Graphic Novel Review: Trees vol. 1 by Warren Ellis

Trees is an ongoing science fiction series from writer Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan) and Jason Howard (Super Dinosaur), in which the world has been invaded by tree-like monoliths from space. 

trees vol 1Trees Vol. 1

Title: In Shadow
Publisher:
Image Comics
Collects: issues 1-8
Writer: Warren Ellis
Illustrator: Jason Howard
Release Date: February 11, 2015
Cover Price: $14.99 (print)/$11.99 (digital)
Review: digial copy from Comixology Unlimited

Last week Comixology announced their new Comixology Unlimited subscription service, allowing customers to pay a montly fee of $5.99 to read any of the digital comics, graphic novels, and manga titles in the Unlimited collection1.most of the titles are the first volumes of popular series, where users will have to pay to read the additional volumes. Now, while this new subscription service does not currently include any DC or Marvel titles2.for Marvel titles you can check out scribd or marvel unlimited, it does allow you3.or me in this instance to check out many titles from publishers like Image Comics, Dark Horse, Oni, Archie, Fantagraphics, Valiant, and Dynamite.

So the plan is that weekly, I will review a graphic novel that you can check out for yourself, either through Comixology Unlimited or whatever source you prefer. This week I have chosen Trees Volume 1 by Warren Ellis. The choice was easy, as for my personal taste I think that Warren Ellis is probably the best active comic book writer working today, but I was unfamiliar with this title, a science fiction story that allows the creators to examine many sociological, political, and philosophical discussions about the world today.

Overview

Trees is graphic novel series4.yes, graphic novel, if you want me to go over what I think is the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel, I’d be glad to published by Image comics. The first volume collects the first eight issues of the series. It is a science fiction story, but like most classic sci-fi tales, the science is simply a backdrop that the creator can use to comment on other elements about the world we live in. And Warren Ellis is using Trees to not only tell a unique and different science fiction tale, but also make statements about the current social, political, philosophical, and scientific thoughts of the world today.

The basic plot is that The Earth has been invaded by these large monoliths that have landed in various locations all over The Earth. These monoliths are given the nickname of “Trees”. The Trees have caused an effect to the populations that stay around them in interesting ways, depending on the region.

The graphic novel focuses on four specific groups of protagonists, ten years after the Trees invaded the Earth.

  • Trees- TianIn a town called Chu in China, an artist named Tian Chenglei moves into town from a small village to draw the trees. Chu has become an isolated region, left alone by the Chinese government, as such it has become a haven of artistic and personal freedom. Tian meets a dynamic trans-gendered woman named Zhen. Tian falls for Zhen and the life of the free artists within Chu, while the military/government presence lingers over the whole region.
  • On an island off the coast of Norway, Marsh is a scientist who is part of a research team investigating the Trees. Marsh is obsessed wiht the trees and discovers a new strain of black poppy flowers, that increase electrical interference when they are linked together like circuits. Marsh’s fascination with trees, allows the poppies to take over the research station, causing electrical interference and causing a threat that he doesn’t stop until it’s too late.
  • In Cefalu, Italy, the town around the trees has become a slum area that is dominated by small fascist gangs looking to liberate the region. Eligia is a smart woman who is the girlfriend of Tito, a local revolutionary. She meets a man named Luca Bongiorno who is a former professor and an agent of the Italian intelligence service. She is captivated by what he knows. He offers to teach her how to disappear, and much more. Luca teaches her his skills, and helps her to learn more about Tito’s organization, and to gain independence and power.
  • In Mogadishu, Somalia, President Caleb Rahim has been elected a leader, despite being an economist and not from the army. The Tree has landed on the border between Somalia ad Puntland, but it is small enough that the top of the tree can be reached by helicopter. President Rahim posts several rocket launchers on top of the Tree, to increase the military advantage.
Analysis

Trees-MarshThis is a really good graphic novel collection. Warren Ellis and Jason Howard are able to weave the four stories together masterfully, especially as all four of the stories are unique. Tian’s story is one of social and artistic freedom. Marsh’s story is a classic Frankenstein monster story where the discovery of scientific knowledge eclipses that of the people around him. Eligia’s story is one of female empowerment and to a degree a crime story. President Rahim’s is a geopolitical and military story covering the most troubled region in the world. The stories are unique and keep you guessing to the end.

Ellis is especially masterful here, bringing light on issues that do not come across the desk of most comic book fans. I was completely unfamiliar with the regions of Cefalu Italy, Svalbard, Norway, and Puntland. Most writers are content to choose places familiar to readers, and it is refreshing to see this story take us to new places. Also it makes the story seem much more global, which really is effective, given the nature of the story.

Marsh’s story feels the most familiar for those who have read Warren Ellis’s work in the past. He is a technocrat, and the idea of flora being able to form electrical circuits is right up his alley. Even more than the idea of monolithic trees from space.

The artwork is very good, I enjoy Jason Howard’s work. In work like this, the less crisp artwork provides a mood for the whole graphic novel. It gives it a unique feel and a flavor which is really good. And the colorist is able to give a unique feel to several different locales across the world.

Finally, I really enjoyed Tian’s story. While I am supportive of gay/transgender issues, I can’t really say that I identify with those stories. Sometimes I even bristle at writers bringing in a trans (or gay) character, as it screams of tokenism. But Tian falling for Zhen seems perfectly natural and fits the story really well of that of an explosion of expression in a repressed region of the world. I loved seeing Tian fall in love with Zhen, and even found myself on his journey.

I only have two complaints:

  • First, in in an ensemble story like this, most of the stories seem a little rushed. Only Marsh’s story feels fully formed, at least on the plot side, less so on the character side.
  • Second, while I appreciate seeing the affect of the Trees on the world, it would be good to know what the scientific community thinks of the Trees, what they are, what their purpose is. Even if the Earth knows little about the Trees, it would be good to have an idea of the current knowledge. The Trees are interesting, and I want to know more about them.
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