By: James Tynion IV (writer), Michael Dialynas (art), Josan Gonzalez (colors)
The Story: Yubou wubill ubalwubays bube thube uboubne tubo fubind mube.
The Review: With Coach Clay in retreat for the moment, Maria Remirez and James Tynion have a little less on their plate. Nonetheless, neither one is resting on their laurels, and Tynion frames issue 5 of The Woods with a glimpse into the characters’ pasts.
I’ve personally found Karen Jacobs to be one of the weakest characters in Tynion’s story so far. Karen has largely been set up as the voice of reason, lacking the passion Maria or Adrian possess and the sense of humor that keeps Calder or Isaac going. Even her introductory detail, her distress at not being accepted to college, merely implied to me that she felt that she was worthy of admittance and was, therefore, interesting not for her previous actions but how she reacted to unexpected situations.
Thankfully Tynion tackles all of these issues head-on this month, with a story that examines and deepens Karen and Sanami’s friendship for the reader. Rather than a dramatic deviation, we see here that Karen’s teaser description, “The Screw-Up”, long predates her rejection letters. In these flashbacks Karen gains a charming sense of humor and a simmering bitterness that seems bound for bigger things as situations grow more and more extreme.
James Tynion’s best work has always been the moments when he’s working with real and loving friendships. Whether in Talon or Red Hood and the Outlaws, or In The Dark, Tynion has not only an interest but a gift for breathing life into important friendships, the kind that keep life going. Sanami’s world, hinted at but never explained, comes into clear focus this week and the degree to which her parents’ judgments affect the school is as fascinating as it is distressing. One thing I also love is the degree to which these kids are wrong. These are relatable, likable people, but they’re all willing to throw someone under the bus at the drop of a hat, whether for their own ego or to cheer someone up or just because they’re in a bad mood. Teenagers are like that. Hell, adults are like that! Being a good person often doesn’t mean treating everyone well, in fact, it seems likely that our heroes have probably all been villains in someone else’s story.
It’s odd to think that a flashback to the relative normalcy of high school is the prime plot thread in this comic about being stranded on an alien world, but Tynion weaves it into the narrative quite nicely. The real way you can tell that the present is a secondary story is that not a lot happens in it. While we do see some progression this issue, it’s nothing that couldn’t have been explained away by a lone line of dialogue at the start of next issue. The goings on in these strange alien woods are not about progressing, but learning.
Though they’re frustratingly tight-lipped about the reality of the situation, the mysterious forest-dwellers we met last issue drop a number of hints about their role in this world and the situation our characters find themselves in. While the realism and vagueness of their dialogue prevent us from getting to know them too well, Tynion effortlessly makes the trio – who go by Cassius, Nigel, and Gideon – into likable and intriguing…obstacles, if not antagonists. I also so appreciate that a group of school children don’t immediately prove capable of outmatching a trio of grown, time-tested survivors of an alien world.
Meanwhile, despite the focus on the girls of the group, Calder remains the breakout character of the series. Whether he’s demonstrating his survival skills or his knowledge of 80s glam rock hits, Calder hits that sweet spot between the traits of the other characters – Sanami’s practicality, Adrian’s pragmatism, Isaac’s sense of humor, etc. – without becoming generic. Perhaps most importantly, this issue tells us something about Calder’s heart in addition to his skills. Calder’s final interaction with Karen in this issue is surprisingly sweet. While we’ve been set up to think of Calder as damaged goods, it seems increasingly likely that he’s actually the one healthy member of the party. I wonder if this trend will continue or if Tynion will remind us why Calder was introduced as “The Lunatic”.
While Michael Dialynas’ art doesn’t blow you away the way that Rod Reis, Fiona Staples, or James Stokoe’s might, there’s an understated brilliance to it. The uneven, scratchy lines that Dialynas employs have a distinct charm and can be surprisingly expressive. Characters have, not only vivid expressions, but clear facial structures that set them apart and, while poses feel somewhat loose, you can read the character’s body language instantly. Particularly with its elastic nature and anime-style dips into extreme expression, Dialynas’ art does a lot to capture the feeling of being a teenager.
While characters occasionally look unnatural or stretched, it’s particularly impressive that the base style, used for the kids, can so naturally change to suit the much stiffer, more detailed forest-dwellers and again for the native fauna.
Dialynas also shows a great understanding of how to spread out his lines. Particularly in the woods themselves, you might expect the art to either simplify the landscape or throw itself into every detail, but Dialynas uses restrained, careful detail and shading to convey the particulars of the scene without bogging down the visual flow. This finds its clearest expression in a series of backgroundless panels throughout the issue, often accompanied by striking color from Josan Gonzalez.
One last thing I’d like to mention is how beautiful Dialynas’ characters are. Particularly in the flashbacks, Karen, Maria, and even Mr. Ota look amazing. Each one has their own character that shapes their beauty and, while each one tries to present themselves as attractive to the outside world to differing degrees, their attractiveness belongs to them, not to some godlike voyeur we call a reader. It’s a sadly rare quality in a comic, but such a welcome one and one that feels perfectly at home in this series.
The Conclusion: In the sense that a story is the process of characters getting from point A to point B, The Woods #5 is not a terribly important issue. There will be readers, eagerly anticipating another installment after a month-long wait or bingeing on the first trade (also out this week), who will be frustrated by their desire to know more about the key issues of the last installment; the identity of the forest-dwellers, the meaning of the messages in the pyramid, the fate of Maria and Coach Clay, etc.
Nonetheless, issue #5 provides rich and wonderfully told context for the series. Maria, Sanami, Karen, and Calder all get some great moments and the book receives a welcome jolt of energy from Tynion, whose passions and skills as a writer are on clear display this month.
While the lack of progression does weigh The Woods #5 down, more great art from Michael Dialynas and remarkably sincere character development from Tynion make this arguably the best issue yet.
- I love that this series remembers that covert surveillance requires people to actually stay quiet. It seems like that should be obvious, but most of our media doesn’t seem to grasp that.
- While I worry about Sanami’s relationship with her parents and part of me is just waiting for confirmation that they’re being abusive in some fashion, I just cannot deal with Mr. Ota’s full-on Indiana Jones look. It’s weird and ridiculous and pompous and yet, somehow, the man makes it work!
- Speaking of making it work, that is the most stylish dinobird I’ve ever seen. Then again, that is an amazing hat.
- Once again, the cover for this issue is outstanding. Reflective of the story inside without giving it away, inventive, multilayered, and gorgeously colored. This is the sort of cover that gets people to pick up an issue.
– Noah Sharma