In The Woods #2, James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas begin to establish the structure of their ongoing comic about a high school mysteriously transported to a dangerous, alien planet. It appears that the narrative will be split between two parallel narratives. One will follow the majority of the school as they attempt to create a new social structure and survive, while the other tracks a small group of students who chose to explore the woods rather than wait with the rest. I am finding the latter of these narratives to be very enjoyable so far.
Let’s start by taking a look at the former, though. The primary conflict facing the majority of the student body and faculty is one of control. With about 500 people facing an extreme scenario, leadership and coordination are serious concerns. The faculty are presented as being mostly helpless as they debate their best options in a closed meeting. Maria, the president of the student council, seems highly competent on the other hand. She manages to define the largest immediate problems facing the school, identify potential solutions, and console a panicked teacher within moments of entering the aforementioned closed meeting.
The problem with this is that no high school student has ever been as competent and capable as Maria is presented in this scene. She appears more like the way some young people imagine themselves to be than how they actually exist as individuals. Her depiction borders close to being that of a “Mary Sue” and jerked me out of the story.
It is clear what Tynion and Dialynas would like to set up: a scenario in which the stubborn adults do a worse job than the children they should be protecting. That is an interesting concept, one filled with promise. The authority of adults is founded upon an illusion now that students outnumber them almost ten-to-one. How young people would confront those they often perceive as oppressors in this type of scenario could make for a very engaging story. The problem is that the set up so far has been overly obvious. Coach Clay is presented as the clear villain of the piece. Dialynas leaves no room for interpretation with an evil sneer in one panel. The depictions of each faculty member informs exactly who they are, which creates a visual shorthand, but also undercuts the story’s ability to surprise its readers (so far at least).
The story of six students exploring their new surroundings is working wonderfully, though. The formula is classic without being a cliche; a group of very different high school students are forced to work together in order to overcome a shared obstacle. In this instance, the obstacle just so happens to be a world filled with gruesome predators. The reason this sort of scenario is classic is that it is filled with opportunities for drama. A diverse cast of characters with very different beliefs and experiences mean that each relationship could create new conflicts or connections. Some of these relationships are beginning to take shape in The Woods #2, while others have yet to be explored. All of the interactions amongst this group reveal something about the characters involved though and it is clear that Tynion IV has an understanding of who these children are.
The best part of this narrative though may be Dialynas’ art, specifically its ability to establish mood and create visual cues. In all of the sequences that take place in the woods, light plays a significant role in most panels. Dialynas keeps track of where each source of light is in relation to how characters are staged, so that readers remain aware that there is only a limited amount of light from a singular source. The message is that light is a resource and an important one in an overwhelmingly dark world. The woods are a very scary place to be and it will be a struggle for these six characters to illuminate their path. Colorist Josan Gonzalez plays a significant role with this, shading hues of orange and yellow to provide the appearance that light quickly dwindles. He also colors the forest valley beneath a setting sun in beautiful shades of purple that also hint at the darkness and danger to come.
Dialynas’s visual design is worth noting as well. Although the woods appear to be scary, their alienness is difficult to establish as forests are not exactly a rare thing on Earth. The foreign nature of these woods must be founded on something besides the flora, so Dialynas makes great use of the fauna. All of the creatures which appear in The Woods #2 are frightening to various degrees. Although they bear some resemblance to animals like mosquitoes, rabbits, and bears, none of the creatures look natural. Large, glazed eyes, strange colored fur, and three-part jaws all establish them as being something otherworldly… and dangerous. Even the “cute” sidekick that the students find raiding their food features disturbing traits and is not beyond snapping at one student with its trisected maw.
Half of The Woods #2 is a very well told story, while the other half has ample room to improve. The comic as a whole is one filled with promise. Dialynas has shown great skill in evoking mood and Tynion’s characters are a diverse lot capable of playing off one another in many interesting ways. I believe it is worth sticking around to see how this team delivers on that potential.