“Trees” #1 is a comic that’s playing a slow game. And that’s apt, because it’s a comic that’s also about the slow game, if you stop and think about it. Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s premiere issue introduces us to a future where an alien invasion began and then stopped just as suddenly… but ten years later, we’re just starting to see some of the fallout.
Ellis’s core concept of “Trees” — where the world was invaded by strange alien “trees” that appeared all over the globe, and then proceeded to do absolutely nothing — is great because the sky’s the limit on where he can go with it. Ellis’s comic could be set in this slightly altered landscape where the “trees” do nothing for the rest of eternity and you could still spring dozens if not hundreds of stories off of the idea. Examining the way that the world reacts to the strange alien objects in their midst is the sort of world-building that Ellis has always been interested in, and this is a stage where he’s given carte blanche to do just that.
And on some level, at first, that’s what we’re seeing in “Trees” #1. Drone attacks in Rio de Janeiro, a candidate for mayor of New York City, an artist who’s coming up close and personal to examine the city that’s sprung up around a remote Chinese tree… these threads are interesting and provide a lot of the human interest in the series. The section in that last setting, the Chinese city of Shu, feels in many ways like it could be an entire series by Ellis as we explore the world that’s grown in the enclosed, isolated special cultural zone.
But what’s great about “Trees” #1 is that it’s more than just that. We’re getting the first hints that there’s something else going on, both in Rio as well as the remote Arctic island of Spitzbergen. And considering that it’s been ten years since the trees’ arrival… well, in many ways, that’s the bigger hook. It’s alien invasion that’s moving slowly, imperceptive — the way that trees grow. And just when everyone’s starting to ignore them, things are starting to shift and move.
It doesn’t hurt that Howard’s art is excellent. I remember seeing his work on “Super Dinosaur” before, but this feels like he’s improved by leaps and bounds since then. He’s great at both the mundane and the fantastic in “Trees” #1, and each half makes the other half work better because of the strong depictions. The bustling streets of Shu, for instance, has so much familiar like the hanging lanterns, the cars, the people. And then you see the strange street art, and suddenly the world feels a little off-kilter, a little trippy. Even the inside of Shu feels so different from the outside world, with a bleak and colorless exterior, a near-empty tundra that it exists in. That contrast is what makes it come alive. Just like the people of Rio looking natural and normal, once the strange symbols appear on their tree, suddenly we get that feeling of something different with the world twisting around them.
“Trees” #1 is a strong debut, and between this and “Moon Knight” it’s great to see Ellis not just writing comics, but writing excellent comics. In interviews it’s been stated that “Trees” will have an initial story arc of eight issues or so, but that it could run for quite some time if all goes well. Based on the first issue, let’s hope so.