The White Trees #2 Broke Me by Going Brokeback Mountain

Cropped Cover to The White Trees #2, Kris Anka, Matt Wilson, Image Comics, September 2019

The White Trees #2

Kris Anka (line art), Aditya Bidikar (letter art), Shanna Matuszak (production artist), Matt Wilson (color art), Chip Zdarsky (script)
Image Comics
September 25th, 2019

This review contains mild spoilers for The White Trees #2.

So, I called it. In my review of The White Trees #1 I predicted I was going to need more than two issues to answer all of my questions and, surprising no one, I was right. Taken together, The White Trees raises more questions than it answers—which is a compelling argument for why there needs to be more issues, and not a flaw in its storytelling. I actually have a hard time coming up with flaws other than the fact that there’s only two issues. It’s tragic that the worldbuilding Chip and Kris and Matt have spent so much time on is barely explored.

Cover to The White Trees #2, Kris Anka, Matt Wilson, Image Comics, September 2019 - Characters look back over their shoulders against a sunset background
The art remains stunning. You know what you see throughout history? Duets. And Kris and Matt are an artistic duet not unlike Lennon and McCartney, and we should all feel blessed. It’s clear that Chip does, because the last few pages of the issue shows the collaborative process from script to finished product and his praise is only slightly less enthusiastic than mine about how talented these two are. I love this kind of thing, because comics are such a collaborative medium, and it’s important that we acknowledge the work that’s done every step of the way. And I love seeing the writer—who usually gets the majority of the credit—deferring to the awesomeness of the artist, colorist, and letterer.

The first issue of The White Trees showed me what this team is capable of and made me appreciate their talents in a new way. It built up trust, as a first issue should do. That meant that in the second issue, I was ready to follow wherever they led, narratively speaking.

I wasn’t ready for the Dad thing.

Page from The White Trees #2, Kris Anka, Matt Wilson, Image Comics, September 2019 - A cityscape paired with images of a horseback rider approaching
Like, damn, Kris and Matt. This is ridiculous.

I knew the comic was going to make me emotional when the title page of the comic began with: “Dedicated to our dads.” My dad passed away on September 26, 2016, so sincere dad appreciation is a quick emotional trigger for me, which means that I was emotionally primed. Reading the second issue was like watching Avengers: Endgame. I cried at the ending even though I wanted it to end a different way. Or maybe because I wanted it to end a different way. And like what happened after Endgame was released, I’m struggling with how to express the depth of my sadness and my appreciation for the story as a whole without spoiling what happens. But I also don’t want people to be distressed in the same way I was and not be prepared for it if they need to be, so I’ll just tag it like I would on AO3:

major character death, visual references to saint sebastian, with added bondage, so basically canon saint sebastian, ambiguous ending, the author laughs at your pain

It’s important to talk about the ending because since there’s only two issues, they have to be taken together as one complete story. The dedication is a clue about how the creative team wants me to think of the story—both parts of it—in a different way. In the first part, we see the story as a journey that’s starting out. And yes, they are Dads setting out on this quest to save their children, but that is such a commonly used trope in narrative (there’s whole film franchises about this premise) that you don’t really expect that to be the point of the story. When you get to the end and look back at everything that came before it, everything changes and shifts. I didn’t expect a high fantasy quest story by Chip and Kris that includes a faery orgy scene to be giving me Dad feels and not Daddy feels, but here we are.

Page from The White Trees #2, Kris Anka, Matt Wilson, Image Comics, September 2019 - A character delivers a flying kick to another, before the focus switches to another character bound and on the ground
I love everything about this page. I love the action. I love the layout. I love the humor. I love that Krylos is in bondage.

In my last review I wrote about how reading the first issue of the comic was like watching an actor known for blockbusters show up in an indie film and blow you away with their acting. On Twitter I compared it to watching Chris Evans as Captain America, then Chris Evans in Snowpiercer. After reading The White Trees #2, I’m also reminded of another Hollywood story: when Heath Ledger, former teen heartthrob and star of quirky romcoms, took on the role of Ennis in Brokeback Mountain, and you realized how you had tragically underestimated this incredibly talented actor. Because it wasn’t just his acting—it was the way he acted, the performance he gave, and the seriousness and gravitas he brought to the role when we were used to him charming us and bringing the sexy. I’m used to Chip charming me, and Kris bringing the sexy, and they just went Brokeback Mountain on me. And in going Brokeback Mountain, they broke me, in the best way.

Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.