The Evil Tree

eviltreeMisha and Daren bought a cabin in the woods. They have been living there for a few months and Daren is concerned because Misha has become increasingly withdrawn and depressed. In the hopes of cheering her up and helping her to love their new home, Daren invites a few friends to come out and spend a few days. What Daren doesn’t know is that the house hasn’t been causing Misha’s loneliness. A ghost has.

To start this out, I should admit I’m a chicken. Evil Dead, campy as it is, terrified me utterly. Joss Whedon’s hilarious Cabin in the Woods? I was cowering in my seat. I will never, ever go visit a friend’s cabin in the woods — not that I have any friends who actually have cabins. That’s why I was so surprised that this book didn’t scare me at all. I actually found it rather boring. The action moved too quickly and the storyline was full of holes. The characters were flat and lifeless. The drawings were creepy, but even those didn’t engage me.

The actual story behind what happened in the cabin involving the “evil tree” is a pretty scary concept. It should have been fascinating. Unfortunately, it is explained very early on, killing any potential mystery or suspense. I would have liked the characters to flounder a bit more before figuring out the best course of action. Once the group figure out what they have to do, everything is quickly and neatly tied up in a bow. It all just felt too rushed and obvious.

The characters were also confusing. I found myself distracted by their names (Misha, Daren, Even, Amarra) and wondered if they were supposed to be foreign, despite the setting being in America. Even, in particular, distracted me. I kept thinking his name was Evan and the book contained a typo. Also, each character felt flat and one-dimensional. They were each caricatures, rather than characters I could care about and connect with. Serg was particularly frustrating in this way. As one of two Hispanic characters, he kept talking about how he was being judged or made to do work because he was “brown”. It was a little funny the first time, but as it was mentioned at least twice more, it became over the top. It made him seem like the token non-white guy, rather than his own person.

The artwork is very eerie-looking. However, many images were creepy even when they were not supposed to be. The artist used one long black line to illustrate the characters’ cheekbones, but it just made them all look gaunt and zombie-like. This worked perfectly for Misha, who hasn’t been sleeping and is depressed and withdrawn, but the other characters are, as far as we know, in good health. The color palette was made up of dark greys, deep blues, and blacks, which helped add to the drama. However, it was not enough to make even the murderous ghost disturbing.

This graphic novel had a great premise — a creepy story that might gave a new twist to the classic “cabin in the woods” plotline. Unfortunately, the plot was revealed to quickly and the characters were dull and one-dimensional.

The Evil Tree
by Erik Hendrix
Art by Daniel Thollin
ISBN: 9781926914527
Arcana, 2012

Three Strikes

Three Strikes is the story of Rey Quintana, a hispanic college kid who forgets his girlfriend’s birthday. He’s in a jewelry store and impulsively decides to pocket a pair of earrings that are lying out on the counter. Then he gets caught–and he’s already been in jail twice before, for minor crimes. The district attorney, who’s up for re-election, wants to send him to jail for twenty-two years (for a crime that would typically get him a year in prison) to give the voting public the impression he’s tough on crime. Rey’s out on bail, and when his friend Billy tells him that they should get out of town, he reluctantly agrees. But then, the bail bondsman hires a bounty hunter to get him back. How far will Rey go to avoid getting sent to jail? This graphic novel is an excellent social commentary on the problems of being young, poor, hispanic, and in trouble with the law. Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir do a wonderful job addressing real-world concerns in their graphic novels. The art is rough but striking–it fits well with a story that is, in the end, both educational and entertaining.

Three Strikes
by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
ISBN: 9781929998821
Oni Press, 2004

Shockrockets: We Have Ignition!

A refreshingly classic science fiction comic, Shock Rockets fits the bill for a plethora of requests from comics fans requesting more diversity from U.S. comics – a multi-racial cast with an Hispanic hero, strong female characters minus the skimpy outfits, and not a superhero in sight. Happily, though this politically correct set-up does feel a bit too contrived from the outside, the story and the characters combine to make a satisfying and action-driven sci-fi tale unburdened with a specifice “message.” It remind readers of what great fun barrelling around the sky in a technologically brilliant fighter could be.

On Earth in 2071, after a massive war with an alien enemy, humans are left with only one defense, the unbeatable Shock Rockets. These agile and lethal fighters are a combination of unknown alien technology and man’s greatest engineering and are piloted by an elite team of fighters. Alejandro Cruz, working at a garbage plant alongside his whole family, dreams of becoming a pilot. He tinkers with left over bits of flyers to create a ship for himself, figuring even if there’s no chance in hell that he’ll ever make it to a Shock Rocket, at least he can create for himself a taste of the experience. Little does he know that his first wobbly (and forbidden) flight lands him smack in the middle of a fight between the Shock Rockets and an alien attack. When one of the Shock Rockets crashes in front of him, the pilot dying, he reacts on instinct and takes the helm. To everyone’s surprise, but most especially to his own astonishment, he flies expertly through the attack and wins a spot on the team. His fellow pilots are not exactly pleased to have him on board, especially as his arrival meant the death of one of their best. What none of them suspect, however, is that Cruz is the key to unleashing the Rockets as yet untapped power. Cruz is also discovering that his allies and enemies are not so easily identified and that the politics surrounding his team are far more complex than he has any hope of navigating.

Stuart Immonen’s cinematic art is the right combination of character focus and the energetic action sequences showing off the design and strategy behind the many dogfights and flights within the story. This comic should appeal to fans of such classic sci-fi as Robert Heinlein’s adventures and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game as well as anyone who’s ever quoted, “I feel the need…the need for speed!” and meant it.

Shock Rockets: We Have Ignition
By Kurt Busiek
Art by Stuart Immonen
ISBN: 1593071299
Dark Horse, 2003