Trees #12: Steadily Smouldering Sci-Fi
“Warren Ellis’ Trees puts our world in a Petri dish, sprinkles some aliens on it, and sits back, watching us squirm. Warren Ellis is a bastard; a thoughtful, poignant bastard. This, people, is brilliant fucking Sci-Fi.”
The Trees landed on Earth ten years ago. Gigantically tall alien vessels that descended quietly from the sky and took root all over the world. Humanity has been living in the shadows of the Trees for ten years and…they haven’t done a single thing. All we know about the Trees is that every few years one of them might dump waste into the surrounding area. Because that’s all they’ve ever done. No communications, no movement, and certainly never anything stepping out to say hello. In Trees, Warren Ellis explores the idea that aliens have come to Earth, and they have completely ignored us.
Over the first twelve issues, Trees has unfolded several distinct storylines about people living under the alien behemoths across different parts of the globe. Through glimpses into their unique lives, readers witness the vague pressure the Trees exert on mankind and the very distinct pressures that mankind exerts on itself in response. Weaponized police are everywhere; drones buzz overhead and plod mechanically along the streets. Nuclear and electromagnetic weapons seem go inert near the strange alien Trees; so, those who sought to control the aliens with violence turned instead to man, grasping what little control they could. Readers have witnessed citizens chased down and killed by terrible robotic police dogs, and we have seen entire cities vaporized without warning. It seems as if the Trees did not need to attack us; they ominously stand and watch as we destroy ourselves.
In issue 12, the spotlight is on two separate protagonists: New York’s Mayor Elect, Vincent, and Joanne Creasy at her new work station in Orkney, Scotland. Vince’s qualm is not with the Trees, but with the law enforcement that did nothing to help the people in the deadly wake of their arrival. Or more specifically, the NYPD officers that opened fire on civilians trying to escape the flooding in downtown New York. Vince was there and he’s got a bullet wound to show for it…as well as a mighty need for some retribution. His entire agenda revolves around punishing those responsible for the malice acted out that day; he’s dealt with some shady characters to achieve his office and issue #12 places him in the shadows again, stealthily plotting his revenge. He meets in a warehouse with the Chief of Police and offers him a position of power in exchange for a list of the names of every officer that policed the flood line. Ellis’ Vincent is impressively focused, and I for one can’t wait to see where his strategy takes him.
Avid readers will remember Dr. Creasy as the only surviving member of the Blindhail station research team in Svalbard. The Blindhail event is still unrevealed in the general narrative but readers know that a Tree erupted in a catastrophic electromagnetic pulse that decimated the area. Prior to the event, one researcher found smatterings of eerie black poppies, later identified as intricately wired broadcasting dishes that would allow the tree to “speak.” And when it spoke…well, there was only one survivor. As issue 12 comes to a close, Dr. Creasy confers with a scientist conducting a dig near the Orkney Tree. His latest finding? The aptly named “doom poppies.”
Trees presents us with a world very much like our own. Yeah okay, it’s a little more advanced with the crazy walking killer drones but it’s really not a far stretch from the state of things today. Police brutality? All over the place. Government surveillance? That’s a big 10-4. Questionable political agendas? Check, check, and check. All you need to do to suspend disbelief is to read a newspaper or browse the Internet for five minutes. This stuff is happening. It is outside our windows and it is on our television screens.
Warren Ellis’ Trees puts our world in a Petri dish, sprinkles some aliens on it, and it sits back, watching us squirm. Warren Ellis a bastard; a thoughtful, poignant bastard. This, people, is brilliant fucking Sci-Fi. Without the aid of a central narrative or storyline, the exposition flows seamlessly across the dueling arcs; Jason Howard’s work flows seamlessly across the pages. Each character’s singular perspective provides insight into the state of the world and the effects the Trees have on it. The presence of armed militants across the globe is not explained verbally, it is rendered beautifully in Howard’s dynamic, fluid art style for our eye holes to drink in like a fine wine. The harrowing presence of deadly poppies is not communicated with text but with spooky, darkly colored panels that send a chill down the reader’s spine. The apt dialogue and intuitive design work together to drag you aggressively into the story, rather than sitting you down politely to discuss it over tea. But you don’t mind, of course, because it’s one hell of a ride.
The only criticism that can be made is that there is still so much that is unexplained. Twelve issues in and we don’t have an entirely cohesive picture. We gets bits and pieces of political goings-on but the state of world politics remains a mystery. Entire cities are eradicated and we don’t know who did it or why. It was four issues back when the Blindhail Tree lit up, and all we really know is that everyone died. Hell, it was a solid five or six issues before we learned the Mayor’s name. The story is definitely a slow-burn, and some readers will inevitably interpret that as merely slow. Trees is not what you would call action-driven and as such, it may be dismissed by some as being boring.
Personally? I am eating that shit up. As a long-time fan of Science Fiction I don’t need a story to unfold quickly for it to be gripping. I’m much more interested in the content, and the content here is downright juicy. It seems appropriate that we don’t know exactly what is happening, because we simply aren’t meant to. A towering alien presence has taken to squatting on our planet, no one in the story knows what’s going on…so, why should the reader? We are meant to experience the story as it unfolds and interpret it for ourselves, just as the characters are. Often it is standard procedure for rich Science Fiction to take a creeping approach to exposition. This allows for that glorious moment of purpose, when all the separate and deliberate intricacies of a story culminate in a toe-curling peak of narrative ecstasy. In that respect, Trees has already delivered in full, and the occurrences in issue 12 promise to bring us to climax once again.
If you are a fan of science fiction, a fan of Warren Ellis’s genius killer storytelling or Jason Howard’s exquisite renderings, Trees is absolutely a Must-Read title. The title receives a 9.5 out of 10 from this very enamored nerd.