The slow-building, many-pieced plot of “Trees” explodes in its eighth issue. Some big changes take place, changes that Ellis has worked toward for many issues, and the emotional payoff is excellently wrought. It’s still tough to feel any forward momentum on the larger question of the Trees when the protagonists continue to understand so little but, on the character level, there’s a wealth of growth and involvement. Whatever else you can say about it, “Trees” is an ambitiously global and human series.
Almost every storyline comes to a head in this issue. Personally, I was most moved by the events of Shu; in their suddenness and finality, they’re especially devastating. The events at Blindhail Station feel more inevitable, and there’s a kind of triumph in Eligia’s decision. It says something about the structure of “Trees” that the most myopic storyline, rather than the one that has the most to do with the central alien mystery, moves me. However, all the scenarios are united in their open-endedness. Ellis doesn’t set up clear consequences for his plot points; there’s no “if x, then y” logic to “Trees,” so even with far-reaching events like these, I don’t feel anticipation for the next installment. Instead, as a reader, I feel something closer to anxiety because I can guess so little about what might come. It’s a fascinating way to structure a serial series.
There is a great deal to love about Jason Howard’s artwork, but I most enjoy the way he uses scope. Howard juxtaposes shots of massive, national- or global-scale objects with panels of the small people affected by them. This is a book about global crisis and climate-altering invaders, and Howard’s layouts convey the confusion of being a citizen swept up in those events. They emphasize the insignificance of these characters, whom Ellis makes the reader care so deeply for, by demonstrating how different things look from far away. There are often neater, less simultaneous ways to display that contrast, but Howard embraces the most jarring and affecting. (Warning: spoiler in the upcoming sentence.) For example, after the massacre in Shu, Howard draws the fleeing citizens from a distant vantage point outside the city, and they are barely dots in the dull, brown landscape. It’s a frightening comparison to the close terror of the previous panels.
Howard’s coloring is also effective and quiet. Most of the scenes have a banal, day-to-day palette that draws little attention, and Howard only sparingly uses touchstone colors – red in the Shu scenes, white at Blindhail – to emphasize particular elements. Most importantly, he knows when to clutter a background and when to fill it with stark, simple color.
“Trees” continues to be an odd title to read month-to-month, as I can rarely guess where things are headed or how the central premise will affect events. That said, its ambition and humanity are strangely gripping. It’s an epic not in the sense of big movements and catastrophic actions but in depth and scope. I can’t wait to revisit it when it’s four trades deep.