Today, Drew and Ryan are discussing Trees 12, originally released August 19th, 2015.
noun noun: hero; plural noun: heroes
a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
the chief male character in a book, play, or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.
Drew: I think I’ve always thought of those two definitions as functionally identical — we acknowledge heroes in real life for the same qualities we admire them in fiction — but a closer look reveals a rather profound difference in how much agency is required to satisfy these two definitions. That is, the first definition is about deeds performed by the would-be hero, whereas the second definition is more about the heroes place in the narrative; no agency is actually required. It’s no surprise to me that the morally grey characters of Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s Trees don’t satisfy the “noble qualities” clause of the first definition, but I was a bit more surprised to discover how passive they all have been. The biggest turning points in this series find the characters completely passive, from Professor Bongiorno’s acceptance of his own murder to Marsh’s decision to not sound the alarm about the Svalbard poppies. Issue 12 still features plenty of characters boxed in by their circumstances, but also gives Creasy the opportunity to actually do something. Continue reading →
Today, Patrick and Ryan are discussing Trees 10, originally released June 17th, 2015.
Patrick: There’s a problem with most disaster narratives: there’s seldom an obvious antagonist. For as much as “Man vs. Nature” is one of those fundamental conflicts, it’s just harder for an audience to emotionally commit to a series of atrocities committed by a force or phenomenon with no willpower of its own. Think about every zombie movie you’ve ever seen – who are the real bad guys? The zombies? Nah: people pushed to desperate measures are far more dangerous. Twister, Titanic, Alien – all of these movies feature the deadly forces of nature, but there’s no sense of antagonism until we meet rival storm chasers, or understand how big of a dick Rose’ boyfriend is, or until Bishop reveals Weyland Yutani’s coroprate greed. Trees has done something similar in previous issues – focusing on the cultures of corruption, control, and ambition around the trees, ultimately casting man as his own worst enemy. Issue 10, however, reminds us just how terrifying the trees themselves actually are.
Today, Ryan and Drew are discussing Trees 9, originally released May 20th, 2015.
…Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire
John Milton, Paradise Lost
Ryan: The curtains rise in Trees 9 on three silent pages chronicling the Luciferian Fall of poor, poor Marsh. My favorite character in this series rests, undone by the very thing which drove him to the brink of madness:
The nefarious flowers bloom in his desiccated corpse as if in an elegy: Here Lie Marsh, Whose Name Was Writ Only in Alien Poppies. Thank you, Jason Howard, for the send-off which Dr. Marsh needed. Continue reading →
Today, Drew and Ryan are discussing Trees 8, originally released January 7th, 2015.
…like Psycho,it will now effectively recommence, shifting focus to characters who had seemed to be playing supporting roles…
Drew: As well-known and well-regarded as Psycho is, its form — where the focus of the movie abruptly shifts upon the death of what appeared to be the film’s protagonist — is as jarring today as it was in 1960. Killing the protagonist violates one of our most basic assumptions about a narrative, leaving us without an anchor as the story continues without its lead. Mike D’Angelo’s thought-provoking “How did one of 2014’s most striking scenes get confused with one of its worst?” (quoted above) details how director Zack Palmer negotiates this transition in Proxy, but I’d argue that the most important part of the transition is simply that the story isn’t complete.
If Psycho was truly about Janet Leigh’s thieving secretary, her death would be a totally satisfactory ending, but rather than resolving anything, her death only creates more tension. Who killed her? Why? Will this villain ever meet justice? That Psycho misleads us about those first two questions is inconsequential — Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof is unequivocal about those, leaving only the third question to be resolved in its second half. The point is, while the protagonist’s life is over, the story sure as hell isn’t, which is enough to carry us through any number of unexpected deaths. At least, that’s the presumption Warren Ellis and Jason Howard are banking on as they carry us through their own outsized Psycho moment in Trees 8. Continue reading →
Today, 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. Continue reading →
Today, Ryan and Drew are discussing Trees 6, originally released October 15th, 2014.Ryan: Remember watching Dragon Ball Z when you were younger? Remember how you would be so excited for the final confrontations, but shake your fist of the television screen when an entire episode stretched by and nary a punch was thrown? Well, anime, like manga, like comics, like Dickensian 19th century literature, is serialized. The objective of serialization is to keep readers or viewers invested enough to buy the next installment. Sometimes this can lead to frustrating lulls in action which hide under the guise of building exposition. In many ways, I felt this way about Trees 6. While we receive some rumblings of future events and some fall-out from past occurrences, this issue moves the plot forward the smallest amount possible. Continue reading →
Today, Drew and Ryan are discussing Trees 5, originally released September 17th, 2014.
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Drew: I kind of resent that works of art need titles. I appreciate the necessity of distinguishing one book from another, but titles seem to always inelegantly summarize or gracelessly fix some piece of authorial intent I’d rather not be privy to. I’m the least offended by more utilitarian titles, (coincidentally) like Romeo and Juliet, which doesn’t assert anything beyond the play’s focus on those two characters.With Trees, writer Warren Ellis certainly captured that utilitarian spirit by simply naming the thing that makes his science fictional world unique, but then he goes and re-muddies the waters by ending each issue with a pull quote. He removes them from any context, stripping them of any attribution or even punctuation — as if to hint at some kind of greater truth in his characters’ words — but that repetition alone is enough to lend those words an unwieldy significance that asserts someone’s subjectivity. As issue 5 takes an even closer over-the-shoulder view of many of the characters, the nature of that subjectivity becomes a central concern. Continue reading →
Today, Greg and Spencer are discussing Trees 3, originally released July 23rd, 2014.
Greg: At my high school, marching band was a huge deal. It had all the emotions, pressures, and big personalities of a championship football team. I played in the pit upfront (marimbas, vibraphones, xylophones) my entire high school career. My freshman year was the long-running, much-loved band director’s swan song — he also happened to be my dad, which definitely didn’t help with the pressure thing. We won state championships for the first time that year, meaning my sophomore year definitely didn’t help with the pressure thing. Certain instructors and students started treating it like a military outfit, and it was too much for me. I took to my LiveJournal and posted an obscenities-and-hormones fueled diatribe on the people who I felt were taking it too far. My parents immediately found out. My dad, no longer the band director but now the assistant principal, ordered me to face the new band director in a one-on-one. I went in expecting to be eviscerated, but was surprised to find the director met me with patience, understanding, and forgiveness. I was primed and ready for battle, but instead had a deep, insightful, mutually respectful conversation. This sense of narrative rise-and-hard-left-turn happens in Trees 3 as well, and left me feeling similarly satisfied.
Today, Patrick and Greg are discussing Trees 2, originally released June 25th, 2014.
Tallahassee: My mama always told me someday I’d be good at something. Who’d a guessed that something’d be zombie-killing? Columbus: Probably nobody.
Patrick: Disaster narratives are always going to be rooted in the hardships of survival. When the aliens invade or the world starts to crumble on its foundations, that’s how we insert ourselves into the story: “how would I survive?” Zombie stories have permeated the zeitgeist so thoroughly that that question has slowly evolved into “how would I thrive?” That’s why Zombieland is so successful – instead of dwelling on the nitty gritty day-to-day of not-dying, the movie speedily gets around to the business of defining and achieving success in this world. Tallahassee isn’t a crass opportunist, he’s a man that understands his skills in the zombie apocalypse, and he’ll use those skills to better his quality of life. Trees, despite its unique premise, is also able to quickly move on to the business of understanding and taking advantage of the disaster. Continue reading →
Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Trees 1, originally released May 28th, 2014.Drew: All stories have a narrator. This point was obvious enough to me in high school english classes, as we aimed to parse first person from close third person, or subjective from omniscient, but was utterly lost when I thought about the more visual storytelling of film and comics. Who is the narrator of Casablanca? Of TheGodfather? It’s easy enough for us to point to a first person narrator when there’s overbearing voiceover, but whose is the default point of view we take when watching a movie or reading a comic book without that kind of obvious diegetic narration? Some might argue that those narratives present some kind of objective accounting of the events in question, but subjectivity creeps in at every turn, with shot composition, lighting, costuming, pacing, editing, even music cues designed to illicit very specific emotional reactions (often those of the characters on the screen or page). With Trees 1, Warren Ellis and Jason Howard have shined a spotlight on those very details, starting threads that differ not only in their settings and characters, but in the perspective of their narrators, as well. Continue reading →