Imagine being a teenager, going about a typical day in high school, when suddenly, the building shakes, there are loud noises, and it seems that night has fallen. That is the world of The Woods, a comic from Boom! Studios by James Tynion IV with art by Michael Dialynas.
Each main character is introduced in the first issue by name, together with a small thought going through their head as we look in on them during their school day. The panel I found most amusing introduced the student council president, Maria, having a confrontation with the principal, while both wish something could be done to whomever thought it a good idea for him to be a principal in the first place.
The discussion between the principal and Maria is interrupted by a student streaking through the halls. It is as the principal runs to reprimand him that the shaking comes out of nowhere and the real story begins. When the shaking and the noises stop, the light outside seems purplish and it’s very dark. They go outside to explore and find the entire school has been moved and set down at the edge of a dark, ominous wood. Everyone is directed to head back inside and hide in the classrooms to be safe, but one student – the class genius, Adrian – believes he knows what to do. He directs his friend to gather together a select group and some supplies with the intent of going into the woods.
While this is happening, a horrific winged creature breaks through the windows in one of the classrooms and begins eating a student. Everyone panics, the principal calls an assembly, but meets with the faculty first and is interrupted by Maria. Despite the fact that Maria seems to have a grasp on some of the issues they face, she is told she’s just a kid and should let the adults talk. However, the adults don’t to have a clue how to deal with the situation and are overwhelmed. Except for the football coach. He seizes this as a time to manipulate the principal into granting him and the team a huge amount of authority. They lock up Maria and the security patrols become brutal, culminating in a truly shocking moment.
Meanwhile, Adrian and crew have assembled and ventured forth into the woods. A black structure protrudes from the ground emitting data, foreshadowing things to come. The group encounters crazy and terrible things in the woods – such as more of the winged creatures, ferocious bear-like animals, and trees that seem to have strange growths. Many times, they barely escape with their lives. Adrian keeps assuring the group he knows what he’s doing, but Karen, a field hockey player who invited herself on his expedition, questions his authority and at one point outright accuses him of being connected to whatever brought them there. But that conversation goes nowhere because he refuses to explain, all the while leading them deeper into unknown territory.
The action in the comic shifts between the school, the group in the woods, and in some issues, flashbacks to the key players the previous year. We slowly find out what makes each character tick, giving the story more depth than one might otherwise get. For example, Calder, the class clown/delinquent who streaks through the halls in issue one, is actually quite bright, and has a head for history and impromptu animal wrangling.
James Tynion IV weaves a great story around believable characters in an unbelievable situation. Some of the horror is conveyed through what we think might have also happened in addition to what we can see. As to what we see – the art by Michael Dialynas really fits. The monsters are great and genuinely scary. It’s like they had a conversation and Tynion said, “I want a thing that looks like an unholy union between a bat and a dragonfly or something? Maybe with a dash of predatory bird,” and Dialynas delivered. The colors are great, too, conveying a sense of otherness.
The comic is currently up to issue #9, with the first 4 collected in a graphic novel. It was announced recently that there will be a 36-issue run. It seems certain there are aliens afoot and I can’t wait to see where this story goes. Though I will likely refrain from reading it right before bed.