By: James Tynion IV (writer), Michael Dialynas (art), Josan Gonzalez (colors)

The Story: As the party struggles with natural predators, the schoolbound discover that they’re subject to the food chain as well.

The Review: A big part of the success of the first issue of The Woods was how relatable the characters were, how easy it was to like them. For the second installment, James Tynion decides to prove he can inspire loathing just as easily.

One thing you’ll notice pretty immediately in reading The Woods is that Tynion understands teenagers. Admittedly, he’s not exactly an older writer, but there are plenty of teenagers who don’t respect teenagers, so it’s all the more noticeable and all the more important that Tynion is willing to allow these young people agency and fallibility.

While the core of the series seems to be the adventuring party set up in the premiere issue, issue #2 turns our attention back towards the school and the five-hundred students and faculty still holed up there. The sheer number of immediate crises is staggering and there’s really no one right way to deal with them. The only way the school will survive is together, which is great. Unfortunately, sometimes panic and togetherness don’t mix well. It’s up to those who can unite the school and not all of them are ideal candidates.

Coach Clay is almost immediately despicable. There’s a little bit of shorthand at play here – harsh gym coach, totalitarian veteran, etc. – but the subtlety with which he forwards his agenda is actually a nice subversion of expectations. I also appreciate that, while his motives are suspect, Clay may well be doing this for the greater good, at least in his mind.

In the tradition of many a great comic book schemer, much of Clay’s rhetoric might well be more about him than his rivals. The idea that a grown veteran of the armed forces, a teacher no less, might see himself in competition with the student council president is inherently creepy and yet decidedly fascinating. Based on his previous work and interviews,I trust Tynion to give this dynamic the weight it deserves and that keeps me nervously invested in Maria’s struggles.

Out in the titular woods, Tynion does a great job of representing the two-sided coin that is humor and panic. The book is genuinely funny but the jokes are restrained enough that you’ll believe that the kids came up with them on the spot. It takes me right back to high school.

Unfortunately the pacing in these sections is a little slow. We don’t learn much more about Adrian or his plan, nor do we get that much about the rest of the party. Calder and Ben have a nice little chat, but Calder’s the only one who gets much in the way of characterization. It’s still an enjoyable addition to the story, but things play out a little traditionally this month.

Michael Dialynas’ rough sketchy lines are a great fit for this title. They give the series a real indie comic look and allow him to switch between the simplistic and the highly detailed with ease. For the most part the art is defined by very simple shapes, but tiny lines and fine hatching give the book all the character it needs. The panels with the ‘mosquitoes’ are fine examples.

Speaking of which, while I’m not crazy about the whole alien versions of terrestrial animals cliché, the native fauna of wherever we are looks pretty great. Some artists have trouble with certain species, but Dialynas seems to be able to draw pretty much anything with equal skill. Doctor Robot is the obvious standout, one part frightened, one part frightening.

The Conclusion: One thing that’s struck me about The Woods thus far is that it doesn’t use gimmicks. It doesn’t need a high concept and it refuses to trade in shock value. Two issues in, the draw is the writing, the art, and the mystery. There are, however, consequences to this approach and this issue is feeling them, with the scenes set outside of the school playing a little closely to convention. Nonetheless the core elements that made issue one a success remain.

Ultimately, the horror of The Woods is a lot like the horror of a new high school. You’re thrown into a sea of people, all awkward and all unwilling to acknowledge it. You meet a couple of people who seem cool, you learn the roles they play. Everything is new and nobody communicates and people surprise you for better and worse and sometimes all you can do is laugh and suffer through together with the people you hope understand you. This issue might be that first day when you feel a little distant from your new friends, but deep down there’s still a connection that brings you back tomorrow, or next month as it were.

The Woods #2 is a slightly conservative second installment of a series that remains full of character, unease, and wit.

Grade: B-


A Thought:

  • For some reason I love that it’s an English teacher who informs us that we are orbiting a foreign gas giant.

-Noah Sharma