ADVANCE REVIEW: “Trees #2” Channels Nothing Happened

Writer: Warren Ellis

Artist: Jason Howard

Publisher: Image Comics

In 2014, you don’t walk away from a new Warren Ellis comic. You see that there’s a new PT Anderson or Wes Anderson movie, you go see it. You see a new Warren Ellis comic, you go buy it. Certain auteurs just have that legacy of credibility that demands you explore their new work, regardless of subject. If Warren Ellis never wrote another comic book series again, he’d be one of the all-time greatest writers in the history of the medium. Fortunately for comic book fans, we currently have him writing Moon Knight with Declan Shalvey and now Trees with artist Jason Howard and Image Comics.

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Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Jason Howard Publisher: Image Comics

That bit of uber-fandom out of the way… oh, man, woman, and child is Trees going to be a challenging comic book to recommend. The first issue was a fascinating bit of new world set-up, with a not too distant future where Earth has been invaded by motionless, unresponsive alien “Trees” that extend into the heavens. Issue #2? It’s a slow-burning slog that introduces two new character sets and doesn’t even mention three of the four introductory character sets from issue #1. The Trees themselves are shown a short handful of times (with Howard’s art appropriately capturing the asynchronous magnificence and mundanity of the alien invaders) and we only get a small amount of additional insight into life on Tree infested Earth. This largely comes from President Caleb Rahim of Somalia who discusses the strategic advantages of the world’s shortest trees. Apparently, there is one lone Tree that is accessible at the top by helicopter. This is an interesting bit of politics interacting with a world of Trees, and undoubtedly one that will continue to play a role in the world affairs of this book.

For the most part, though, “Trees #2” takes place in the arctic with the science exploration team we left off with last issue. In Issue #2, the scientific division (tasked with… examining the Trees presumably?) becomes our roots, and Marsh, the botanist who discovered the black flowers at the end of “Trees #1”, becomes the first character resembling a protagonist. Marsh has been on the great arctic mission for over two years, apparently much longer than is average or allowed, but he has no interest in returning to the world (loner with a checkered past or uncomfortable home situation; got it). After discovering the black flowers, Marsh is obsessed with learning where they came from, and whether they are growing out from the Trees (which would be new). The other scientists and doctors are doubtful that Marsh is on to much of anything (“he has his something is WRONG on the island twitch again”) which of course means for our plot that these black flowers will become incredibly significant. Through two issues, they are merely a mystery, though, and an indication that the Trees are changing in some subtle way.

In reviewing “Trees #1,” I wrote that this plot and these situations might start to make more sense by issue #2. In reality, the book actually gets more confusing. With the exception of our now familiar arctic crew, “Trees #2” is more people kind of hanging out in disparate situations and settings. On one hand, this is an interesting structural choice for a comic, introducing a wide variety of new characters and slowly and rapidly exploring their relationship to the Trees of this world. On the other hand, it’s a very slow read, and one that you can’t help but feel isn’t made for single-issue consumption. Is this all going to feel like strategically placed world building by issue #6? With Ellis and Howard, I’d have to think so. As it stands, though, the plot is hanging in the wind, like the abrupt, “where’d the last page go?” ending of this book.

Verdict: 5.2 out of 10

If this book wasn’t a Warren Ellis production, we’d be reaching the point in the analysis where I basically give up. This is an immensely slow, slogging second issue, and if it weren’t for the assumption of some sort of fantastic pay-off (or the deliberate and carefully structured avoidance of a pay-off) there’s no way “Trees #2” gets a positive rating. Nonetheless, because of the pedigree, Trees as a comic has the same elements of mystery and intrigue that the Trees of the book offer humanity. The Trees haven’t done much of anything yet, to the point that we have no idea why they’re here or what they’re even capable of. Here’s hoping we find out.