5.08.2014

5.07.14 [Weekly Reviews]

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The Woods #1 (Boom! Studios): James Tynion IV has come up quickly through the ranks at DC Comics writing various Batman titles, and I was first made aware of artist Michael Dialynas in the Dark Horse Presents shorts featuring Amala’s Blade. That said, I was really interested to see their new creator-owned project at Boom! and it didn’t disappoint. Writing reviews is a funny business wherein some segment of the audience just wants the sound byte, while other readers will actually dive into what makes the story and art tick. For the first crew, let me give you this – The Woods is like dropping the cast of The Breakfast Club onto the island in Lost. Good? Ok, let me explain. The Woods works because it captures the high school drama, all the various personality archetypes that the audience can identify with, all of the uncertainty of that time in our lives, where we question our direction, as parents and school administrators are forcing us to focus on test scores, college applications, and choices of major, all while we’re still trying to figure out who we are and what our grand purpose in life might be. Tynion and Dialynas’ story takes that precarious period and quickly adds an engaging layer of mystery twinged with sci-fi. This seems to be a recurring narrative motif in the marketplace today. I’m fond of books like Brian Wood’s The Massive or Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari’s The Bunker, which take equally sound high concepts and marry them to these types of character dramas and present the characters with ideas that question their reality - situations which might unexpectedly provide an answer to the "what is my purpose in life?" question, all amid cinematic sci-fi threads. It’s a great genre mash-up space to be in, and The Woods comes charging right out of the gate, wasting no time in an effort to claim its stake in the territory.

The story itself revolves around 437 Milwaukee high school students, 52 teachers, and 24 administrators (including one seemingly inept principal) being suddenly whisked away to another planet, moon, or dimension, we’re not quite sure yet. The appearance of a strange monolithic object adds a chilling sense of the foreign to the space they occupy on the edge of the titular woods. Dialynas’ art works particularly well because his lines feel consequential, they are hefty and durable, aided by thick ink and rich color laid on top, an aesthetic result which gives the sense that the kids are able to stand up to whatever is going to be thrown at them. Thematically, my favorite part of this is really the sociology that pervades the proceedings. I mean, look at literature like Lord of The Flies. You stick a bunch of kids in a “closed room” and look at what happens. When I was in college getting my undergrad degree in Criminal Justice Administration in order to work in federal law enforcement, I decided to minor in Behavioral Science. At the time, this was a mix of cultural anthropology, psychology, and sociology, and one of my favorite classes ever was about culture and personality, taught by Dr. Jan English-Lueck. It was about how your culture of origin shapes your personality and how that might in turn influence your ability to commit crime. Reading The Woods, I had a flashback to a paper I wrote about the Chinese educational system. One item that I always found interesting was that teachers were trained NOT to step in and break up verbal conflicts and minor physical confrontations among students. They wanted students to resolve conflicts on their own. The group should develop an internal mechanism to resolve issues, an ability to govern itself without a formal authority figure stepping in (like that inept principal). They wanted a leader to emerge and to avoid something dubbed "The Missing Hero Complex" in society. I see that thread in The Woods as characters’ strengths and weaknesses start to emerge, and the story identifies the alpha members of the group and the more passive followers. I think this is going to be good, so come for the sci-fi hook of the premise, but stay for the interpersonal dynamics that form a thrilling high-stakes drama. Grade A.

It’s also worth mentioning that James Tynion IV will be signing at my retail sponsor, Yesteryear Comics, on Saturday May 31st. So, if you’re in San Diego, come out and say hey! You can get your copies of Batman Eternal and The Woods signed, and meet a dynamic emerging writer. I’ll be working this event and we’ll even have a CGC witness on hand if anyone is interested in submitting books for professional grading and slabbing.  

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