Endings are difficult things. They’re unsatisfying when you’ve enjoyed a piece of serialized media; you just want to go on reading or watching or playing forever. And yet, if some series you love were ever to continue just for the sake of going on, that would be awful too. Perhaps it’s the nature of human beings. Stories have endings, but we go on thinking about them.
“Nothing really ends. […] Until it does.” – The Woods #36
Part of that trouble with endings is that an ending is a chapter and a capstone. I cannot tell you how many serialized stories I’ve walked away from with the same thought: “It needed a double length finale”. Time to tell us what happened and time to consider what happened.
It’s definitely the case with The Woods. At times entire sequences are, literally, relegated to the background to accommodate ending the series here and the transitions between pages are jumpier than I would normally expect from this creative team. However, I interpret that less as a last minute failing of this book and more as evidence that James Tynion IV had his priorities in order.
Wisely, Tynion was willing to leave enough out to make time for what matters. The Woods #36 probably comes down on the side of emotional closure over narrative completeness, but its greatest strength might be the way that Tynion combines the two. Admittedly there is a lot that is left tantalizingly unsaid, questions about the future, questions about the past, questions about other characters’ perspectives. But Tynion and his editors expertly pruned the issue down to just what was needed to tell the story and leave the rest of the issue for the hard task of saying goodbye and realizing what this was all along.
The Woods #36 works because it’s not afraid to prioritize the series over the experience of this single issue. Sadly, the Earth-side plot, itself worth an entire series, gets the short end of that deal, but we get strong, resonant conclusions for Ben, Adrian, Isaac, Sander, and Karen. And though the scenes contained between its pages are as beautiful and affecting as any the series has produced, it is as an ending that it really shines.
Here, more than ever before, The Woods confronts its status as bildungsroman and its focus on change, wanted and unwanted. And that’s what we are left with, the acknowledgement that change and fear are unavoidable but choices are still left to us. Those choices, and the ways that characters are willing and unwilling to compromise, are how The Woods defines heroism.
Isaac gets beautiful moments with all of the most important people in his life and Karen proves a better protagonist than I even realized. The whole issue has a sense of gravitas about it. The haste of the pacing and the brilliant yet frustrating idea to play panels of a plot over other scenes give a wonderful impression of an orchestrally driven climax. And as we race towards the finish, suddenly things slow down for the last pages, giving them a haunting stillness.
On the artistic side, Michael Dialynas ensures that every piece of this finale feels thorough and beautiful. There’s little that will drop the jaws of readers who have long enjoyed the particular grace of Dialynas’ uniquely expressive style, but, if you can tear your eyes away from the page turn and the next wave crashing in the lives of these survivors, you’ll find that the little things have all been reinforced in Dialynas’ work.
As he says goodbye to this mysterious planetoid, pay attention to the images of the Woods in the background. There aren’t as many as one might suspect, but wherever they appear they’re pretty fantastic without distracting from the action itself. Additionally, Dialynas closes out his year as the book’s colorist with a smorgasbord of lights, painting each scene in the glow of some fascinating light source.
Artistically the greatest weakness of the issue is the amount of time spent inside the workings of the Black City, often confining Dialynas to monochromatic archetypes.
Still, the greatest contribution that Dialynas has always brought to this series is his grasp of character and story and both are put to good use. To return to that orchestral metaphor from earlier, Dialynas scores the issue beautifully, really conveying the trills and minor notes and slowing tempo of the book as it races towards conclusion.
The Woods ends with a lovely, heartfelt issue, worthy of the series that’s come before it, but that issue puts the greater whole before self. There’s no time to try anything revolutionary and no space for any last minute revelations.Tynion takes the story that he’s written beautifully up to this point and brings it in for a poignant and satisfying landing that is expertly told by he and Dialynas.
So in reviewing this issue I can say that it’s wonderful in the ways that The Woods is wonderful. It’s gripping and character-driven and lush in its visuals, but it’s not really fair to only look at it as another issue. This is an ending to a three-year odyssey that wraps with both the intensity of your teenage fears and the soothing finality of slipping closed a love-worn old book.
It works, yes, because of Tynion’s ingenuous dialogue and Dialynas’ mixture of bold, jagged cartooning and vivid, painterly colors, but, more-so, because the two of them have put in the time and craft to breathe life into this world and these characters. You know these people and you know why this flag has meaning.
And The Woods #36 succeeds because Tynion knows what’s important to these characters and their readers now. He and Dialynas provide a necessary and cathartic showdown to bring the cast’s trials to an end even as they cut beyond that to the core of what this world means to the characters. It’s a finale that carries the force and beauty of the series into itself, but does even more to deepen and serve what came before.