It’s the beginning of the end for The Woods. After thirty-three issues, it can be hard to remember all that’s happened, to wrap your head around Coach Clay and Wally and Taisho now that they’re gone. And gone really is a key word. So many are gone, in so many ways, and it looks as though a lot more people will be gone before the woods are. But there’s something else we may have forgotten. No matter how they blossom, no matter what the woods reveal, our heroes do not belong here.
That’s the thought that drives this issue. At the last stage of the adventure, it’s time to put survival behind us and turn our eyes to bloody, costly victory.
The Woods has always had its favorites, Calder was certainly one, and now Sander and Karen are very much in the spotlight. Having a trans character respectfully handled is always welcome and far too rare, but it’s especially nice to see those issues addressed without them taking over Sander’s narrative. There’s certainly a need for trans stories that aren’t just about dysphoria, but James Tynion IV makes a strong case for why this time it informs Sander’s view.
The entire issue is built around Sander’s soliloquy and with good reason. Quite simply, it’s lovely writing and a powerful metaphor about the relationship between this generation and the last, both the children of New London and their parents as well as any generation and their predecessors.
But, while there’s undoubtedly an emphasis on Karen and Sander in this issue and the series as a whole, one thing that’s really nice is the degree to which the entire cast has a part to play. Sander and Karen are partially focused upon because their value to the party needs to come into play now, but Ben’s ability to mediate situations and Isaac’s need to be accepted are being positioned carefully. Even the dead have their roles, not only in the sense that their sacrifices have allowed this last chance, but literally, with Sanami ensuring that there’s a home to come back to for the Bay Point kids and Adrian finally having a chance to be a force for good if he will stoop to do so.
One thing that’s also fascinating about this issue is how little outward conflict there is. Certainly there are battles taking place and disagreements being resolved, but, as a story, there’s no big moment where a clash breaks out. Ostensible children see each other’s points of view, brutal wins and losses are things to recover from rather than plan and celebrate, and the tension is the result of the characters’ own imperfect understandings. Tynion propels the story solely on the power of your investment in the characters and the strength of his mysteries and that choice gives this last stop before the end a somber and reflective tone.
But the centrality of its message does weigh the issue down in places. The Woods #33 takes an issue to refocus the readers’ and the characters’ perception of what the quest really is. We open on some potent and meaningful flashbacks, however, it’s not really made clear when they take place. This leaves the story feeling a little untethered and that can make things a little jarring when the issue needs to spend its time getting into the specifics of the characters’ relationships instead of setting the scene or reminding readers of where things stand.
I also think that the real horror of Isaac taking control of the forest’s animals is underplayed. In many ways its an effective reminder of the series’ beginning, but we don’t quite get to see it. And though we get some hints as to why it makes sense, why did Karen’s group think it was safe to camp in the woods when every crawling thing on the moon is ready to rip them apart?
It has been a pleasure reading The Woods from the beginning, seeing Tynion’s characters grow, but, as the end draws near, I’m still left wondering when people are going to start talking about Michael Dialynas to the degree he deserves. But let’s just be grateful for now. Having drawn, inked, and colored every issue of this series, it’s a blessing that Dialynas hasn’t been stolen away by some blockbuster series or unseen necessity.
Even with a great deal less action and alien weirdness to play with than in recent issues, the art remains a huge draw of the series. Dialynas has a look that’s not quite like anything else out there and it grants The Woods an immense flavor and charm. Stylized and minimal while retaining the specificity of photorealism, The Woods’ look is perfect for its teenaged heroes haunting landscapes.
This month, however, we also get to see some new twists on the winning formula. At this point, the keyword is tired. Sander’s face is gaunt with worry and an unexpected rider’s is flattened by the intensity in his stare. Even little things, like scratches on a character’s back, when even the greasiest of teenagers in media have head to toe perfect skin, convey the price of forgetting exactly where home is.
Dialynas also does a fantastic job depicting the romance in this issue. It’s a weird thing to draw teenage chemistry, but beyond just keeping it classy, Dialynas walks that line between the romantic and the awkward. As Tynion writes “It’s messy. But I think humans have to be messy. I think it’s just a part of who we are.” The art grasps this, capturing the authenticity of the relationship without feeling exploitative and while allowing that messiness, the conflict of emotions that refuse to flow with the moment, a place in the scene.
Finally, it would be wrong to discuss The Woods and not mention the colors. More even than most series, The Woods thrives on its distinctive palette. And though there’s less of that bold alien green that most notably makes the case, there’s so much wonderful being done in this issue. From the soft, misty pastels near the issue’s start to the way that light falls through the haunting indigo of the trees and Dialynas’ careful splashes of red and bold blue, this is definitely another fantastic issue for Dialynas the colorist.
Before we jump into the final chapter, The Woods stops to craft a moment about connection, imperfection, and being at peace with oneself. It is a slower issue and one that feels a little floaty against the greater narrative, but it’s also deeply authentic and well earned. James Tynion takes this chance to move his characters into final, lovingly crafted positions and Michael Dialynas reminds us that he doesn’t need wolf-bears, ghoulish monks, or alien technology to dazzle, though he’ll happily whet your appetite for them when the script allows. The end result is an issue that doesn’t quite take a place among the series’ best, but lingers meaningfully in a way that most comics wish they could.
With a carefully unfolding plot and powerful character beats, The Woods #33 serves as a unique, almost one-shot story between the massive revelations of the past few issues and an all too close future that I can’t wait to read.