The original 14 issues of Trees explored almost every continent of an alternative Earth radically altered in the wake of enormous, alien pillars placing themselves across its surface. Politics (both global and local), economics, science, and other sprawling facets of society were examined, each featuring a distinct set of characters and subplots. Trees was an ambitious sci-fi epic that didn't feel nearly complete when it ended in 2016 after many substantial delays. Trees: Three Fates #1, the beginning of that much-needed ending, wisely decides to forego revisiting almost any existing material and instead only retains the series' core premise in the far reaches of Eastern Russia where Klara Voranova, the region's lone cop, is tasked with solving the murder of an unknown person besides one of the "Trees." This step back in scope provides an issue that beautifully continues the core themes of Trees without imploding under the weight of the original series.
How Trees: Three Fates reintroduces its premise is one of the best sequences in artist Jason Howard's career to date. A romantic feud, the most everyday of conflicts, is juxtaposed against the most monumental in this planet's history and summons tremendous tension and dramatic irony as the two collide. This serves as a reminder of scale, immediately cutting to a jaw dropping spread of a Tree-ridden landscape, and introduction of character as it sets a tragedy at the heart of Klara's current circumstances. Eleven years lie between these moments, but every downplayed moment in Klara's investigation is given extra meaning.
That dual purpose reminds us what the core conflict and themes of Trees are really about. This is not a story of man versus the unknown as represented by the alien Trees; it's a story about individuals systemic forces. The Trees provide an excellent inciting event for much of what occurs, but the stories focus on how specific individuals interact with forces far greater than themselves. The feeling of smallness created on these pages by the Trees is replicated in how governments, corporations, and climate catastrophes can all make human beings appear ineffably small.
Klara's murder mystery to solve raises that juxtaposition of scales, too. It's a well-constructed puzzle that manages to remove many seemingly easy inquiries due to the remote location. That location also quickly narrows the suspects and locales so that readers are fully invested in the key elements by the end of one issue. Yet there's also an element of conspiracy with a change in perspective that reveals the murder to be part of much larger machinations. It's a testament to Ellis' plotting that the small mystery is every bit as compelling as the grander intrigues.
There's more to Klara than a tragic connection to the Trees, as well. Three Fates #1 provides her most emotional moment with a clear relief of everyday life. Klara is shown to be resolute, fastidious, and confident in her roles. She operates at a level much like that of Frances McDormand in Fargo. Ellis evokes a complexity that doesn't romanticize flaws or rely entirely on the past, and Howard brings to life both the dynamic moments and resolved manner of a competent peacekeeper. Through her life readers can see a character-driven drama, an intriguing mystery, and an expansive commentary on matters of global significance. She is a perfect prism for what appears to be the final chapter of Trees, encompassing the grand and the minuscule without ever losing track of either.
Published by Image Comics
On September 11, 2019
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Jason Howard
Colors by Dee Cunniffe
Letters by Fonografiks
Cover by Jason Howard