In “Trees” #7 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, warfare and murder sprout in the shadows of the Trees.
“Nothing good grows in the shadow of a Tree,” says Luca to
Eligia. Ellis opens the issue with Chenglei happy in love, but he is an outlier. In the remainder of “Trees” #7, people fight and connive. The Trees themselves move so slowly by comparison that they lose some of their sinister quality. Compared to earlier issues, there aren’t as many of Howard’s silent and atmosphere-building landscapes to remind the reader that the Trees are aliens. Ellis’ economic realism is welcome and serves some of the same function, though, when he reminds readers that “those who could leave Tree landing sites did.”
There are two major plot developments in “Trees” #7, but the action feels deadened instead of shocking. With the warfare in the Puntland, Howard’s images of innocent civilians and the bird flight-like aerial pattern of bombs are very strong, but the Ellis’ structure or pacing is off. The bombing is given short shrift because it’s buried in the middle of the issue, with its lead-in several pages back. As for the murder, there’s too much foreshadowing for the moment of attack to be a shock. Howard’s camera angles diminish the suspense instead of enhancing the action. Like in earlier issues, he flubs the moment of revelation. In contrast, the images on the last page are haunting. It’s becoming clear that Howard’s current strength is in still images, like photos. He’s much weaker on action scenes.
All the jumping around between different settings allows Ellis to develop all the parts of his cast in the same issue, but it also makes the action overly choppy. The transitions to and from Blindhail Station are disorienting since they are inside the station, where there are less identifying details about where the story is continuing. With one exception, Ellis and Howard don’t use textboxes with location information in “Trees” #7. Instead of creating a smoother story flow, the lack of orienting information has the opposite effect of taking the reader out of the story. A new reader would be completely lost instead of drawn in.
Ellis’ dialogue is strong enough that most characters can be guessed from their speech patterns, except for the research scientists on Blindhail, who aren’t sufficiently distinct yet except for Marsh. The cast is so large that the whole crew there is still a collection of stereotypes.
Out of all the characters, Eligia has the most complexity. Her combination of vulnerability and viciousness, selfishness and smarts is unusual. Luca, too, has some mystery to him. Eligia is just a pawn in his larger plan, and yet there’s also something of a genuine teacher and student bond forming.
It doesn’t help that many of Howard’s characters look too much alike. He draws many men and women with the same hairstyles and even the same bone structure and strong angular jawlines, square-ish for the men and triangular for the women. His continued use of a monochrome approach to coloring is great in the scenes where minimal color is a dramatic accent, but it reduces visual impact in other scenes.
Ellis’ script and Howard’s artwork are uneven in “Trees” #7. The prose and Howard’s still images are still very strong, but the pacing has weakened. As the story has tried to ascend to new levels, the ride has been a little bumpier. That said, “Trees” #7 is still imaginative and ambitious, and the series is still a great read for its global scale and its ironic but serious take on alien invasion.