Trees 7

Alternating Currents: Trees 7, Ryan and DrewToday, Ryan and Drew are discussing Trees 7, originally released November 26th, 2014. Ryan: In Trees 7, we hear rumblings in the distance, like heat-lightning on a quiet summer night. We also see the rumblings present, like the book shelf in Jumanji which gets obliterated by the stampede. After a somewhat polarizing issue 6, Ellis and Howard return to us with some big happenings and continue to set the stage for what promises to be a hellacious climax.

The issue opens with the only plot thread not fraught with tension. Chenglei and Zhen seem to be enjoying the honeymoon phase of their newfound relationship. After all of the self-discovery Chenglei experienced thus far in this series, we finally see him comfortable and happy, sated both physically and artistically. Most indicative of Chenglei taking ownership of his identity is Howard’s choice to show the young artist striding forward confidently in a full-frontal nude, part of a series of panels saturated with vernal love, colored with triumphant gold and white.

If sappiness isn’t your thing, foreboding and angst are just a page away! After my lukewarm reception to Trees 6’s lack of attention regarding my favorite character (poor, poor Marsh), Ellis brings focus back to Blindhail Station in Northwest Spitzenbergen. Dr. Siva and Creasy worry over Marsh’s notes and personality, but what really troubles the lot is what their Tree is priming to do. The insidious black poppies springing up everywhere seem to be part of a “broadcasting dish”, and the stalwartly silent Trees may actually speak! Both Marsh and we readers desperately pine (my one “tree” pun) to hear what the alien monoliths may say, but Dr. Creasy points out the unhappy truth of the situation: the amperage of this transmission would “fry the island down to the bedrock”, not to mention the havoc caused by the ensuing EMP. Will this phenomena radiate only from Spitzenbergen, or will the other Trees — and their surrounding cities —  all undergo this destructive declaration?

Meanwhile in Italy, Eligia and Professor Luca Bonjiorno meditate on the more human (read: socio-economic) repercussions of the Trees — which, if one can trust the Professor, are slowly migrating — in their town of Cefalu. Eligia has been casing The Great Work, the brutish and simple mafia run by her old handler Tito, and Eligia finally achieves her own agency here, assuming her mantle as “The Knife”:

The KnifeBy deposing the lovable Tito with the help of Davide — another of many exploited by the thug — Eligia sets into motion a plan which could very well sway the entire city, provided that the rest of Eligia’s moves are “seamless and invisible”. The mentorship dynamic between the Professor and his Knife evokes that between Forever and her father in Rucka and Lark’s Lazarus, and I confess to not trusting either of the mentors to have the best interest of the apprentice in mind.

Lastly, the dispute between the Somali Federation and Puntland reaches new, explosive heights, providing this issue with my aforementioned metaphorical bookshelf-bursting elephants. The volatile yet intriguing President Rahim of the Somalis speaks in an interview with a correspondent from the Blue Post News regarding the military action around the Puntland Tree. Like any good potential dictator, the President’s argument is both equal parts logical and terrifying:

Does the set of numbers contain all things?The ensuing action unfolds in three startling pages, all sans-dialogue, which first build horrible anticipation, then finish with meteoric destruction. Howard’s switch in perspective here, from the 3rd person intimate view of the nameless father staring up at death shifting to the sterile wide shot of the burning city, toys incredibly well with Rahim’s notion — and this issue’s pull quote — that “all things are numbers.”

Drew, did you also find this issue to perfectly straddle the line between exposition and rising action? That question being asked, do you think Trees loses any of its personality when it focuses on events instead of characters?

Drew: To the contrary, I think the way this series makes those events feel entirely character-motivated is its greatest strength. The characters are in decidedly different emotional states, from love to hate to fear to indifference, but Ellis has painstakingly detailed not just why they feel this way, but how they came to feel this way. In seven issues, we’ve come to understand exactly what it means for Chenglei to openly express his love for Zhen, or how Marsh’s hero complex could have led to potentially imperiling the entire planet. Indeed, even the matters of life and death — both Tito’s murder and the war in Puntland — feel like very natural consequents of the characters and their situations.

Ryan, I’m glad you brought up the often cold omniscient perspective this series often takes, as I think it ties into your question of this series’ personality. For me, the question of exactly what this series is about has never quite been settled. We’ve been working under the assumption that the series is a portait of the trees through the people that live in their shadows, but what if it’s actually a portrait of those people through the eyes of the trees? In that way, the wide shot we get as the missiles explode isn’t mercy, it’s just the tree’s eye view of the action.

Obviously, we don’t know enough about the trees to assume that they even have a perspective to take, but I’m struck at how this at times dispassionate cataloguing of human emotions can feel more like an anthropological study than a sci-fi narrative. Could the trees be (full of) Jane Goodalls, hoping to observe humanity as if there wasn’t a mile-high tripod sitting there? Ellis and Howard emphasize just how neutral the narrator is in following up the one-two punch of the bombing of Puntland and Tito’s murder with that pull quote Ryan mentioned, suggesting that we may be little more than amusing abstractions for the trees.

Actually, that question of what the trees are here for is still tantalizingly unanswered. I do like the idea that they’re pulling a Watcher, being witness to all of our actions, but refusing to intervene, but this issue posits that they may be geo-engineering on a massive scale? Maybe the trees are just terraforming machines sent in advance of an alien invasion. Or maybe they’re asserting opinions about the world around them. Professor Bongiorno notes that the summers are colder and winters harder in Cefalu — perhaps in response to the violence and corruption that tree has seen. Or maybe, as Rahim suggests, they just don’t care about us. Perhaps Bongiorno is on to something when he talks about the ecological effects of banging a stick into the ground — maybe the effects of the trees are a simple by-product of their presence, independant of any agenda the trees may or may not have.

Ultimately, the thought that the trees have an agenda may be inconsequential — right now, whatever we read into their inaction is simply a reflection of the actions of our characters. I’m struck by how all of our characters somehow blame (or owe it to) the trees for their current situation, but as the series spins on, their thirst for love, glory, war, or whatever else carries them off in their own directions. Of course, if the trees’ roles were that small, I suppose the series wouldn’t be named after them. Maybe they do care, after all.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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