Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Not too long ago we deemed Boom! Studios the future of the comic book industry/they who shall one day devour the souls of DC and Marvel and inherit their throne, and if their runaway hit series (that isn’t Lumberjanes) is any indication, their future looks promising indeed. Writer James Tynion IV has already caused quite a stir in the comic book community, first rising to prominence as Scott Snyder’s wingman on Batman Eternal and then as the creative savior of Red Hood and the Outlaws (a series dying from a disease widely considered terminal among DC titles: Scott Lobdell). Naturally, anticipation of his first independent series has been pretty staggering, but no hype monster can compare to the horrific creatures lurking in The Woods. Everyone has read/seen/heard/lived stories of a ragtag group of characters suddenly lost in an unfamiliar and hostile world, but struggles to think of a time before this when said ragtag group constituted an entire freaking high school.
More or less, that is the entire premise of the story. One sunny day in Wisconsin, Bay Point Preparatory High School and all staff, students, and faculty are randomly transported to an unknown planet (or moon, they think) surrounded by a dark, dense forest. The only other detail is a strange marker in the shape of an arrow that appears in front of the school and begins glowing upon their arrival. Oh, and the horrific bat/vulture hybrids that ambush the student body, managing to maul at least one kid to death before anyone can get proper barricades up. That’s also pretty bizarre. Quickly realizing that the safety of the school walls is only illusory due to lack of leadership and resources, a small band of students leaves in secret to follow The Arrow into The Woods and hopefully find out what exactly happened to them and why.
Who is this ragtag group of student adventurers? Well, unfortunately the main cast does sound like a standard Misfit Kids Playlist at first. Readers meet each of them one by one in the first issue, and Tynion even provides a little blurb to give a not-so subtle idea of who they are. The leading man is Adrian, a brilliant but somewhat-disliked outsider who “knows he’s smarter than the rest of these idiots.” Behind him is his best (and only) friend Isaac, who just wants to be accepted by his peers in the drama community, and Karen, a tough but directionless girl who is bothered by Adrian’s standoffishness but also intrigued by the new world they’ve discovered. Also recruited into Adrian’s Adventure Party are Benjamin, the shy giant and muscle of the group, and Calder, the school basket case and hunting/weapons enthusiast of the group. They are eventually rounded out by Karen’s best friend and wilderness survival expert Sanami, and while the whole “she was raised by hardcore survivalists” bit feels tacked on toward the end to justify her addition to the group, the banter between the group is great, especially when Karen or Sanami’s exasperation clashes with Adrian’s cool, sardonic wit.
While Adrian and Co. may not be the most original characters ever created, they are well-crafted and never a bore to watch, especially when they go up against all the terror awaiting them deeper in The Woods. From insects that douse their victims in predator-alerting pheromones, to mint-green wolf-bear monstrosities, this isn’t the average dark, spooky forest. Dialynas’ art is instrumental in bringing the environment to life, contrasting the ominous, dark shadows of the flora with the more vibrant colors of the fauna. In fact, the rule of humb so far has been the brighter color the animal is, the more likely it is eager to maul everyone. On top of all that, the sky is constantly in twilight mode, and everything but the humans is colored a few shades off from normal. You know, in case the wolf-bears weren’t freaky enough.
Because Tynion is a world-building wonderchild, there’s much more to this story than the worst camping trip ever. It turns out The Arrow does mean something because it linked with Adrian when he looked at it and has been telepathically feeding him instructions on how to proceed. Whether it’s true guidance or leading him to the slaughter is still up in the air, but it’ll be interesting to see how his already-rocky relationship with the others fares once they figure out where his determination really comes from. Meanwhile, back at the school, Class President Maria repeatedly clashes with Principal Beaumont on how to proceed with protecting themselves, resulting in Beaumont allowing the power-hungry Coach Clay to reform the football team as a Disciplinary Squad to maintain order among the student body. While it doesn’t get quite as much attention as Adrian and Co.’s journey, the power struggle that results from Clay’s authoritarian philosophy and the violent tendencies of his followers introduces a fairly engaging study on how the adults deal with their new environment, and how the students change when they realize their former authority figures are just as clueless as they are. It’s unclear right now how or if these two plotlines will converge, but for the moment, watching Tynion tackle both sides of the story is satisfying enough.
Spanning the first four issues of the series, its $9.99 retail value is not the quite the bargain that other introductory volumes are right now, but “The Arrow” never pretends to be more than it is: an introductory arc to a web of much larger stories. Part sci-fi, part survival horror, part political thriller, and part coming-of-age story, this first volume of The Woods is proof that Tynion and Dialynas are building a mythos truly epic in scope, and for all the threads they leave dangling here, readers can’t wait to see more of the tapestry they’re weaving.
Final Score: 8/10