Several weeks ago a mysterious black stone transported a Wisconsin high school, and its 400 students and teachers, to the lunar setting of The Woods.The third volume of this series begins after a two week gap in the story, and we are presented with a series of flashbacks to a time before the characters of this story even existed. Every 100 years a new civilization is abducted to this alien world and presented with a terrifying and unguided trial to traverse an impossibly treacherous path to the far side of the moon, where the Black City lies. So far, none have been willing, or able, to complete this journey, though those who have been possessed by the green light have certainly tried. This green light is tied to an ancient civilization of the moon and is somehow connected to several mysterious black stones, such as the one that transported them to the moon in the first place.
When we jump back into the present, it is evident how much the characters have grown and changed in as little as two weeks, adapting surprisingly well to their new environment. The writing is able to carry us over this gap in time flawlessly and naturally; while we’re filled in on details that happened within the time we missed, further details arise about each character’s life before the abduction. The third volume specifically focuses on expanding the lore and worldbuilding, filling in gaps in the story while positing new questions about what is at stake for these characters.
As in the first two volumes, the reader’s view is not omniscient, and as such character development is slow but steady, revealed mostly through the way the characters interact with others. Character motivations and back stories are not fully realized yet, but we can sense that purpose exists for these characters—they are neither filler nor predictable in the way their stories develop. There are hints of romance but it’s definitely not the focus of the story, which is much appreciated. While sexual situations are implied, the content remains PG-13.
Volume four opens with a brilliant hook about the difference between living versus survival, and the need for petty drama. Those seemingly shallow “teen problems” of the first volume (high school plays, student government, unrequited crushes) are really a core part of growing up, of living, of learning. While they were brushed aside briefly for the sake of surviving in a strange atmosphere, these core concerns still underlie the plot. These teenagers shouldn’t need to worry about rebuilding civilization and participation in democracy, they should be allowed to simply live as teenagers. The experience of trauma often cuts childhood short, and The Woods explores that without belittling the characters’ problems. This is a story that could truly speak to teenage readers, particularly those struggling with managing stresses in their lives.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of these two volumes is that although the circumstances are rather tragic, the tone remains hopeful. Things are finally going right for these characters, despite the fact that they continue to experience loss and pain. Characters are growing into their strengths and flourishing in newfound leadership roles, despite the fact that several of their classmates continue to die and their focus remains primarily on survival and basic needs.
The art remains true to its style and color scheme throughout volumes 3 and 4. However, thanks to some plot points, there are opportunities for Dialynas to play with the art, most notably during a series of hallucination scenes in volume 4. The consistency of the art helps to hold the story together and to keep the reader focused on the mood and the suspense that continues to build. Dialynas knows how to build tension during dramatic scenes by using fewer panels to keep the flow of the story moving smoothly, and well-placed close ups of character expressions, one of the art’s greatest strengths. His storytelling techniques with the art are what truly make it a horror story—he builds tension not by trying to depict a monster gruesome enough to scare the reader, but by showing the reader how terrified the characters are in the face of their demons.
The suspense and intrigue that has been established in the first two volumes allows volumes three and four to have much better pacing. They’re not rushed, but neither is the plot left to languish. The tension builds steadily and consistently. The story develops in a way that encourages readers to greedily drink up the story without stopping. The Woods continues to be a story of the highest quality, from both an artistic and literary standpoint.
The Woods, vol. 3: New London
The Woods, vol. 4: Movie Night
by James Tynion IV
Art by Michael Dialynas
Boom! Studios, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 14-17 years old