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

The Story: Who runs the school? Who owns the woods?

The Review: As we rejoin the stranded cast of James Tynion IV’s The Woods, a sense of hopelessness begins to creep in even further. The students and teachers are starting to understand that there may be no going home.

While we’re still waiting for a gamechanger that will differentiate this story from the countless others that share its basic question, The Woods continues to stand out based on the strength of its characters. Tynion cruelly but wisely denies us further exploration of some of the most interesting threads of last month’s issue while providing closure on others and giving readers a much needed glimpse at what the series will look at in coming months.

While this is very much an ensemble cast, it’s clear that Tynion has favorites and characters that stand out to him. This week finds Calder Macready in the spotlight. Calder has been a strong presence all through the series but, more than ever, he seems a player to keep an eye on. Calder represents a figure many of us know too well, the loudmouthed boy no one expected anything from who opted not to disappoint. There’s an innocence as he shows off, a morbidity in his dialogue, a power in his moments of intimacy that practically screams to tell you that still waters, or perhaps deceptively rough waters, run deep.

Though it would be nice to get such a sense from characters like Karen or Dominic, who haven’t had as many chances to shine, characters like Calder and Adrian remind you to stay aware. Even when characters play to type, it often feels like a conscious choice, and that’s a great strength of the series.

There is one featured monologue that feels a little disconnected from the matters at hand, but it’s a brief diversion and one that likely could have been great if it fit into the narrative a little cleaner.

The plot, overall, is a little slow. Some moments, while helpful or interesting, feel redundant when considering the month between chapters and twenty page chunks in which we are receiving the story. It’s not a serious failing of the story, after all it allows that careful characterization I mentioned earlier, but it does sap a little excitement from the issue. When you’re interested the story goes too fast. When the story loosens its hold on you it begins to drag. It’s a shame the whole issue doesn’t manage a more even distribution, but I know that Tynion has the technical prowess to get us to that place. But while the issue could have been more evenly paced, it’s hard to complain when one plotline, Coach Clay’s new government, sees such dramatic resolution. Those expecting a lengthy revolution or a new status quo for Maria will be surprised to see how it all goes down.

Clay’s reactions are a little hard to read, as is a crucial order from Maria, but the dramatic punch of these sequences is hard to deny. Principal Beaumont steps up as an oddly compelling character. Tynion leverages the very expectations he set up in the reader’s mind into moments of real drama. The whole scene raises as many questions as it answers and leaves things tantalizingly open for further exploration without promising anything. It’s a perfect draw to ensure readers return.

One thing I will say is that, while The Woods is a great series to hand to someone who isn’t ‘a comics person’, this issue assumes that you’ve been reading. On one hand, in an age where a writer has such a dearth of pages to tell their story in and the trade will be out in three months anyway, it’s easy to understand why Tynion doesn’t spend time explicitly catching you up beyond what’s inferable from context, but, as they say, every issue is someone’s first. In my case I handed The Woods #4 to a friend who was intrigued by my summary, but they left the issue confused. They liked it very much, but they just felt like it wasn’t accessible in places, something I can’t fault them for. They said they’d like to go back and readf the preceding issues sometime, so whether you count this a loss or a win is up to you.

Michael Dialynas’ style knows what it wants to evoke and eagerly goes for it. Calder’s self-satisfied joy leaps off the page, priming a reader for the strength and clarity of emotion that Dialynas brings to the issue. This is nothing new. Dialynas has shown a remarkable facility, not only for facial expression, but for all manner of physical communication from the beginning of the series.

Dialynas’ technical work is neither lacking nor overwhelmingly brilliant. That said, there’s a consciousness to his panels that continues to impress. It just feels like everything was considered: how clothing falls, where characters stand, how they hold their bodies.

If you don’t like the art on this series, it’s probably the style not sitting well with you. While it’s nothing outrageous, it deviates enough from the ‘traditional comic look’ that I could imagine some readers finding it off-putting. There are occasional lines of detail that I know are totally acceptable choices but just don’t look right. There are also a few places where faces look a little flat or hair doesn’t attach as naturally as intended. Still, I’d be tempted to say that this issue also contains some of Dialynas’ best work on the series.

Adrian, Calder, and Karen, very much in that order and with large jumps between each of them, all look especially good this issue. It’s likely that Josan Gonzalez played a large part in making the panels I’m referring to stand out, but there’s a clarity in all elements of them that really pops.

Dialynas also briefly introduces a much sleeker style that hints that there may be some visual surprises awaiting those who unravel the woods’ mystery along with Adrian.

The Conclusion: This issue is one of restrained highs and lows. There are some momentary lapses, but they’re balanced by some exciting peaks and the series’ baseline excellence. Tynion and Dialynas are great at establishing these characters and playing their personalities off of one another.

The Woods remains a fascinating look at authority and compliancy. Issue 4 rounds a bend, tying up the first set of storylines while setting the stage for an even more interesting set of obstacles to survive, escape, and endure.

Grade: B

 

Some Thoughts:

  • It’s hardly a first for this series, but that’s a very pretty cover.
  • (Spoilers) The big reveal of the mysterious figures appears to draw from British iconography. Perhaps most interesting is that, while they all possess a shared aesthetic, each one seems to focus on a particular cultural archetype of the UK. I wonder if I’m right in identifying them as such and, if so what it means for the series. The presence of multiple languages and Mayan pyramids implies that there were other guests. Are these the winners? Are they actually from the British Isles? Are there other factions lurking deeper in the woods? Questions, questions…

 

– Noah Sharma

Grade

Conclusion