Warren Ellis probably helped shape my thought patterns through my teens - he wasn't alone in that, of course, but it's hard to forget that peculiar thrill of being a tiny teen, discovering Spider Jerusalem for the first time. (Which made it doubly amusing to see that very character mentioned as inspirational hero to the 12 year old protagonist in Paolo Bacigalupi's Zombie Baseball Beatdown, heh.) Thus, I pay attention when something new pours out of this author. Like the first volume of Trees.
The trees aren't trees, of course. They're imposing, terribly tall and massive things. They plonked down on the planet ten years ago, and there's no doubt they're alien. They are likely to be the work of someone intelligent, with agency. It's too bad they don't recognise us as intelligent life. Or, indeed, recognise us at all. Humans are being thoroughly ignored, and there is no apology offered for the ruined cities or the lethal stuff that comes out of the trees sometimes.
This kind of first contact scenario - the one where we turn out to be too alien from each other, too different - has always been a particularly terrifying one. And appealing. The uncanny is a stimulating brain buzz. (Every Lovecraft-enthusiast knows that buzz.)
So this story isn't really about the silent, ominous trees. It's about those people who try to make life go on below them, around the roots. There are several viewpoint characters, with great diversity - a trophy girlfriend is offered skills and knowledge to get out of her venomous environment. Her mysterious teacher talks to her about the trees, too, but not as much as he talks about ways to kill someone. A young artist from rural China comes to an sprawling kind of commune, an experimental city around a tree, in which he makes discoveries about his own sexuality and draws cityscapes. There's a big bunch of Teaching Moments in here, actually - making Trees another pretty good graphic novel for helping people figure out ways to think about certain things.
There are other storylines; heavily political ones, and the (likely) red thread of the continuing Trees series; The scientists at the Svalbard research station who study the trees and obtain new knowledge about them - and a whole new set of reasons to be very, very scared.
Trees needs a bit of time to get rolling; I wasn't really immersed until well after the halfway mark. This is okay, graphic novel series are often like that, building slow to be something wonderfully massive - but it makes a good example of why I don't ever try to follow these things through single issues. Even this collected volume ends where I feel like things are just starting to get really interesting.
The artwork is a good fit for the script, too. I never pause to think about it during the dialogue and action, which is actually a big thumbs up - but I slow down for the larger pictures of the world scattered around the bases of the trees.
I'll definitely be here for the next volume. Are characters going to reappear? Maybe new storylines? Existing storylines might spiral out of control entirely? And what's up with the trees, right?! I'm very interested in seeing how this maybe-dystopia turns out. Go read it if you're in the mood for a chunk of spicy what it means to be human. (You might have to wait for the next volume if you're more interested in what it means to be a tree.)