|THE WOODS #15||BOOM! STUDIOS|
|ARTIST: MICHAEL DIALYNAS||WRITER: JAMES TYNION IV|
|COLORIST: JOSAN GONZALEZ||LETTERER: ED DUKESHIRE|
There was a point, reading The Woods #15, where I wondered if I was watching a very good episode of, say, Teen Wolf or One Tree Hill. It’s during the scene where, in the space of five pages, we have Calder telling everyone they’ve got to go back to the titular woods, Sanami giving an exposition dump, Ben and Isaac breaking up, and the group rapidly forming a plan. It was an odd feeling, but it wasn’t inherently negative, as The Woods’ writing was for the most part as good as ever- rather, it seemed like the result of the book’s new status quo. For most of the cast, Karen’s kidnapping by the Children of the Sun is the first major event relating to their alien overlords after a full year; before this, their main priorities were relationship troubles and student elections. Teenagers are known to get emotional over their problems, but when those problems involve cosmic horrors, it’s a whole new kind of trouble.
That said, The Woods’ greatest strength has always been James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas’ commitment to their characters, and that’s why all that drama doesn’t fall flat. Over the past few issues, the questions of “Where’s Calder?” and “What’s Isaac up to?” have been given just as much prominence as questions about what the new threat on the horizon is. The follow-up to all of those questions then has equal impact- meaning that giving only a brief period of time to the reveal of the Children of the Sun doesn’t seem strange at all. It also gives room to truly showcase how our cast has changed over the past in-story year, starting with Ben Stone. Having started out the story quiet and shy, Ben has managed to blossom on this alien moon, to the point where Dominic wants to give him rule of Bay Point’s builders and a place on the school senate. He’s reluctant to the idea, but Dominic’s insistence he’s perfect for the role is right. When even Sanami can’t put history aside to get to Karen, it’s Ben who stops everyone from fighting (with previously unseen severity) and puts things into action. Ben’s previous moments of bravery have been mostly instigated by his love of Isaac, but now he’s moved beyond that onto worrying about the group he’s a part of as a whole. His ability to look past the events of the last year and move things forward is desperately needed now, and it’s rewarding to see him use that trait in such a productive and plot-important way.
And then there’s Calder, who’s finally returned from his extended absence. Calder spent a lot of Year One as comedic relief, or at least someone with a bit more of a sense of humor than the rest of the cast, which means seeing him completely screwed up after a year of alien drug use and familial abuse is genuinely depressing. Michael Dialynas has always excelled at character work, and that’s needed to showcase just how much of a wreck Calder is. Starting with the surreal page pictured above, Dialynas and colorist Josan Gonzalez guide us through Calder’s drug-affected version of the already strange woods, including a double-page spread with him walking through panels and leaning onto them for support. Those panels are his own flashbacks, which Gonzalez colors in a dull bluish tone rather than the bright neons and pastels of the rest of the page. It’s not only a great way to show that those panels take place in a different time period, but a great way to show how gazer root disconnects Calder from everything around him. Even in the scenes afterward, when the effects of the root have run out, Dialynas still portrays Calder as a rather frumpy, stressed, dirty mess- everyone in The Woods may look a little more rugged now, but the extra work needed to make Calder stick out is well worth it.
We’ve spent the first three issues of The Woods’ second year primarily catching up with the cast, but as Karen’s brief appearance in this issue shows, we’re now diving back into the main plot. The introduction of the Children of the Sun- apparently descendants of a group of naval soldiers from imperialist Japan who’ve made their ship into a land vehicle- is a huge twist, especially when our previous exposure to the group implied they were aliens rather than humans. And that’s not even touching upon the last page, which reveals something both huge and unexpected: that Adrian still exists in some form, and Isaac’s been communicating with him. But is it really Adrian? And does he have anything do with the Children of the Sun? They’re important questions- but The Woods is playing a long game, and I suspect we’ll have to wait to find out the answers.
- It occurs to me reading the first scene in this issue that we still don’t know how, exactly, Casey made Calder keep working with him as alluded to in #12- although to be fair, Casey’s long history of abusing him is more than enough.
- Sanami has never really had internal conflicts like the rest of the cast, so it’s interesting to hear that she wants to quit her Vice President position and be a hunter, but doesn’t have the heart to tell poor overworked Maria. It’s a jolt her character needs, and the scene gives her relationship with Kayla good screen time.
- Trans Sander confirmed! Yesssss! It’s been really nice to see Sander fleshed out over the last few issues, after he spent his introduction last arc mostly being an exposition-giver and a crush for Karen; he’s really nice to have around, especially as someone both emotionally stable and on good terms with nearly the entire cast and willing to interact with any and all of them. I do hope it stays that way.
- I really love those ankylosaurus-esque creatures the Children of the Sun are employing. And what do you all think of the big-toothed person? Are they actively malicious, or just weird? They did initially greet Karen rather…nicely.
- The scene where Calder gathers everyone back at the Stage Crew room in #1 for a “We have to go back!” is absolutely delightful as a callback, starting with the clever use of Isaac’s old panda keys.
- I really should have guessed that Calder had been a hunter with Karen sooner; he’s referenced to have hunting experience way back in #1, and it contextualizes Karen’s “I work alone” attitude.
- With the reveal of this new ghost-like Adrian, I’d like to remind you all that Karen said that she had dreams of Adrian talking to her back in #13. Relevant?
- I’d like to start a recurring feature of these notes called Doctor Robot Watch, where I catalouge what adorable things Doctor Robot is doing every issue. This month, he’s pretty much entirely in Isaac’s arms, cradled adorably. He even gets to help make bug slop for dinner! He’s so talented!