The Woods’ current strategy of splitting the action between the present day and the night of the school play has yielded some pretty great stories. Last month’s installment ended with Benjamin Stone finally admitting his feelings for Isaac. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that this issue opens with Isaac admitting his feelings for Adrian.

While the cover clearly declares this to be Isaac’s story, it’s strange just how much of the spotlight belongs to Adrian. When Isaac exits the opening scene, we stay with Adrian and hear his feelings. When we learn about who a character really is, it’s Adrian. Isaac is kind of just along for the ride. But then again, that’s precisely the point. Learning about Adrian reveals just what kind of person Isaac has to be to stand by him and to harbor a crush on him.

And while Adrian’s development is the most important element of this story, that subtle understanding of who Isaac is is really one of the most interesting elements of this story.  We establish that Isaac is really the only friend Adrian has ever had, and yet he’s the one desperate to hold on to the relationship, not Adrian. While there are likely other reasons that the friendship persists, Isaac’s affection seems to come primarily from the fact that Adrian, even begrudgingly, accepts him. That’s all it takes, and the tragedy of it is an effective twist for the story that eerily, if not subtly, mirrors an abusive marriage.

Meanwhile, the present day scenes are some of the most exciting in weeks, as the story takes a major turn. It’s been enjoyable seeing The Woods as a survival tale, but it’s been obvious for some time that that was merely a way to bide time until we knew these characters well enough to move forward. It’s undeniably fun to begin that process.

Particularly in the aftermath, Tynion does a great job of writing these characters as real people, especially as young people. The contrast between them and the hunters is interesting and the strange band of English adventurers are softening into relatable characters.

Unfortunately, if there’s one misstep it’s Tynion’s handling of Adrian. Adrian’s been something of a one-note character since the series started, obsessed with solving the riddle of the Arrow and making contact with its mysterious creators. This issue presented a unique opportunity to get the context for his fall from grace and it’s been something I’ve been looking forward to for months. I don’t know if I’m the only on in that boat, but, needless to say, it doesn’t deliver. Adrian is a lot less maybe on the spectrum socially awkward and a lot more sociopath. Writing another teen sociopath in a world full of media depicting them comes with an inherent mandate to do it well enough to stand out. As of yet I’m unconvinced. And, of course, it seems that Adrian may not be the only one!

The basic considerations for artwork, as I see it, are storytelling skill, clarity, lack of narm, and realism, at least relative to the intent of the artist. These are the more ‘objective’ qualities I tend to look for in reviewing artwork, but once that bar is passed, I place particular value on books that possesses a unique visual identity without interfering with the other points. Michael Dialynas certainly brings that to the title.

While it’s hardly abstract, the artwork in The Woods has a different textural quality than most comics. It’s sketchier, and not at all in a bad way. Combined with bold background colors and very careful attention to lighting from Josan Gonzalez, The Woods has a distinct look that really works for it.

Overall, it’s actually only middle-of-the-road work from Dialynas, with some panels lacking the naturalism that makes his less realistic style work. Nonetheless, it’s hard to think lowly of the issue when the close-ups are so strong. The crucial moments, particularly those where the audience is forced to lock gazes with the characters, are lovely and powerful. One small panel of Adrian watching the party and the hunters squaring off, blood staining his face, is surprisingly eerie.

The other thing that Dialynas has always been good at is representing the alien life of The Woods. With the introduction of what may be the top of the planet’s food chain, Dialynas does some more fantastic work with the planet’s fauna. Though I’m actually not a huge fan of the multi winged design, it’s hard to deny that Dialynas brings life to the three monstrous creatures, particularly in later pages.

Grade

B

Conclusion

It’s been fascinating to get to know each of the characters before they were thrown into the unknown, but combining that formula with the big, present day events we’ve all been waiting for yields a great issue. Michael Dialynas’ art, while somewhat uneven, looks fantastic and the story and characterization shoot straight for the heart without insisting on sappiness. Adrian remains a bit too cerebral, as does the series as a whole, but Tynion and Dialynas bring a consistent dose of quality to the shelves every month, with this one being one of the best.