“The Woods” #1, written and created by James Tynion IV with art by Michael Dialynas, starts out with a quick, one-page scene set in a clearing as a bespectacled teen studies a large, glowing, arrow-shaped stone. The bottom panel of that page forecasts the chaos to come, but without diving right in, the story first takes a step back and cuts to the day’s activities before things get strange.
Tynion opens the book with that curious scene, but in the course of nearly a half hour leading to that point, the creative team introduces readers to a modestly diverse cast of characters. Using the labels provided for the series’ promotional material, those characters include Adrian Roth, “the Genius,” as the first character introduced to the readers. Also included are Karen Jacobs, “The Screw-Up”; Sanami Ota, “The Control Freak”; Calder Macready “The Lunatic”; Benjamin Stone, “The Wallflower”; Isaac Andrews, “The Wimp”; student council president Maria Ramirez and, finally, principal John Beaumont. Tynion and letterer Ed Dukeshire give each of the characters a caption box to assimilate readers into the action at Bay Point Preparatory High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Tynion’s characters are the kids we all passed, or maybe even were, in the halls of our own high school experiences. Focusing on a handful of characters in a population of hundreds is a smart choice for Tynion to get the readership’s attention. After all, no matter how many friends we had in high school, most had a tight group we ran with. Tynion establishes the passing familiarity among some of these kids, but also develops deeper, longer relationships between others. By joining the gang through “The Woods” #1, we’re the new kid and this is the first group we come into contact with. The writer is quick to remind readers, however, that this is a horror comic laced with mystery and sci-fi and no one is safe. However, the raised stakes don’t prevent Tynion from crafting believably human characters.
Michael Dialynas’ art is lively, with character designs that are on model for high schoolers from Any School, U.S.A. Suome of them trend towards stereotypical, but any high school crowd is sure to have some kids in it that also trend towards stereotypes: the jock, the nerd and so on. Combined with the caption boxes and the fleeting dialog the characters are afforded throughout “The Woods” #1, the visuals are what the readers really have to lock in with and Dialynas does a great job of making every character (at least of the primary cast) distinct and recognizable. Josan Gonzalez’s colors are bright, helping define the lighting and depth of field in Dialynas’ exaggerated characters. Once the scene shifts to the alien landscape, Gonzalez’s colors follow suit, adding in shades of purple and violet, teal and, to a lesser degree, orange. The color shift elevates the hysteria in the story.
The readers are placed in the high school from the start of a very weird event. Embedded with the students as they find themselves no longer in Wisconsin, readers don’t know what the cast are up against any more than the characters do. By the end of the issue, it is quite clear that no character is safe, with at least one extremely bloody casualty.
“The Woods” #1 is a solid read that goes from humorous to horrific at breakneck pace. Tynion and team hold on to natural reactions and interactions, injecting humor just as real, nervous people might. The school was taken for a reason, but not everyone is going to find out why.