalization. But, also, a showcase for the talents of both artist and writer to capture the nuances of character and create them whole instead of as stereotypes.

In putting this short column together, I thought through many of my favorite Warren Ellis books, Transmetropolitan, Secret Avengers and Thunderbolts to name a few, and figured I should Google and see what I’ve missed. Turn out, its a lot.

What I find so amazing about that, is that even with such a significant body of work behind him, Ellis is still able to make Trees stand on its own (if you will forgive the pun).

As a work of science fiction laced with social, political and human elements, Trees is an example of the very best the comic book medium has to offer.

But, like I said… I’m a Warren Ellis mark. And it looks like I have some reading to do.

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