Thursday, 30 April 2015

Trees, by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard

Tress begins ten years after massive and silent alien presences have established themselves on Earth. They stand silent and immobile, seemingly unfazed by and oblivious to human life on Earth- just like Trees.

The narrative is divided into several points of view, each following different sets of characters as they live and work in the landing sites of the Trees, where their shadows darken the cities. We see fascist gangs in the tree zone of Rome, destruction in Rio de Janeiro, warmongering in Mogadishu, the mayoral candidate's musings in New York City, a polar research team on Spitsbergen and blossoming romance in "The City of Shu". Each of these separate groups are slowly learning things about the trees near to them, unsure whether anybody else in the world is doing the same.

I loved the city of Shu- it feels like it could be an entirely new series by itself. We could spend volumes simply exploring the bizarre micro culture and the artistic, super-liberal attitude of a city that's grown and matured in the enclosed, isolated 'special cultural zone'. The events that unfold in Shu definitely launch the plot into action in a sudden and shocking way, and I think we're going to be seeing a lot of Zhen in the next issue.

Zhen and Tian in the city of Shu-
look at those colours and that hum of life that comes off the page
I was pretty much floored this book and found its concept fascinating- so many narratives deal with the invasion, the war or whatever event that spells the end of the world. In Trees, that happened ages ago- and people love to believe that they don't need to do anything, to interfere. Since the landing people have adapted and more or less carried on with their lives, living with the Trees' silent presence. This story instead deals with the few individuals that ask questions, that reason, that don't merely want to act like nothing happened. What we see are reactions, ten years down the line. Ellis points out this old-news alien invasion, then pushes it to one side. Instead we see how people deal with this change of life. Democratic governments have been replaced by fascist ones, wars are still raging, police brutality is rife, there's poverty, trafficking, gangs...there's no wonder these aliens, whatever they are, don't consider the human race civilised or intelligent.

There's something incredibly threatening about the Trees, but the reader is in very much the same position as the Earth's population; it's impossible to determine their purpose, their objectives and what exactly makes them so ominous. All we see at this stage are isolated incidents, all over the World that add up to a pretty huge threat, and the questioning individuals in those locations as they discover and react to these slight changes in the trees that have become so familiar to them. It's frustrating, not knowing, but I'm itching for volume 2.

The artwork in this is absolutely beautiful- the scope of the artist is incredible. I just stared at the pages in some cases, soaking up the indulgent detail. It doesn't technically add to the story, the characters or anything but it adds a depth to the world that makes it feel alive, ignorant. We can see all these people that just carry on in the background, happy to ignore the Trees until the impact on their lives directly. He creates buzzing, vibrant cities full of bustle and colour, then barren polar wastelands and manages to make each seem beautiful. I loved how expressive the characters were, how they can communicate with the reader without the need for speech or direction. The colours are simply stunning too.

Definitely worth a look, even if graphic novels or futuristic speculative fiction isn't your usual reading diet- Trees is a gripping and tense read that asks more questions than it answers and leaves the reader desperate to know more. The ominous threat builds all the way through, the author clearly is not afraid of a big body count and it's a really unique concept that has loads of potential to go pretty much anywhere.

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