(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to The Trees They Do Grow High, in the version performed by Joan Baez (Spotify, YouTube).
I'm back with three more short reviews of comic-books. In this occasion, the three graphic novels I want to talk about (Henshin, Criminal Vol. 1 and Trees Vol. 1) have all been published by Sense of Wonder favorite Image Comics. But, despite sharing publisher, the books couldn't be more different one from another.
Henshin, written and illustrated by Ken Niimura, is a very strange comic-book. Very strange indeed. In fact, had not been for the recommendation of my good friend Alexander Páez, I wouldn't have been interested in it. I have read only a few mangas here and there, never enjoying them much since I find it very difficult to understand the Japanese cultural references (especially the humor) and to get into the stories. In this case, it was even worse. The book is composed of thirteen independent but loosely related vignettes that deal with topics so unusual as cat poop.
Some of the stories interested me more than others. For instance, I quite enjoyed the one about the father and son with telekinetic powers. Also, there are various metaphors that really stand out. The alienation of living in a foreign country, with a different language and a strange culture, for example, is represented in a number of interesting ways. But I must confess that I was unable (and this may very well caused by my many limitations as a reader) to appreciate the meaning of the comic-book as a whole. I was completely baffled while reading it and I'm still baffled days after finishing it.
Criminal, written by Ed Brubaker with art by Sean Phillips, is another beast entirely. Here, we find Brubaker doing what Brubaker does best: writing crime fiction. This volume, that collects issues 1 through 5, has all the clichés of the noir genre. Corrupt cops, heists, drug addicts, cruel mob bosses, murders, kidnapping - you name it. The plot is very solid (although not especially original) and the characters are well-developed (although not especially sympathetic). If you are into crime fiction, you really need to read this graphic novel (it is self-contained, something is always a plus with comic-books). I recommend it, although I'm not sure I'll be reading the next volumes since I'd rather read stories with a more speculative edge.
And that is why Trees, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Jason Howard, is the comic-book I've liked the most in this lot. Its premise is excellent: some years ago, gigantic alien structures know as trees appeared at different locations of our planet. These mysterious artifacts have strange properties and defy all explanations. And, what is worse, their builders seem to care nothing for us human beings and have not even tried to communicate with us.
Trees explore, by means of several parallel subplots, the nature of these alien objects and how they have affected and changed the people that live near them. This approach is more akin to what we usually in literary science fiction than in comics, and in fact reminded me of novels such as The Chronoliths, by Robert Charles Wilson. My only complain is that the relevance of some of the subplots, after eight issues, remains yet to be revealed, but I really did enjoy this first volume and I am really looking forward to reading the next installment.
All in all, I strongly recommend Criminal to crime fiction fans and Trees to science fiction fans. Henshin, on the other hand, is so weird a book that I would only recommend it if you're looking for something completely different and are not afraid of finishing the book without understanding why cat poop is so important after all. You've been warned.