Both writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas follow excellent storytelling practice as “The Woods” #2 begins, bringing readers up to speed and hooking them on the very first page. In fact, they actually grab them in the very first panel, with Dialynas’ alien forest backdrop (nicely enhanced by colorist Josan Gonzalez’ odd hues) and Tynion’s concise, single-sentence summary. Whether readers picked up last issue or not, all creators involved get them suited up and ready to roll with nary a wasted word or panel.
Tynion’s story is a sort of “The Breakfast Club” meets “The Mist,” where a prep school full of students and faculty is suddenly and mysteriously transported to what appears to an alien landscape, full of strange vegetation and even stranger creatures. The school is comprised of teenagers who seem to know a lot more than the adults who are supposed to be in charge — or at least, think they do. It’s the kids who are taking definitive, if misguided and reckless, action while the grown-ups pretty much do what most teenagers think adults always do anyway — sit around and talk a lot while really not knowing much about anything.
Though all of this sounds like the stuff from a story in Junior Scholastic magazine, this is most definitely not a tale aimed solely at teens, although its nature makes it accessible to both teens and adults. While last issue introduced the main characters and set up the story’s premise, the second chapter expands on the cast’s personalities, and that’s where the story weakens a bit. The unsettling environment remains pervasive, but the number of actual fearful moments is few, keeping the story subdued and low-key, while the characters emerge more often than not as flat and one-dimensional.
The school’s principal is the clueless and self-appointed leader whose insulting and dismissive demeanor would make him the odds-on favorite of being the next victim, if this were a John Carpenter horror flick. Maria is the know-it-all student council leader who all-too-handily has pegged all the immediate concerns regarding food and sanitation problems, oddly before any of the school’s faculty has done the same. And Samani is the conveniently-placed survivalist who has the skills and attitude to manage such an environment. There are some common story devices used as well, including a character with a hidden injury who becomes a liability, for example.
But ss cliched as some of the characters and situations might be, Tynion manages to hold reader interest through the tension he maintains, even if his story has yet to fully capitalize on it. After immediately baiting the reader on page one, Tynion keeps you hungry but doesn’t let you starve; the atmosphere and surprises that he sprinkles along the way are plenty to keep readers engaged right up to the issue’s cliffhanger, and more than enough to get them to come back willingly for issue #3.
Dialynas duly renders both the environment within the school as well as without. Inside, it’s the standard, mundane look that’s befitting of any school gymnasium or faculty conference room that one has seen or could imagine. Outside, Dialynas evokes the chills that come from spending time in a dark and unknown forest, only here it’s punctuated by the alien surroundings, and further still by the occasional appearance of ultra-creepy giant insects and other unnerving monsters. These creatures are what Dialynas does best, in fact, and help make up for some of the story’s shortcomings.
What readers will see first, of course, is RamÃ³n K. Perez’ equally disturbing and stark tri-color cover, which isn’t directly representative of the events inside but still eerily captures the story’s mood. “The Woods” #2 stumbles a bit with its characterization, but the tension and fear remain immersive, and Tynion and Dialynas combine for a story that’s well worth staying with.