US: Oct 2014
Audiences today want their entertainment quick and fast. Too often a quiet, well-told story will fall by the wayside in the shadow of bigger, louder distractions that offer more style than substance. There’s definitely room for both of these forms of entertainment, but as binging media in large chunks becomes more prevalent as opposed to digesting it leisurely over the course of a few weeks or months, slow-paced stories may begin to fall by the wayside.
For this reason, I had hoped that Trees would be the antitheses to the gimmicky summer crossovers and anticlimactic events the market is flooded with year after year. Some of the best, most thought provoking stories unravel at the pace of a good, long novel. But this isn’t a novel. Perhaps it should have been. Even as a graphic novel, I’m not sure how easily it would keep one’s attention, but as a monthly series, it’s very trying to sustain enthusiasm for how the story will unfold when the cliffhangers are nonexistent and the characters are bland.
What’s most frustrating about Trees is the premise is larger than what’s actually going on from page to page. It takes a high concept idea, and then for the most part, shoves it to the background and focuses on the tiny details. Which would not necessarily be a bad thing if the details added up to any kind of tension or drama, but there is none to speak of and we’re already four issues in. While there’s something to be said for a genuinely thought-provoking, character-driven yarn, Trees feels like its still figuring out what it’s trying to be or where it’s headed. It reads as if it’s still in development, not arriving fully formed with Ellis still experimenting with ideas at best, or making it up as he goes at worst.
Trees features an ensemble of diverse characters who range in age, gender and race, which sounds good on paper, except that the focus is shifted too often for us to care about any particular individual. So far, they can each be described in three words or less. Wily old man. Shy artistic child. Defiant sexpot. Obsessed scientist. We get inklings of their backstories and motivations, but they’re still pretty one note, lacking personalities that endear us to them. Remember, we’re now four issues in. The liveliest character in the whole issue pops up for one page and then is gone as quickly as he was introduced. It’s possible he’ll make future appearances and give this comic the shot in the arm it needs, personality-wise, but it’s certainly telling when a supporting character is suddenly the most interesting thing that happened in twenty-two pages.
The most that can be said about the art is that it does the job. It’s not poor by any means and some panels are more eye-catching than others, but it’s not worth the price of admission alone so what’s the point of it being a comic? I can’t say that I couldn’t picture any other art in its place either which isn’t a plus with creator owned series. Plus there’s just one too many recycled facial expressions for my taste. The colors, however, serve the art well and really breathe some life into it.
While I’d love to tell you that Trees is the thinking man’s comic, and you’re missing out big time if you’re not pouring over every word of every panel, but I just can’t. What initially began as a slow burn with the promise of smartly written hard sci-fi is steadily burning out and my interest with it. There’s no rule that says a story can’t exercise the brain while simultaneously engaging our emotions, and unfortunately, this offers neither. Hopefully some of the seeds that are being planted will pay off eventually, but I won’t stick around to find out. I know it’s called Trees and all, but does the pacing of the story have to match the growth of one?