Family Tree‘s writer, Jeff Lemire, often writes horror comics centering on families going through horrific events. When his stories are good, they inflict a poignant horror that can feel a little too close to home. When they are not, however, his work can feel like that of a half-assed Stephen King who just has this one idea and not much else. Unfortunately, Family Tree falls into the latter category.
Set in 1997 in the town of Lowell, Maine, the Hayes family comprises of single mother Loretta, troubled son Joshua and eight-year-old Meg, who is slowly becoming a tree. Along with the possibly insane grandfather, who seems to know more about what is going on with Meg, the family travels across the backroads of America in a desperate search for a way to cure her horrifying transformation before it’s too late.
From the start, you immediately get the dynamic between the family, which is somewhat fractured due to the disappearance of the father. As for Loretta, she is trying to make ends meet as she is single-handedly parenting two children. Once the horror kicks in, the book should center how this dynamic develops and resolves the conflict. Obviously, this is only the first volume, but rarely could I get invested in these characters.
With the exception of the grandfather, who is doing the hero stuff, the family never develops. Loretta, who should be the story’s protagonist, is in constant denial about what’s really going on as she ignores the advice of her father-in-law. As for the two children, Meg fares better despite slowly into a tree, with hints of the comic’s tree-based world-building, whilst Joshua is the poor comic relief who contributes nothing other than insults to her sister. Due to the lack of character development, we don’t even get much of a resolution as the volume just abruptly stops with a poor attempt at a cliffhanger.
Outside of the family, the storytelling seems to lack what the book sets out to do, in terms of mystery, action, and even horror as the premise of changing into a tree is barely scary. It doesn’t help that the art by Phil Hester doesn’t fit well with Lemire’s story, as his stale and simplified art style doesn’t achieve any horrific imagery. The action sequences involving antagonists in the shape of faceless cultists don’t deliver much impact, either.
In just four issues, Jeff Lemire and Phil Hester deliver a bland title that rarely delivers thrills or chills, nor does it give characters we can cling onto.