THE WOODS #1
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Michael Dialynas
Published by BOOM! Studios
Release Date: May 7, 2014
Here’s your premise: high school drama. Alien abduction. Monsters. Creepy forest. Band of misfits. Mysterious quest. The Woods celebrates the authentic teenage angst of Freaks & Geeks, the sci-fi weirdness of Buffy, and a splash of horror. Throw in a little European “children lost in the woods” fairy tale dust and you have something that can’t really be put into one storytelling box. It’s delightfully weird and fun and spooky, and the art is fantastic.
A school gets transported to another planet. There’s a weird marker outside, and the hipster kid you probably wanted to punch in high school is talking to it. He puts together a posse, and off they go into a forest that would make a Disney villain jealous. There is an implication from page 1 that perhaps this has happened before. The fun thing about how the first issue unfolds is that James Tynion shows the high school hierarchy destratified – most kids don’t have the strict clique-based experience stereotyped in a lot of teen movies. There are infinite connections between groups. Those relationships are upended further when all the crazy horror-space stuff happens, turning the entire thing into a social experiment. Hopefully everyone has completed their mandatory reading of Lord of the Flies so they can avoid any dark explorations of baser human nature in absence of the social contract. That sure would be bad, wouldn’t it?
I also didn’t realize until my second read how representative the cast is – across gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. Not to say it’s the total prism of human experience, but it’s the casual way that we’re introduced to it – how not a big deal it is – that warms my heart. This is how it should be. Writing representation isn’t hard. Four for you, James Tynion. You go, James Tynion. As with any good horror story that involves monsters and teenagers, the trope of the clueless grownups is my favorite thing. Of course, in case you thought it was all fun and games, there’s a student being eaten by a gruesome bat-horse-alien-thing to remind you that there are no safe places for anyone.
Michael Dialynas’s art is perfect for this kind of story. He draws distinct looking people, even though his style is intentionally cartoonish – it adds to the fantasy of the story, without depriving the characters of a real personality. Where Dialynas really shines are the dramatic settings outside the school. The trees surrounding everyone are twisted and gnarled like they could grab someone at any moment. The wide panorama of the planet’s surface with the sky full of foreign celestial bodies delivers an awesome “We’re not in Kansas anymore” moment. Those scenes are made even better by the color palette of purples, pinks, deep reds, and cool blue-greens. It’s all very dark, very foreboding, and very alien. Props to Josan Gonzalez for doing so much to set the mood.
Hopefully the story will split time between the core team heading out into the woods and the rest of the student body and faculty remaining in the school. It would be an interesting juxtaposition; the desperate white-knuckle grab to maintain order versus the courageous/stupid embracing of the chaotic unknown. It’s wonderful to see James Tynion on something without superheroes. If the rest of the story is as fun as the first issue, I’m looking forward to watching him stretch his legs.
The Verdict: 9.0/10