There are crushes and there are crushes, you know? There are the people whose butts you stare at in class and think are cute, and then there are the people you’d throw yourself in front of a bus for. The crushes in The Woods that we’ve dealt with heavily have been the latter, and this issue takes it to new heights, with Isaac quite literally held at knife-point in an effort to protect Adrian. Isaac and Adrian’s relationship is more than a crush, though- they’re also seemingly each other’s only friend, an anchor in their chaotic teenage lives, and if they hadn’t known each other, Isaac would never be in these woods (and neither would Ben, probably, now that I think about it). That’s what makes the conclusion of this issue incredibly depressing, as we find the lengths Isaac will go to for someone he loves aren’t reciprocated in the least.
This book has never portrayed Adrian quite positively; he was already lashing out at Isaac within the first issue, and left Isaac to die as early as the third. Despite Isaac’s presence on the cover, this issue is really about him, and while it gives us a slightly better understanding of him, it provides a remarkable misdirect. Previous issues in this arc have explained the personality traits of the characters within and put a positive spin to otherwise grating or negative traits; for example, Calder acts out and streaks around school because his older brother pressures him too, and Sanami is pushy and easily set off in certain situations because she comes from an incredibly negative home environment. This issue provides a very clever misdirect on that front, opening up with the revelation that Isaac confessed to Adrian that he had a crush on him a full year ago, and implying that after Adrian’s mother told him he handled the situation wrong, he apologized to Isaac with a note saying Isaac was “the best and only friend [he’s] ever had”, repairing much of their relationship.
All of that is a lie. It’s Adrian’s mother who wrote the note, and even she isn’t doing it for reasons one would consider morally positive. Maybe part of her motivation is because she wants her son to have a friend, but that’s not what she tells Adrian- rather, she calls it an issue of control. She knows Adrian is motivated and ambitious, and she says he should keep Isaac in his life not because it’s nice, but because if Adrian makes Isaac think he needs him, then Isaac literally will need him. It’s horribly cold and manipulative, especially when it’s inflicted on someone like Isaac, who is not only in love with Adrian but also otherwise friendless and in need of support in regards to his various mental issues. This explains Adrian’s actions since the book has started: he sees the power given to him by the aliens who control the moon as a much better opportunity to gain control of his life than just having control over little Isaac. This opportunity for power so moves Adrian that he’s not moved by the pain of having his eyes bleed out, or by Karen and Calder’s concern for him, or being nearly murdered, or seeing his “best friend” about to give up his life for him- none of that matters anymore, now that he’s been offered something better. It’s easy to see how this can set up Adrian for a fall. He’s crazed right now, something Michael Dialynas displays in his art incredibly well, and one wonders if the aliens need him as much as he needs them. It’s well within the realm of possibility that they could just give this power to another person if Adrian isn’t up to their standards, and I suspect something along those lines will destroy him down the line.
But on an optimistic note, if this issue tells us how truly terrible Adrian is, it also is a very good example of how good everyone else is. Karen desperately tries to stop Adrian and worries he’s in pain; Calder punches Nigel when he thinks Adrian is about to get murdered; Ben is remarkably understanding when Isaac admits he’s still fixated on Adrian; and while Sanami was going to let Adrian be killed, she had a pretty good reasoning behind it. They’re all sweet kids at heart, each talented in their own ways, and they’re going to need those skills to survive this book. This issue is also a surprisingly good showcase of Cassius, Nigel and Gideon as well, who have become remarkably likable despite their still mysterious goals and origins. They did try to kill a teenage boy, but they’re also pretty sympathetic and understanding towards the rest of the kids. Nigel is still mourning his ostrich alien friend that the space apes tore apart a few issues ago. Cassius attempts to protect the kids when Adrian first summons the dragons, and can’t get over how young they are by the end. Gideon takes a moment to say he wants the kids to have a moment of rest at the end of the issue. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that few people in this comic are bad people (with the exceptions being Adrian and probably Coach Clay), but they’re all in situation where tough choices have to be made, among them killing a child.
The only problem with Cassius and his men right now is that they’re liable to send a message back to their hometown, which happens to have recently welcomed in some guy named Coach Clay, who claims these children that have come to this planet are incredibly dangerous. This entire arc has skipped out on showing us what’s been happening at the actual high school in favor of flashbacks, and not only does Clay’s appearance remind us of that storyline, but it also forebodes the future. Normally I’d trust Cassius’s group to explain Adrian is the only real threat of the kids they’re with, but as Nigel says, it’s possible these aliens that have Adrian under their sway could recruit more scared children in that school- and there’s hundreds of them, all longing for direction. Hopefully whoever’s in control over there (Maria, presumably, or the faculty) is helping out enough to salve some fears, but if not, we may have a lot more eye bleeding to deal with soon.
- Tl;dr, this is the entire issue in two panels.
- “It’s my hugging noise. For hugs.” Isaac is a lovely boy who should be protected, something this series is not allowing him, unfortunately. Doctor Robot comforting him was adorable, though.
- I mentioned this a lot in my review of the last issue, but Michael Dialynas is amazing at conveying grief and pain, which is a large part of why Isaac’s constant distress is still affecting after continuing this long. Even on the very first page of the issue, there’s a panel of Isaac looking so completely crushed that it’s heartbreaking even without the full context the next few pages will give us.
- So the abilities the aliens are giving Adrian also include 1. being able to contact and control the dragons owned by Cassius’s people and 2. seeing the entire world sort of like a computer screen with descriptions on everything (he says he can see “everything”, specifically). Is it possible that the aliens are not just controlling his brain but changing him? Like, is Adrian going to stop being completely human and turn into a weird floaty wispy thing like them?
- Calder walking in on the Sanami/Karen hug was adorable. I really liked Karen telling Ben to give Isaac space, also.
- First Doctor Robot, then the tiger Calder tamed, plus Nigel’s unfortunately deceased ostrich-thing, and now Adrian’s new dragon. The Woods is just a book about people adopting aliens as pets.
- I like the new guy’s sideburns.