Best Comics of 2014: Trees

Best Comics of 2014: Trees
Although Warren Ellis has significantly slowed his creator-owned output over the last few years, he's still producing interesting work. After 2011's SVK and the conclusion of the Freakangels webcomic in 2012, Ellis' most interesting work in 2013 was Scatterlands, a 50-instalment webcomic drawn by Jason Howard. That last one is, in many ways, the precursor to 2014's big thing: a new ongoing series from Image called Trees.

Trees is a near-future sci-fi series set in a world ten years after tall, apparently inert alien structures known as "trees" landed around the globe. No-one knows what they're for, but most people know they don't want to be anywhere near one whenever they do what it is they've come here to do. In the shadow of the trees you'll find only two kinds of people: the scientists trying to figure them out and the people who already felt like outcasts, given the chance to build a society of their own.

The series takes in locations and characters from all around the planet, with a wide and diverse cast. The result is that the action unfolds slowly and deliberately, thus far with little interconnectedness. But it's the slow, building tension that makes it so gripping. Even after the best part of a year we barely understand the trees, and yet each new sliver of information makes them feel like a fresh, alien horror.

While it's largely Ellis' ideas that push the book forwards, it's hard to imagine the execution working as well without Howard's artwork, which realises every location in different and subtles ways. Howard even pencils, inks and colours, giving the book visuals that are unified in ways most comics can't hope to be. Despite this (and somewhat astonishingly for a Warren Ellis coimc) the book has remained on a monthly schedule, and Howard deserves credit for his sheer speed: when your plot is slow, your release date can't afford to be.

Clearly, there's a lot about Trees that we have yet to learn, and in many ways the book's first act is only just getting started. But at the same time, it's smart, modern and packed with ideas, and in seven issues it's proven that it has ambitions of a scope far beyond most comics. It is, if nothing else, proof that becoming part of the comics establishment hasn't stopped Ellis from tackling new ideas.