Like a lawn sprinkler in summer, The Woods’ first year started with a bit of a shock and hit a slow but steady pace before ratcheting up the excitement for the final half. It seems that James Tynion IV is employing the same basic strategy on Year Two, though perhaps on an accelerated timetable.

Having laid out the basic struggles of the Baypoint colony over the last two issues, Tynion delivers an issue packed with big moments. Casey MacReady’s operation comes into clearer focus as we get a first glimpse of the long hinted “Horde”. Particularly near the end of the issue there’s a real feeling of a return to glory for the cast, getting back to what made them work in the first year, however dysfunctionally. The fact that this moment comes so early, rather than at the end of a second or third act, hints that Tynion intends to show that rallying isn’t enough on its own and that this year’s story will really examine the cracks they’re trying to paper over this month. If that’s to be the case, consider me psyched. Tynion has proven a strong grasp of traditional structure, notably on DC titles like Red Hood and the Outlaws and Talon, but it definitely feels like The Woods’ place to dig a little deeper.

One thing that’s great about this issue is that it reveals so much and yet it has an additive effect on the book, increasing the possibilities as much as it nails them down. Admittedly the reveal of the Horde closes off certain hypothetical directions for the book, but, as I think I’ll talk about after the review, it opens up new and really interesting avenues while providing a new perspective on one of the first year’s more interesting themes.

We also get a lot of advancement in the characters personal lives. Ben and Isaac are front and center but we also get time with Calder, Sanami, Sander, and more. In fact, Sander, Dominic, and Kayla probably gain the most from this installment.

Even more than usual, Tynion proves adept at tapping the severity of teenage relationships without dwelling on the drama of it all. The characters’ decisions have weight and momentum that keeps them from feeling unnatural or sensationalistic. It’s also delightfully varied. There are close platonic bonds and lapsed uneven friendships and romantic pairings and biting resentments and weird sci-fi connections. It seems like every character has, or at least can have, an opinion about every other character. On one hand that’s good writing, but on the other, that’s just high school.

The real strength of the issue is how balanced these two focuses are. The teen drama elements flow seamlessly into the speculative fiction concepts and rumbling plot developments and neither one overwhelms the other. It feels very much like the ‘core’ of The Woods is on display this month.

The one downside of this issue is that some of the dialogue doesn’t feel like Tynion’s best. I don’t know that any of it is bad, but there are definitely moments that could have been capitalized upon that instead feel a little bit ‘by numbers’. Sanami’s face-off with Calder, for instance, is biting, but lacks the personal touch that could have elevated it. Likewise, Casey and his unnamed…let’s go with ‘business partner’ fail to really make something of their panel time, even if the later’s design is really cool.

That, of course, leads us to Michael Dialynas, who continues to do lovely and impressively malleable work on this series. I might be setting the bar too low, but, before we talk about the specifics of this issue, it seems worth mentioning how nice it is to see Dialynas’ work every month, on time. Though indie books tend to be better about it, fill-in artists are an increasingly common part of comics and those series that decline them are often plagued by delays. While its importance will fade as time goes by, the fact that Dialynas has the commitment and the skills to keep a monthly visual identity on this book is much welcomed.

Dialynas doesn’t get to show off quite the way he has in months past, but there are a couple of gorgeous Gazer Root panels alongside his regular linework. In an issue that depends on your investment in a series of conversations, Dialynas proves invaluable in denying the series a set of simple talking heads. Emotions are clear in composition and expression.

One of the best looking sequences is actually Karen’s scene. From the detail in her face to the perspective Dialynas employs on her jailer to the eeriness of it’s(?) lips, it looks really good from top to bottom and provides some variety to the story.

A (Long, Spoilery) Thought:

  • Though posing them as the larger villains seems hopelessly easy, I have to say that Tynion’s choice to introduce the Children of the Sun is fascinating. Unless I misinterpret, it seems as though this new faction is effectively a temporal snapshot of Imperial Japan and that opens some really interesting doors. Japanese history is especially interesting for the way that the fiercely nationalistic culture has adapted to change, trading isolationist tradition for western ‘modernity’ with stunning ease and transitioning, as a country at least, from imperial expansion to relative pacifism with surprising grace. Make no mistake, as much as exoticizing played a role in making the legend of Imperial Japan, it was a harsh period for the nation and the brutality that they exercised in the name of their homeland is worthy of legend. To pluck those soldiers, at the height of their expansionism and cruelty, just before the pendulum swung the other way, and place them in a brave new land, opens some really interesting doors that could probably make for an engrossing series all on its own. I’m probably overthinking this but it feels like very fertile ground.

Grade

B+

Conclusion

Excellently balanced between character drama and big sci-fi adventure, The Woods #15 is a particularly engrossing installment of a series that fills a rare and important niche in the comics ecosystem. Tynion’s character relationships are truly something special and, though his dialogue has been better, the world he’s created possesses a pleasing weight. The series has secrets, not just reveals and, in this issue particularly, I felt a twinge of the original Runaways dynamic, which I hope you take as the high praise it is. Michael Dialynas continues to be an unsung hero of comics and the series shows no signs of slowing down, in fact quite the opposite. While the next issue may need some action to balance this one out, in the moment, The Woods #15 stands up with the series’ best.