Written by: Warren Ellis
Art by: Jason Howard
In reading Trees #3, an interesting phenomena occurred. This is a phenomena that I find almost never happens in comics, one so rare that only the most exceptional authors can pull it off. What I found was that, between this issue and the last, there has been a complete reversal not only in terms of both the quality of the book, but also in my investment in the series. It may be that the cast of this particular issue is just more interesting than characters in past issues. Sure, some characters reappear here, so maybe it’s just that their dynamics with the characters that they appear with is stronger. Or maybe it’s the fact that there isn’t as much going on in this issue of the series. Rather than spreading itself thin, across multiple plot lines and continents, like the previous issue did, this issue focuses on two specific plot lines, and two very specific sets of characters. That definitely helps this issue in terms of its success, and it is likely the main reason that it wasn’t the mess of a comic that the last issue was.
This issue starts off with a very subdued, quiet scene, following an older man in, presumably, Italy. As those of you who read the last issue may remember, we were in Italy briefly in the last issue. To recap that scene a bit, we were introduced to two characters, one of whom had an encounter with an older man, who pulled a knife on her and disappeared. Her counterpart seemed to be oblivious that anything was happening. However, in this issue, the woman – whose name is Eligia – goes in search of this man, a former professor. She manages to track him down, and so she is shown to be trailing him during the first few pages. In these pages, which are fairly quiet, we essentially get a snapshot into the professor’s life. The silence of the first three pages, and the obvious warmth towards a bookstore owner in the next two do enough to characterize him, and make him one of the more interesting players in this book.
However, he isn’t the only one who gets characterization. Eligia also gets some actual character work, as we get a look into her life, and her motivations. As it turns out, she’s extraordinarily dissatisfied with the life she leads, and desperately wants to break out of it, which is why she sought out the professor. The two share a scene, and the dynamic that they share brings out the best of both characters, fleshing each of them out in such a way that it becomes hard to believe that I really didn’t care about them in the last issue. The dialogue between the two reveals interesting tidbits of information about both characters, and throwaway lines make this quasi-futuristic world feel more lived in. One of my major complaints about the first two issues was that the world felt stale, and, fortunately, that is no longer the case, at least in the two cities we visit in this issue.
The second plot line that is explored in this issue is that of the artist living in Hong Kong. We met this character in the first issue, for a brief period of time, and the return to him is great. He seemed like an interesting character, with an interesting story, in the first issue. His role in this issue simply serves to solidify that. His dynamic with the newly introduced Zhen is an interesting one as well. When we first meet up with Chenglei in this issue, he is portrayed as a recluse. He’s shown to be staring out his window, drawing what he sees, and when Zhen shows up, it is made clear that he has done this for days on end. The burgeoning dynamic between the two, which seems like it could turn into a sibling-esque relationship, is very well written. Like with the other two characters, the dynamic the two share seems to bring out some great characterization and development for both of them.
However, this issue is far from perfect. For instance, I’m still a bit confused as to what the significance of the Trees is. The book is called Tress, and they’re definitely there, but they don’t seem to serve the story at all in this issue. Or in any of the issues, for that matter. Sure, this is a great character study, but it seems more like a character study about normal people’s everyday lives. Hence, the Trees seem unnecessary to the story, and the book as a whole. So that’s definitely a major issue with the book. A second, more minor issue, is some of the crude humor found here. I can appreciate some below the belt humor, however, it does feel quite out of place in this book. The problem isn’t that it provides levity, levity on its own is fine, but here it just feels forced and unnecessary.
So despite some massive improvements, Trees still has its flaws. This issue is leaps and bounds better than the previous two, forging character dynamics (and characters) that I actually cared about. Whereas the last issue made me want to drop the book outright, this issue makes me want to continue reading it, if only for these sets of characters. Well done, Warren Ellis and James Howard.