By: James Tynion IV (writer), Michael Dialynas (artist), Josan Gonzalez (colors)
The Story: They’re no elephants, but they’ll do…
The Review: After an impressive look into Karen’s character last month, James Tynion and Michael Dialynas are back with another character study that’s very much follow-up to the previous issue’s success.
Calder has very much been the break out character of The Woods for me. I’m actually really fond of Ben, but there’s no denying that Tynion comes alive a little whenever Calder’s on the page. It’s only natural that an entire issue dedicated to him would work.
While the focus on Hannibal could have been diluted a bit, the structure of the issue is as strong as it’s ever been. It was clever to set Calder’s adventures on the night of the school play, allowing last issue to carry some of the storytelling weight and reminding us that all of these characters are living their own struggles and triumphs simultaneously.
Tynion paints Calder as a truly tragic figure with nearly unsettling specificity. The relationship between Calder and Casey mixes the logical quality of a business transaction with the kind of instinctive, conditioned fear that only the abused know. It’s something of a tragic story and one that sticks into you, in the best way. It isn’t fair, but that’s the point.
One thing I love about Calder is the odd level of agency he displays when his options are limited. While this issue really demonstrates how often Calder is acting under duress, it also highlights how much he shines in these situations. “Find a way or make one.” There are obvious examples, most so his answer to the problem of travel, but it’s fascinating to see him struggle to keep a secret, subservient to an obviously inferior intelligence. My favorite is his answer to the question of how to divert attention, if only for the implication that this was where his mind went first. In that regard it’s actually kind of amazing, and all the more unfortunate, that no one has noticed how sharp he actually is.
Meanwhile, the actions in the present are a step up from last issue. While they retain the same heartfelt tone, it really feels like we’re getting a sense of where each character is emotionally. It’s particularly impressive how easily Tynion lays out the dynamics of Adrian’s control over the group in less than a page. Far from a cliché child prodigy, Adrian’s control is insidious, yet highly tenuous, entirely dependent on the reactions of those around him. The fact that this element of chance is maintained without feeling unlikely it a clear sign of Tynion’s comfort with ‘norma’ characters, whatever that means.
This issue also gives us a sense of the native ecosystem, giving a sense of the dangers in the woods and clearing up the food chain. The art sells these concepts beautifully and one truly difficult page to read will remind you of the power of character design and simple execution…no pun intended…I’m so sorry.
Speaking of which, this is another solid issue for Michael Dialynas. The woods are more alive than ever. The fauna, and even some of the flora, carries the emotion of a fine nature documentary, setting up characters without losing the essential inhumanity of nature. The wolf bears look especially nice this go around, leaning on the later half of their name and filling the page with a powerful, stocky energy.
The characters are feeling a little more muted this month, though at times that’s a benefit. Particularly around Calder, the issue communicates the lack of vigor wonderfully. It’s only in rare moments that Calder gets to be who he truly wants and those are the times that his joy is really palpable. Still, the lack of immediacy occasionally weakens a scene.
This issue is interestingly focused on momentum. The layouts really move with the characters and give an impression of changing pace. Likewise, the compositions of the panels almost always have a strong pull to them.
Josan Gonzalez round out the creative team. Though the issue starts with somewhat dull colors, they’re balanced excellently and quickly give way to the brilliant hues of our alien world. Dialynas knows how to use bold colors without overstimulating and utilizes attractive color palettes, both in the past and the present.
The Conclusion: The Woods #6 joins its predecessor as a fascinating look at one member of the adventuring party and an examination of what they have to bring to the titular forest. Calder’s story is, quite intentionally, less satisfying than Karen’s, but the intense realism of Calder’s struggles more than make up for it. The scenes in the woods are great and frequently quite affecting.
It’s rare that you really get to know characters the way that Tynion and Dialyas allow you to. Particularly as the perils of the woods push the adventuring party beyond their ability to hold back their true natures the series is growing more and more interesting. It doesn’t quite match the highs of last issue, but it’s exceptionally solid and well conceived. If you’re not reading this series, it might be time to fix that.