The White Trees: A Blacksand Tale #1
“Part One: This Is Death”
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist/Cover artist: Kris Anka
Colors: Matt Wilson
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $4.99 US
Judging from the chatter on my comics-related social media feeds, everyone’s mind is turned to the supposedly big twist in this week’s Batman #77 (which I suspect is the beginnings of a bait-and-switch, but time will tell). Personally, my mind’s still blown by a comic that was released the week before. The White Trees #1 is the first of just a two-issue limited series, but it’s a stunning piece of fantasy writing. I’m not usually one for the sword-and-sorcery genre, but this is a truly beautiful story, both literally and conceptually. If you’re a fan of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga, which is on hiatus at the moment, then this is the comic that will definitely scratch that particular itch.
The king of Blacksand summons forth three legendary warriors, the triumphant heroes of a war long since settled. Though retired, the trio heeds the monarch’s call, prepared, perhaps, to decline a renewed call to arms. Instead, the summons is to convey bad news: two of their children, a son and a daughter, have been kidnapped by enemies, and the king wants to offer assurances their safe return is an utmost priority. But instead, these three, once men of action, embark on a mission most personal, determined to ensure their loved ones’ safety on their own.
Kris Anka’s artwork on Runaways has been absolutely delightful, and his efforts here are just as stunning, if not moreso. His style is instantly recognizable, but there’s something fresh about it as well, thanks to the change in genre. While he conveys the powerful masculinity of the three main protagonists here, he nevertheless instills that same smoothness and softness that makes his linework and figures so likeable, without sacrificing the characters’ ruggedness. I also found his design for Milola, the ex-wife of the leonine Dahvlan, to be particularly striking. She makes for an imposing figure, and body language and thick form reflect the fierceness apparent in the dialogue as well. But she’s undeniably lovely as well. Anka achieves a wonderful balance between her physical presence and her femininity.
This is definitely a title for mature readers, as a pivotal scene is one featuring sex (another reason why this book put me in mind of Saga). There’s nothing gratuitous about the scene, though, and it actually reveals a key trait of one of the three central protagonists. I also appreciated the scene for its exploration of the fluidity of sexuality.
While the plot revolves around the kidnapping and the effort to rescue the warriors’ children, the real story is what’s going on inside the heart of one of the retired generals, Krylos. He’s defined by his grief, his regret, his guilt. Zdarsky quietly explores the toll war takes on a soul, the risk one takes when one falls in love. The stoic Krylos isn’t portrayed as melancholy or sad… just empty. But there’s nevertheless a lingering compassion within him, a sense of pacifism that his former colleagues can’t comprehend or reconcile with the man they once knew.
That Zdarsky could write a compelling fantasy piece doesn’t come as a complete surprise. There were hints of such strength in Kaptara, his oddball satire that was a thinly veiled take on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, also published by Image a few years ago. And while I enjoyed that book, this stands above it, in part because the writer has eschewed his comedic bent and focused purely on drama. Despite the exotic and intense backgrounds of these characters, there’s a humanity in each of them that resonates, and the reader, surprisingly, can identify with each of them in different ways.
Of the many Zdarsky works I’ve read, this is without a doubt the finest of them. The only thing that’s disappointing about it is the notion that this book will only run a couple of issues, but what’s heartening that the inclusion of “A Blacksand Tale” suggests that there are potentially more to come after this one. 10/10