The White Trees #1
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Kris Anka and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
High fantasy gets a mournful but engaging energy thanks to a stacked creative team in the debut of The White Trees. Standing as the opening stanza of the 'Blacksand' creator-owned universe, writer Chip Zdarsky and artists Kris Anka, Matt Wilson, and Aditya Bidikar introduce us into a beautifully detailed new fantasy realm, cast with former "legends" who’s heroic deeds have come back to haunt them in the present. Devoid of any irony or cheek, Chip Zdarsky’s script is haunting and rich, providing us quiet, character-focused scenes that flesh out the main cast of this new, unconventionally constructed series.
Building this new land alongside Zdarsky are Kris Anka and Matt Wilson, along with richly expressive letters from Aditya Bidikar. Opening with a very on brand for the genre map of the Blacksand kingdoms and terrain, the art team, supported by Zdarsky’s melancholic, but entertaining script, take us deep into the kingdom, led by three stunning character designs to match the gorgeous terrain around them. High fantasy like this is always a crapshoot for the market, especially now when most of them have strong deconstructive hooks or another gimmick. But The White Trees #1 is a stunning debut, and a tremendous example of how great this genre can be in the hands of new creatives.
Once upon a time, there was a war and a group of heroes rose up to stop that war. Now only three of their group remain alive - Sir Krylos the Bold (a stoic former knight/fighter analogue), Sir Dahvlan the Swift (a burly cat-like race and “tank” of the party), and the Elven Sir Scotiar of Blacksand. All three have moved on from their “heroic” past in some way or another. Krylos has forsaken violence and now tends to a farm, while Dahvlan and Scotiar found love with one another, becoming blacksmiths and raising Dahvlan’s daughter. But the enemy kingdom is beating the drums of war again and have taken bold action. The party’s children have been kidnapped and held as hostages, goading the heroes back into action.
Zdarsky has to obviously lay a lot of that out pretty early, so the opening pages are admittedly a little talky. But once it is all laid down, he really hooks readers in deep with the dynamic between the party and the sly bits of worldbuilding he threads through it. Mashing up The Fellowship of the Rings with a sort of adult Chronicles of Narnia, Zdarsky puts all those fantasy tropes and complicated character dynamics onto the page, spiked with his wit and interesting way with phrases. He even gets to display some romanticism between Scotiar and Dahvlan as the former comes to a resonant realization about their relationship through the debut’s major set piece. These “late period” Zdarsky works might not be as funny as his old stuff, but The White Trees tells me that the more serious he gets, the better.
And he has perfect partners in Kris Anka, Matt Wilson, and Aditya Bidikar, all of whom band together in their own artistic fellowship to make The White Trees as beautiful an experience as possible. Tied together by Bidikar’s naturalist dialogue lettering, which sometimes even modulates with the character’s tone and volume, Anka and Wilson come alive in the fantasy setting. Starting with the fantastic designs of the leading men and branching outward into the sumptuous and foreboding landscapes of Blacksand, Anka and Wilson inject a sexy, burly, and slightly dangerous look and feel to this new land, one that is sure to hit bit with fans of their variant covers and beefcake fan art.
While I am curious about how the two-part structure of this series will sustain over time, The White Trees #1 is a gorgeous, thematically rich debut issue. One that helmed by a new generation of creatives aiming to breath new life into a tired genre of comic books. We will have to see if they stick the landing, and have further plans for the lands and heroes of Blacksand, but for now The White Trees #1 is a worthy adventure waiting at this week’s comic shelves.