“Family Tree” #7 gives us a glimpse of Josh in the apocalypse and flashes back to keep the action and mystery rolling with perfect pacing. Warning: spoilers ahead.
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur & Ryan Cody
Lettered by Steve Wands As Josh struggles to survive in the verdant wasteland that the world has become, he recalls his sister Meg’s death and “planting” five years prior-an incident that may hold the key to what happened to the earth.
“Family Tree” #7 continues the book’s excellent pacing, with a few new details to pull us further into the mystery: what is the apocalypse? What, exactly, happened?
Lemire and the team structure the book well, starting with a few pages of Josh in the overgrown wasteland that is our current time. The moment culminates in a gruesome twist, and the page turn pulls us seamlessly back into the past. We see Meg continue her transformation while Loretta struggles to accept what’s happening to her daughter. It’s an intensely traumatic moment that’s delivered with enough measure and time to absorb some heavy emotion. Meanwhile, Judd rises from almost-death to carry on protecting the family, and we get just a hint more of what’s to come. Running two timelines in a book is a risk, but the team pulls it off well. Flashbacks are a very common device, but situating the early part of the book in the past and seeding bits of the present day allows the narrative enough time to breathe, and the reader enough time to reorder our thoughts.
The art in “Family Tree” is bold and expressive, with a loose line and plenty of craggy shadows and contrast to keep the book clean and contained. There’s a lot of high action in this issue, as in previous ones, but impressionistic details are what give the book its tension. For example, the car chase spread features subtle touches, like the raindrops merging with the roof of the car as Judd screeches to a halt, and some higher impact moments, like the jagged edges of the water spraying the road along his tire tracks. The sound effect on the page gives us the visceral pop we need to perfect the scene, but it’s the icing on the cake. The drops on the hood of the car function as tiny action lines and focal points at the same time. The beautiful pixel spray of the headlights on Judd’s car and the pursuing truck complement the moody purple sky and deep shadows of the road, and the tremendous gun blast merges the gold and purple into an arresting punctuation mark on an expertly rendered scene. The artists know how to keep a panel spread structured and easy to track while adding these small details to give us the in-narrative chaos and high emotion of the moment.
This set piece contrasts well with the slower moments in the book, but our tension’s never punctured even as the pace slows. As Loretta rails against Meg’s leaving, Meg goes into the larger tree again and begins to unravel the mystery. The magical child is a very common trope in horror, but in “Family Tree” it’s done well because a lot of Meg’s tension and trauma is given to us visually. As the tree overtakes her in previous issues, we’re treated to light touches of how a complex family life has isolated her over the years. Still, she appears to be pure of heart, and the brightness and beauty of the shared tree may reflect her point of view – how much, we can’t be sure, but for now it’s soothing and reassuring.
The gentle swoops and flourishes of the shared tree contrast beautifully with the jagged, skeletal branches in “our” world. As the issue progresses even those edges begin to soften, however, as Meg’s taken root and the real transformation can begin. She sprouts foliage as she goes deeper inside, and the outer and inner merge in a beautiful page toward the end of the issue. Meg is able to speak to Loretta through the tree, and we end the issue with a small moment of peace before the final page turn. The spread features Meg and the mysterious woman on the tree branch, then three vertical panels – Loretta, Meg, and Loretta again. One branch flows through the bottom third of the page to connect everything, and Loretta’s framed by shadowed branches in the background and deep swaths of black. Meg appears as though she’s bathed in light, while just a bit of that light reaches Loretta’s cheeks. It’s a strong visual composition that produces powerful, genuine emotion complemented by spare dialogue. Spreads like this showcase why this book is special.Continued below
Wands’s lettering is clean, clear and artfully done. There’s a natural stroke on the balloons that’s very thin and makes them feel tenuous and a bit brittle. As Loretta’s world comes down around her – and, as we learn, comes down around us as well – this effect is a perfect complement to the overall mood of the book. The main font is peaky as well, while Darcy’s font is gentle and appears hand-written. The team chooses the perfect shade of brown to make Darcy’s balloons distinct from Judd’s dialogue, and the color adds flavor to the page. The sound effects are poppy but don’t appear pasted onto the page – there’s care here to make sure they blend well while adding just a touch of surreal comicky goodness. Of special note are the jagged gunshot BLAM!s with the connected Ls and As.
“Family Tree” isn’t afraid to take its time, but the team knows that in horror, there needs to be a steady build. There’s a deeper mystery in this book, and the team takes moments to slow down – and moments to speed up – while maintaining two timelines and several character arcs. It’s not easy to do, but “Family Tree” is executed very well, and this is another issue that keeps us wondering to good effect.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – “Family Tree” #7 delights with more mystery, heartfelt connection and a gun fight, to boot.