In The Woods, vol. 5, characters have aged significantly in spirit since the previous volume—you can see it on their faces, in both expression and the increase in worry lines. They’ve been forced to grow up quickly, having been transported along with their entire high school to an alien moon full of monsters intent on killing them. But their biggest problems lately have been other humans—colonies of people who were transported to this world centuries ago. Our characters must now decide who they can trust and ally with, and who they will risk turning into enemies.

The school remains embroiled in a political divide for who should lead the school—Maria Ramirez or Casey MacReady. Maria is the practical, brave, and innovative natural leader who was essential in assisting the school in adjusting to their new environment on this extraterrestrial world. She took the lead in gathering food, organizing the students and the teachers, and promoting democracy in decision making. Casey’s rise to power relied on partying, providing hallucinatory drugs in large supply, and attempting to bargain away control of the school to one of the more powerful colonies on the planet—the Horde. He’s double-crossing and manipulative, seeking alliance with dangerous enemies in order to build a society that chases perfection, a society that wishes to eradicate the weak in order to make themselves “great” again. Casey’s political planning threatens to start culling students: “The strongest will be his army. The weak and the deviants will be thrown out the gates and left to die.” Survival has never been easy for the students of Bay Point, but to make it through the days ahead they will need nothing less than a revolution.

Dialynas’s art continues to be vivid, intense, and beautifully immersive. The story is well-paced to maintain action, suspense, and terror. Intense scenes use different paneling techniques to affect the flow of the story, utilizing a two-page spread with a handful of small panels overlaid. This provides the ability for attention to detail or cutaway shots while keeping the overall context of the scene. In one scene this technique holds the same effect as a fast-paced action sequence before a dramatic slow-motion shot. The reader is easily guided through the layout as it changes, and it feels very natural to read.

As in previous volumes, flashbacks provide exposition, character development, and context for character motivations, this time focusing on Isaac, the brothers Casey and Calder, and Maria. This provides a good opportunity to explore the characters as multi-dimensional people, away from their current stresses. Even Casey MacReady is shown to have a heart—at least for a minute or two. The characters are passionate and their dialogue is dynamic, deepening the reader’s emotional investment in their wellbeing. Unfortunately, this is a heartbreaking volume to be emotionally invested in as the plot leaves the reader wondering: is self-sacrifice noble or selfish? What does it mean to be a leader?

No matter the stakes, the characters stay true to themselves as teenagers and in what they love, value, and hold dear. Their age is never forgotten; unlike similar survival novels, they are never written to be adults, though they may express impressive skills and levels of maturity. They’re not trying to be heroes or villains, they’re just trying to do what they see as right, even if those decisions are guided all too much by their emotions as they try to correct the ways in which they feel the world has wronged them. Our protagonists do not seek power, but act out of love, finding—and holding onto—the values that make them human.

The Woods, vol. 5  includes scenes where characters use the fantasy drug gazer root, though these are somewhat less intense than the scenes present in volumes 3 and 4. There is also more detailed gore and violence than in previous volumes.

The Woods, vol. 5: The Horde
by James Tynion IV
Art by Michael Dialynas
ISBN: 9781608868575
Boom! Studios, 2016

  • Maria Aghazarian

    Past Reviewer

    Maria Aghazarian is a librarian at Swarthmore College and the Lower Merion library system, in the stretch of southeastern Pennsylvania otherwise known as the “greater Philadelphia area.” Her love of graphic novels started with manga in middle school, but exploded after graduating college when she learned that superheroes aren’t the be-all and end-all of comics. She aims to support small and independent presses, and manufacturers of sturdy bookcases.

Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!