It’s Easy — And Fun — To Get Lost In “The Woods”

Posted: July 6, 2014 in comics
Tags: , , ,

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It seems like most comic book geeks/nerds/whatever that I know of absolutely fucking hated high school. It’s certainly understandable — the constant popularity contests, peer pressure, incompetent teachers and administrators, and study of subjects that would prove to have no bearing whatsoever on real life are more than worthy of all the disdain one can possibly muster. The biggest drag, though, is that there’s no bigger crime at the average American high school than being different, and most kids who are into comics are just that.

I didn’t actively despise my high school years nearly as much as a lot of folks — I wasn’t “Mr. Popularity” or anything, but I seemed to find a way of fitting in just fine without having to be some total conformist asshole. I read comics, watched Doctor Who, and not only did everybody know it, no one really seemed to give a shit. I wasn’t “picked on,” bullied, or made fun of — at least not to my face — and generally went to the same keg parties and other social gatherings that all the admittedly “cooler” kids did. Here’s a tip for any high school nerds struggling to fit in who may be reading this : shower daily and wash your hair and take care of yourself. You’ll find no one really cares too much how “weird” your interests and ideas are if they can stand to be in the same general vicinity as you.

All that being said — I can’t claim to particularly miss those times, either. I don’t feel some warm glow of nostalgia when I look back at them. I didn’t suffer the humiliation and indignities that many other “outsiders” do, but even so — I’m glad that chapter of my life is over and done with. At my last class reunion, I cut out after about an hour — it was perfectly fine seeing all those people again, but watching them get drunk and reminisce about the “best days of their lives” isn’t something I’m terribly interested in. I wish ’em well, but if I want to keep up with any of my former classmates — apart from the small number I remain close friends with to this day — I’ll follow them on facebook. That’s good enough for me.

Besides, if I want to remember what high school really felt like, all I have to do is pick up the latest issue (there are three so far), of writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas’ ongoing series from Boom! Studios, The Woods. Granted, the situation presented in the book is an extreme one — the students, faculty, and entire building of Bay Point Preparatory Academy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin are transported to another planet for reasons unknown — but damn if these kids, one-dimensional caricatures though many of them may be (as is common with both many actual high schoolers and stories such as this one with large ensemble casts) don’t read like the real thing, and behave precisely in the manner you’d expect them to if plunged into the deepest of deep ends. Right now, the asshole football coach is busy turning all the jocks into a makeshift vigilante disciplinary force, for instance. Sound about right to you?

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I’m not too familiar with Tynion’s work apart from his functioning as Scott Snyder’s unofficial understudy/fill-in writer of choice on DC’s Batman and Batman Eternal, but he’s crafting a very intriguing little suitable-for-all-ages adventure here that captures the tone and tenor of his characters in as authentic a way as is possible, and while I admit to being more or less completely unfamiliar with Dialynas outside of his work on this book,  he’s really impressing me with his non-flashy, but energetic and well-realized, visions of both the mundane realities of “life” in a school building and the completely unknown (and perhaps unknowable) alien forest (hence the series’ title — what? You thought maybe it was a comic spin-off of Lucky McKee’s film of the same name?) outside of it that one small, brave (or perhaps foolhardy) group of kids have set off into on a search for some answers to their current predicament — because, let’s face it, after awhile even life at home with your parents beats being stuck with your classmates and teachers all the time. Suffice to say that I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for future works from either/both of them, though, because The Woods shows both of them to be in possession of well-above-average sequential storytelling skills.

There’s a certain innocence and charming (but quite intentional, it seems to me) naivete to both of these creators’ outlook on their subject matter, but as the story goes on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that much of that will, sadly, have to be sacrificed if everybody — or at least as many people as possible — are going to survive. I suspect that we’re headed for a semi-traditional morality play on the tragedies of youth gradually slipping away, but who cares if it’s been done a thousand times before? As long as it’s handled this deftly and presented in a context this new and fresh, I’m cool with the underlying themes not breaking a tremendous amount of new ground. At the end of the day, most literature professors will tell you that there are only, what? Seven different types of stories or something anyway? Just write yours well and draw it well — both of which are happening page after highly-turnable page in The Woods — and this armchair critic will happily remain on board for the duration of the ride.

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The other thing that Tynion and Dialynas are to be commended for is making certain that each issue they produce is better than the last. Granted, we’re only on number three, and there are bound to be some hiccups along the way, but so far the art, which started out plenty strong to begin with, keeps on getting better and better,  and the story’s stakes are gradually, methodically getting higher while at the same time the personality of each character comes more sharply into focus. That’s the essence of consummate professional comics storytelling in a nutshell, my friends, and it’s a commodity in far too short supply these days. These guys are handling their respective duties in a way that all young creators should strive to emulate.

I’ve read some reviews out there that say this book is giving them a bit of a Lost-type vibe, and while there do appear to be some parallels, I have plenty of faith that our writer and artist here — faith that’s entirely earned based on the quality of their work thus far — will, by the time this is over (which I hope isn’t too terribly soon), have given us something that actually, ya know, makes sense. Even if the handful of kids out trudging through the wilderness are about to wander into an alien pyramid. Heck, maybe The Woods will end up being the kind of story that Lost could (and should) have been — but it’s more likely that it’ll just be its own unique take on subjects that remain fairly timeless. So what are you waiting for? It’s not too late to get in on this highly addictive series before the bell rings and we’re all told to siddown and stay in our seats.

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