Your priorities in a survival situation, James Tynion argues at the start of this issue, are very different from your priorities a year into a tenuous peace. He’s talking about his characters, but he might as well be discussing the series itself. Already The Woods: Year Two is shaping up to be a very different book than its first twelve issues.
This issue in particular spends a majority of its time examining the growing Gazer Root addiction, briefly mentioned last issue, sweeping through Bay Point and setting the stakes for the upcoming elections. Unsurprisingly, Casey MacReady is at the center of both issues. Casey, revealed to have been mysteriously and sinisterly on campus when Bay Point was whisked away late last year, has come a long way from playing Calder’s personal demon back in issue #6, and he was thoroughly awful there. Still, as this issue shows us, Casey’s schemes may go quite a bit deeper than the petty crimes we’ve seen him commit before. The elder MacReady steps comfortably into the modern antagonist slot left empty by Couch Clay, elevating the position in doing so.
I will say that I don’t know how Tynion expects us to believe that anyone trusts Casey, he’s so thoroughly slimy that he can’t have much support without Bay Point’s student body being rather simple. Even so, Tynion’s confidence in writing Casey points to a more thoughtful explanation. Though most of MacReady’s tricks are fairly obvious, he does raise some interesting points. Is it possible that not a single student has successfully attempted suicide in these excessive situations. One has to wonder if Casey’s strategy is not to make himself seem trustworthy, but to prove that no one here is. Giving him a sidekick to play off of, in the form of Carlie, works wonders. Not only does she allow Casey access to a huge range of legitimacy gaining ploys, but she gives Tynion a Watson for Casey to talk to and it is in this role that she sets up Casey’s best little monologue, which seemingly sets out the key struggle of this ‘season’. If it is count me in, as it’s a classic and interesting theme that suits the cast very nicely.
I’ve spoken a lot about Casey MacReady so far, but I think it’s rather well justified, as almost half the issue follows his attempts to sway the universe’s most intense student council election. The rest of the issue checks in on Ben and Isaac and gives us a little more time with Karen. But while these are both interesting plotlines, the later even matching Casey for pages, we don’t learn enough about the mysteries Tynion has scattered throughout his world to feel like we’re moving forward the same way that Casey’s pages do. It also hurts a bit that many of these discussions feel like glances at the same subjects as last issue, just from a minutely different angle. This issue obviously was a bit of an indulgence on Tynion’s part, permitted by a great cliffhanger that had to be twenty pages from the one before it. Still, particularly with last issue being largely an overview of new plot points, it feels like Year Two’s fascinating complexities come at a price of being a little slow to take off.
While I don’t think he’s by any means being ignored, every couple of issues I can’t help but wonder why more people aren’t talking about Michael Dialynas. Dialynas has a unique, yet never distracting, style, but, perhaps more important, he seems to have absolute confidence in it. While he obviously plays elements up or down depending on the needs of the scene, Dialynas always seems more than capable of rising to whatever task Tynion asks of him and, man, can he draw the drama out of a panel. The penultimate page contains a fairly simple panel that, nevertheless, is absolutely gut-wrenching in its visceral emotion.
Of course the most obvious addition to the book is the visual representation of the gazer root. If I understand correctly, these panels are actually the work of Michael Dialynas, who draws the lines in color. ‘Gazer Casey’ is even creepier than the regular version and Barry’s soft, pastel memories of Rachel really sell the psychotropic effects of the drug, particularly as Casey guides those memories out of the realm of what happened and into the subtly creepy. Particularly after the second hit, as the compositions get denser, it all gets pretty gorgeous.
- I love that Tynion only gives us Barry’s perspective on his relationship with Rachel. Cliché as it might have been, the moment when you realize what’s actually gone on is pretty great and allows you a taste of the confusing, untrustworthy world that is high school.
Honestly, this feels like an issue that will feel stronger in the context of subsequent issues. It’s not a bad installment by any means, but the plot advances only behind the scenes and a bit too much is dedicated to Casey MacReady’s speeches to get the blood pumping. Still, the climax is great and the art and characterization are just as strong as you’d imagine. Michael Dialynas gets a chance to shine a little more brightly than he already does each month with some serious dramatic heft and beautiful psychedelic effects. This new ‘season’ of The Woods has different priorities, and interesting priorities, and this issue is dedicated to serving them. It doesn’t enthrall the way the last few issues have, but the core of quality running through the title remains.