Family Tree #1 Review

by Jay Hill on November 13, 2019

Written by: Jeff Lemire
Penciled by: Phil Hester
Inked by: Eric Gapstur
Colors by: Ryan Cody
Lettered by: Steve Wands
Published by: Image Comics
Family Tree is what you’d get if David Cronenberg and George A. Romero made a Pixar movie. It revolves around a strange affliction plaguing a young girl and causing her body to mutate into a tree. However, as the title suggests, this disorder may not be random and could have to do with her lineage.

Jeff Lemire is an artist that knows how to paint his fiction with the warmth of family. This story is no different. He begins the story by introducing us to single mother Loretta Hayes at her cashier job. Her already stressful day is then made worse when she is called to, her son, Josh’s school because of some transgression. He had been caught with contraband and we are given a glimpse into their dynamic. The Principal suggests the absence of a father figure is to blame and Loretta is offended by this critic of her parenting. Throughout the issue, Loretta’s daughter, Meg, has been displaying a slight rash on her arm. Back at home, while having dinner, the rash appears to be worsening and when Meg shows that it has spread to her back it is revealed that a branch is growing from her flesh. They hurry to get her help and that’s when things get even weirder. The narration throughout is what keeps the slow-paced issue flowing until the hectic end. If not for that, the establishment of the characters would have been slightly sluggish feeling. But, that narration and the flashes forward give the promise of an apocalyptic turn of events. So, what seems now a small story of a family turned upside down will (pardon the pun) grow into something much larger.

The deep shadows, rigid lines, and muted palates produce an unsettling vibe from panel #1. The first scenes aren’t necessarily disturbing in-and-of-themselves, but the rustic and almost desolate feeling is the perfect setting for a horror story. I’m sure I’m not the first to say Phil Hester’s art favors the horror style of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola (and I hope he doesn’t mind the comparison). The subtle use of falling leaves in the background of shots subconsciously keeps the impending danger in the mind. The shadows I've mentioned and the use of silhouettes keeps a haunting feel. He is also quite good at displaying the emotion of characters in close-ups, he has a complete grasp of his particular style. And his illustrations of the body horror affecting Meg, left my skin crawling.

With a story that has implications to become apocalyptic, Family Tree #1 starts off that tale with a strong base. Lemire’s family-centric storytelling lulls you in, but the promise is that horror is just around the corner. The art holds everything firmly in place with great stylistic choices by Phil Hester. The start isn’t anything groundbreaking, but the end is sure to surprise.

Our Score:


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