The White Trees #1, the first issue in a two-part miniseries, is by no means a poorly made book. It's just kind of a boring one. There's nothing objectively awful or poorly executed, but the world of Blacksand, where this story takes place, isn't bringing anything new to the already crowded table. Writer Chip Zdarsky's voice is lost in bland tropes and boring characterizations. while Kris Anka's art often feels strangely hollow. At its best, The White Trees #1 feels like a really solid webcomic from the depths of Tumblr that finally made its way to print a few years too late.
The hook for The White Trees #1 is pretty simple: a band of former warriors learn their children have gone missing and now, at their king’s behest, must traverse across a fantasy world to find them and whoever was behind their abduction. All the while, the threat of another war looms in the background. Where things go from here may be striking to some readers and might even add an interesting wrinkle to well-worn fantasy tropes, but the paint-by-numbers tone of the bulk of the book is too distracting to make any new idea feel truly special. White Trees #1 simply doesn’t have a strong enough voice to be heard clearly in a genre bursting with originality.
Even with all that being said, The White Trees #1 is too well put together to ignore. Chip Zdarsky, who has been doing wonderful work as the scribe behind Daredevil, is playing with some fascinating ideas regarding how war leaves the mentality of people fractured, and that some scars, be them cultural or personal, never fully heal. Some of the choices made in terms of character relationships is also positively progressive, but what any of it adds up to is still unseen. Hopefully the second half of this series reveals more, but based on reading this issue in a vacuum, it all feels like window dressing.
There are pages where if feels as if Kris Anka (The Runaways) is going through the motions. There is a minimalist approach to The White Trees #1 that doesn't quite work. After all, there's a huge magical world filled with lion folk and dragons, but beyond Matt Wilson's bold colors, a lot of the art work is strangely pedestrian. The character designs are solid, but unremarkable, and when we do get a larger panel or splash page with a wider scope of the world, it is impressive. Sadly, cool characters and a smattering of well-drawn landscapes don't make for a great comic. There needs to be more meat on the bones, especially if a story, which feels like it could be something epic, is going to unfold in so few pages.
The White Trees #1 is a new fantasy miniseries with some interesting ideas, but the core mystery and setup are bland. Visually, the issue is pretty, but vapid. Perhaps this is a case of looking at a great comic cover and seeing the names of creators who typically do amazing work above the title caused too much expectation. But even great artists crank out something criminally lackluster by comparison to their previous work. Or maybe, the fantasy genre in comics is so scattershot it's hard to find out what works. The White Trees may make a splash in its back half, making this critique of its first issue null and void. Fingers crossed that it does. We want this comic to be more than passable. We want The White Trees to be great... but right now, it's not.