YOU SHOULD BE READING ‘TREES’ BY WARREN ELLIS & JASON HOWARD
A lot of people claim that Warren Ellis is their favorite writer, including myself. One of the things I love about Ellis is his obvious interest in the landscape of our future. I was watching a video of a talk he did called “The Edge of Reality.” In the lecture he included a quote from Marshall McLuhan, “We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” He continued with another McLuhan thought:
Because of the invisibility of any environment during the period of its innovation, man is only consciously aware of the environment that has preceded it; in other words, an environment becomes fully visible only when it has been superseded by a new environment; thus we are always one step behind in our view of the world. The present is always invisible because it’s environmental and saturates the whole field of attention so overwhelmingly; thus everyone is alive in an earlier day.
McLuhan’s words can easily be looked at through the lens of science fiction. What do we see in common alien invasion stories? Tales of conquerors on flying chariots, utilizing an advance form of projectile weapon, all in search of taking some sort of resource they themselves depleted or are in need of but rendered somehow without. These are stories of invasion, and in a general sense, that of the dangers of imperialism. If in creating science fiction, we march backwards into the future, it would make sense that the motivations and actions of our antagonists reflect that which we have seen conducted throughout history. What interests me most after reading the first issue of Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s Trees is how much it appears that its creators, though perhaps not looking forward with a telescope, seem to be ignoring the rear view mirror in favor of a window, and offering an oppositional force that is not easy to peg.
We are introduced to a present day that could pass as our possible future. Ellis’ interest in and knowledge of science and futurist thought is prevalent with police that utilize dog-like robots (Cheetah Robot created by Boston Dynamics), and flying drones we hear about in the news regularly. This is not much of a stretch in that drones are being utilized, but a time when mechanized law enforcement is a tool of regular occurrence is surely not the norm today. It’s not long before we meet the specific Trees that are a primary component to this story, and as we witness a chase scene we are met with a narration that poetically introduces us to our story (presented broken up as it appears in separate panels):
Ten years after
All over the world
as if there were no-one here.
And they did nothing
and did not speak
as if there were no-one here
and nothing under foot.
Ten years since we learned
that there is intelligent life in the universe
but they did not recognize us
They stand on the surface of the Earth like trees
exerting their silent pressure on the world
as if there were no-one here.
Apparent social unrest and erratic confusion from decision makers seems to plague the characters of Trees. This is, of course, alongside the titular Trees as well. These Trees are enormous pillars that have planted themselves all around the globe. From what we witness in the first issue, they mostly just sit there except when they are expelling some type of green liquid that lays waste to its surroundings like a sort of natural disaster. From what we can gather so far, people believe these things to be extraterrestrial in origin, and we sometimes witness crop circle type hieroglyphs on the Trees themselves. For the most part however, if this first issue is any indication, this story is not going to focus on getting to the bottom of the Tree mystery, but how people continue on amid the Tree mystery. Though obviously an Earth-changing phenomenon, the Trees don’t seem to be the intended focus, but rather the people going on with their daily lives. This is not to say that the mystery won’t deepen, and the origins and intentions of the Trees won’t be explored because I’m sure they will. The Trees are more the catalyst that alters the landscape allowing for the changes to this Earth to take root (see what I did there?).
As a reader, I appreciate that Ellis doesn’t hold our hands through the first issue. We jump right into the narrative, meeting an aspiring mayor and a young man as he embarks on a journey of his own. We learn what we need to know about the Trees, and the world around them as we go. Seeing the robotic law enforcers and a makeshift DIY surveillance tool (made out of a kite with taped-on smartphones- super rad), lets us know that this is not present day, but not far off. Seeing individual reactions to life in this setting in real time, without much immediate exposition tells me that Ellis, a very smart man full of ideas, does not underestimate the intelligence of his readers, and knows that we will be able to figure it out.
Jason Howard’s art was also highly enjoyable and complimented this story very well. Howard is very good at depicting action and he supplements his kinetic drawings with intelligent panel placement that allows for the reading of fast-paced scenes to be experienced in a way that leaves the reader excited as if they were watching a chase on the big screen. In panels or splashes where we see a skyline or hectic cityscape, Howard packs a great deal of detail in his work without the art seeming too busy, leaving me wanting to stare for a while and take it all in. Jason Howard is in top-form with Trees, and after finishing this first issue I get the feeling he’s only going to get better as the book continues.
The partnership between these two has produced a product that leaves me wanting more. I know I’m hooked, and if you give it a try I’m sure you’ll soon say the same. If you like your science fiction intelligent, exciting, and mysterious you need to add Trees to your pull-list as soon as possible.