TL;DR – The final volume in a trilogy about the end of the world that is flatly disappointing.
Summary (warning: spoilers)
Click here for reviews of previous volumes and what has happened so far.
Meg has turned into a tree. Her ‘spiritual’ human form resides in a giant mystical world tree where other human spirits reside. These individuals have either also turned into trees, or they are those who believed the transformation had to happen and defended those who could not defend themselves from chain saws and axes.
The story jumps from past events soon after Meg’s transformation where she is defended and kept safe by Meg’s mother and brother, Loretta and Josh, to the present where much of the world has transformed into forest and the remaining humans are either looking to protect Meg (the first human-turned-fully-tree) or are trying to find Meg and destroy her.
In the present, Loretta and Josh are still alive though now much older. Josh has a wife and child, and together this small unit has kept the many remaining human hunters at bay from finding and tearing down Meg.
In the final confrontation, there’s plenty of death, destruction, blood and fire. But in the end, the world will live on.
I enjoy short stories, and I enjoy shoestring stories where you’re thrown into the middle of something and you have to try and figure out why and what is going on. Graphic novels are a perfect medium for this type of writing because you have to be economical with your words and allow the pictures to help tell the story.
Family Tree started off in this way. An ordinary single mother and her two kids witness the beginning of the end of the world when the daughter starts having branches growing out of her and her skin starts turning into bark. There’s a mysterious group of people looking to destroy all humans-turning-into-trees, and the artwork conveys the body horror with enough oomph that you want to know where it is all going to go.
And the answer is: it all goes downhill.
There is nowhere near enough in the plot. If you’re not going to explain why people are turning into trees (which they don’t) then at least explain why certain people are affected by the seeds/pollen that come out of Meg. When inhaled, they instantly turn into trees. But do they explain this? No. If you’re unlucky enough to be susceptible (and the chances are you will be) then you better be wearing a hazmat suit, otherwise it’ll be instant bye-bye.
However, what makes things even more confusing is that certain people are not affected by the spreading seeds/pollen that come out of Meg. Both Loretta and Josh are somehow immune, which is interesting when you consider that both Meg and Meg’s father transformed into trees. So, why doesn’t Loretta and Josh? If it is somehow genetic from the father’s side then you’d think, at least, Josh would also succumb to the transformation but he doesn’t.
And then there are the other select few that remain human. Josh meets a man and his daughter while hunting for food at an abandoned grocery store. Josh and the girl eventually fall in love and have a child. Neither Josh, nor the girl transform, yet in the final pages we see that their baby has a small twig growing out of his hand. It’s all random and unexplained.
As for the “bad guys”, nothing is revealed in the final volume that explains their mission to destroy Meg other than they believe somehow the world will right itself once this happens. Their dedication is bizarre and futile given most of the planet has turned into forest and jungle. There is no real depth provided to these characters. Their leader, a woman in glasses, believes this is the right thing to do because her own father transformed and she killed him.
Even in the end, when Meg-the-tree is successfully put to the flame by a bunch of men with flamethrowers, and you see the spiritual version of Meg perish, it’s hard to feel anything. Because you know that even in Meg’s death, the world has reclaimed itself. An environmental coup to usurp power from humanity.
Flat and disappointing given its promising premise. Is Family Tree seeking to be a cautionary tale on climate change? Maybe, but I doubt writer, Jeff Lemire, had any intent to be that deep. To me, it seems he wrote this story purely for the body horror.
1 out of 5.