A couple of months ago, James Tynion told a story in an instant, when he threw Benjamin Stone and a girl in a beautiful dress into the background of his spotlight on Karen. The pathos was palpable, but the details were almost painfully vague. Ben’s quiet stoicism has made him one of the most interesting characters in James Tynion’s incredible indie mag, as well as one of the most understated. I’ve been itching to get to know him better, and this issue presents the chance to do so.
This string of interlocking character studies has really brought out the strengths of this title. James Tynion clearly still understands teens and isn’t afraid to credit them and their problems with weight and agency. While I usually think of this series as not requiring any special classification, it occurs to me that, while the themes are heavy, the content itself is really the only thing keeping younger readers away. I do wonder how reading this title is different as a high schooler, but that way lies madness, speculation, and feeling far too old for my age.
The issue also possesses Tynion’s distinct talent for character writing. More than many writers, and more than in any of his other works that I’m familiar with, Tynion proves able to communicate his characters though the details and without losing their depth in doing so. Just as he instilled in me a wariness of Kayla back in issue #5, one page quickly makes her one of the most likable characters in the whole series. I seriously hope that she turns up back at the school, though I’m not sure she even attends Bay Point.
Likewise, Tynion does some truly impressive things with Benjamin that will no doubt make this a very moving issue for many readers. Perhaps the most interesting element of this issue is how different it is from what exists in our public consciousness. Sure, there are those who, not incorrectly, will say that about any issue that examines the interior life of a gay man, but this issue really goes above and beyond in that regard.
Tynion doesn’t simply regurgitate the traditional narrative we’ve heard a hundred times but actually gifts Benjamin with the agency and individuality we give straight characters. In fact, I’d say that, while it would be ridiculous to say that this isn’t a fundamentally queer story, the greater issue is the repression Ben suffers that’s completely unrelated to his sexuality.
Tynion writes a compelling narrative of feeling unvoiced, spoken for, and forced into a role. There exists the possibility that there are those who won’t naturally connect to Ben’s feelings of isolation and shyness, but even if it’s not 100% true to call his experience universal, the story may be better for that. Benjamin walks a careful line between being himself and transcending himself and that’s both rare and important to see.
Likewise, Mr. Stone feels more complex than the unsympathetic father of the traditional coming out narrative. It humanizes the story to see him happily speaking of his pride in his daughter and her partner, planning their wedding and offering support, but still unable to fully disconnect from his upbringing. Unfortunately, the opening scene can’t escape the problems that stories often have with one-sided phone conversations.
While the climax is an incredible heartbreaker, the issue does have one major flaw that detracts from the force of its story. While Benjamin’s struggles match and perhaps exceed his classmates’ in scale, it’s not quite as complex as some of the others that we’ve seen. As a result, the plot can sometimes feel pointedly slow, lacking some of the energy that we saw in, say, Calder’s spotlight. Tynion lays out the whole of the conflict in the first pages, but there’s only so much digging to be done afterwards and here and there it feels like we’re treading water until the climax comes.
Thankfully we also have some solid progression on the present day plot as well. Tynion and Dialynas channel a certain last stand epic quality into Ben and Isaac’s scenes. The result is a small moment of victory that feels more long lasting than Karen or Calder’s.
Speaking of Karen and Calder, they’re witness to some of the issue’s biggest plot developments as we finally start to get an idea of what Adrian is chasing and how directly he’s being led to it. While it’s a fairly small percentage of the issue, the ramifications are big enough that it avoids the problems that issue #5 had with scope.
Michael Dialynas delivers again on the art, turning in his characteristically nuanced work. I will say that the line work looks a little rougher than usual in some places and that experiments with how he draws eyes are hit and miss, but there’s really such impressive attention paid to how the artwork reads that it largely balances out.
Dialynas has proven that he’s capable of creating significant effects through the use of very small lines, but here his sparing use of lines leaves the artwork looking attractively flat and allows shading and color to really tell the story. As a result, when he does give us increased detail, it feels especially meaningful.
I also mentioned that the eyes in this issue were a little beady in places. While this didn’t work all the time, I found it very effective in telling Ben’s story. Particularly from a distance, this technique effectively conveys Ben’s hesitance. It’s not easy to express the feeling of social awkwardness, especially to those who haven’t really experienced it, but I think most readers will understand what our stoic protagonist is going through.
Finally, it’s also worth noticing that Dialynas and Josan Gonzalez finally have an opportunity to cut loose a bit with the alien aesthetic they’ve designed and it looks great. The fauna looks incredible, as always, and you can really feel the movements Dialynas is striving for, but now there’s also the alien tech we’ve seen in brief glimpses. It’s a nice addition to the series’ look and it really works. The cautious use of the trademark alien green over the course of the series bears sweet fruit this month.
The Woods #7 is a little rough around the edges but, at its heart, it’s pure gold. James Tynion continues to prove himself one of the strongest writers of teenaged characters in comics, while Michael Dialynas reminds us how versatile and powerful his art can be. The entire creative team demonstrates an incredible ability to communicate concepts quickly and effectively.It would have been nice if we had gotten a little more depth in Benjamin’s flashbacks, but some big reveals, heartrending moments, and a climax that’ll leave you pumping your fist make this a worthy successor to the two strong spotlights, Tynion and Dialynas have already put out. You should be reading this series.