Thee Comic Column #94: The Woods

Image courtesy of Boom! Studios

Last month I had a light pull week at The Comic Bug and ended up having the time/money to look around for something new. This happens from time to time and I’ve found a lot of good books this way. However, finding new stuff is never super easy. These days there are always a plethora of candidates, and it’s usually rather difficult to pin it down to one from the many. In cases such as these what I tend to rely on is my gut. I can’t completely put it into words, but some books just jump out at me, whether because of the cover, title, author, whatever. Sometimes it’s not even anything as tangible as any of those things. Sometimes it’s just… fate.

Okay, that’s a bit grandiose, but with The Woods I definitely feel as though something intervened. I bought that first issue and liked it, however I wasn’t sure if I would be coming back for more. Then, weeks later while filming the newest issue of Drinking with Comics I saw that there was both a second and third issue of The Woods on the stands. What’s more, this is a lower print run book and the ‘Bug only had one copy of #2 left. I had to decide quickly. I looked up and down the isles of the shop – there were several other people browsing, any one of them might make their way down to this end and swipe the issues in question…

I grabbed them!

Two days later I was finally able to read The Woods #2 and #3. About halfway through issue two I had a pretty good idea that had completely born out by the end of issue three: This book is great!

Basic set-up: During the course of a normal day at Bay Point Preparatory High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin all of the little teenage and faculty dramas in progress as we meet the cast are suddenly turned on their ear when an ominous rumble and a flash of light transports the building and everyone in it to an alien landscape. The students and staff emerge into a night sky where moments ago it was day. Above them an alien planet glows like a mammoth moon. There’s a ring around the planet; is it Saturn? And what about their geographic location itself? If they have – as some of the students theorize – been somehow transported to another planet, what the hell does that make the woods that surround the little copse of open land where they landed?

All of these elements made for a great first issue, however what I will tell you after reading issues two and three of The Woods is that what really seals the deal for me on this book is the way writer James Tynion, IV uses such an extraordinary scenario to examine a much more mundane or human idea, namely what happens to the social structure of the school and its inhabitants under the stress of dealing with something so far outside the scope of regular human experience?

What happens is social unrest.

The leader of the student council is ambitious and thinks she knows how to handle things while the grown-ups sit in a meeting and talk themselves blue about what to do, obviously paralyzed by the summation of their years on Earth being reduced to fallacies. Is it easier to shed the rules of the world after seventeen years or forty? Meanwhile, although some of the adults do indeed lose it, others plot how best to ensure their own survival. It’s a bit of the old Lord of the Flies scenario, only here it is enacted with the advantage of that adult maturity that sets others to blind panic. Certain teachers split off with their students and create enforcement opportunities and even a puppet government, so to speak, all while one group of kids strikes out into The Woods and experiences the alien insanity of this place in all its gory.

Not a misspelling.

Because things do get gory. And yet another interesting aspect of this series is Michael Dialynas’ art. The obvious, tried and true way to play a story like this would be visually horrific, and while there are definitely some horrific images contained within, Dialynas takes a very refreshing approach to that horror by giving everything first and foremost a very cosmic, alien tone. Next, he works in what I can only say is a very natural look to the creatures the population of Bay Point Prep encounter. Follow my logic: when you look at some of the more dangerous animals of our own planet – let’s take bears for example – although we have been trained through cultural experiences to treat the animals with the respect deserved of something that can take your head off with one errant swoop of its paw, when you get past that and take a bear out of context you find that they, like lions, tigers and so many other animals, are actually fluffy and, well, kinda endearing or “cute”, right? That’s why we have stuffed animals, animals on greeting cards, in tv commercials, etc. Mr. Dialynas treats much of this alien population in a similar way. I’m definitely not saying he draws these things as cuddle buns but what he does do is design things so although the creatures are often threatening they are not drawn as straight out monstrosities. Instead, they have a very ‘wild life’ look to them and that makes for an even more eerie experience watching what happens.

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The Woods is published by Boom! Studios – a company that has really been picking up steam of late, and I for one am glad to see it. I’m reminded of IDW in the early 2000s or Dark Horse in the mid 80s – they are a young company who is thirsty for the next big thing, and its making them take chances some of the bigger companies either wouldn’t or don’t have the room for. And that is a wonderful thing for us as readers folks!

……………………..

Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to Thee Comic Column #94: The Woods
  1. The Notorious K.I.M. Reply

    Brilliant.

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