Spencer: In narratives focused on teenaged characters, it’s common to pit the adults against the children in one way or another. Young Avengers recently took that conflict to extreme levels by making it so that the two groups literally couldn’t understand each other, but James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas’ The Woods 2 plays things with a bit more subtlety; there is a major conflict between the faculty and the students of Bay Point Preparatory Academy, but the motivations of members of both sides seem to vary greatly.
Principal Beaumont leads the faculty in a meeting where they try to determine what exactly happened to their school and how to handle it; interestingly enough, Beaumont rejects one teacher’s theory about the black stone, which just happens to be the same theory that led Adrian and his group of kids into the woods (but more on them later). Student Council President Maria Ramirez bursts into the room full of concerns and plans, but is quickly and condescendingly rejected by the faculty, so she instead enlists her fellow students and puts her plans into action herself. Principal Beaumont feels threatened, and egged on by the uncomfortably manipulative Coach Clay, has Maria thrown into detention and unleashes a bunch of new rules on the students.
There’s a lot going on in this story — a lot more than in the typical “adults vs. kids” plot. For starters, the kids aren’t necessarily 100% in the right; although the issue seems to depict Maria’s call to action as the proper path to take, it also points out that she doesn’t exactly know what she’s doing — her latrine, for example, is too shallow and too close to the school. In the initial meeting the faculty is depicted as being almost completely ineffectual, but Tynion also makes sure to show that, despite their positions of authority, the teachers are just as scared and out of their element as the students.
The ideal answer, it would seem, would be for the faculty to work with the students, using the kids’ ideas and the adults’ knowledge to survive as long as possible, but that looks like a long shot; there’s too many power plays going on. Coach Clay accuses Maria of looking for a way to wield power, but his own motives appear to be far more questionable.
Man, what a creeper! Issue one informed us that Beaumont really shouldn’t be a principal, and that plays beautifully into Clay’s manipulations. Beaumont is desperately searching for respect and validation but is also weak-willed enough to listen to everything Clay says; combine that with his position of authority, and Beaumont becomes the perfect puppet.
The thing is, though, that Beaumont and Clay taking command, at least in theory, isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Again, Tynion shows that the students are going a little wacko when left to their own devices (he and Dialynas treat us to a saw-swordfight between two warpaint-clad drama kids), so wrangling the kids up, putting them under adult supervision, and setting them to work should actually be a terrific idea. The problem is in the execution.
It’s been a while since I was in high school, but I still remember that going to detention isn’t usually met with that much screaming; here it’s more akin to being sent to prison. Clay grabs Ramirez by the arm in a display of force that would be unthinkable back on Earth — with nobody to report to, it seems that the adults are already moving uncomfortably beyond their boundaries. Beaumont looks pleased by the development, but a dark reflection is already staring back at him in the window, a sure sign that he’s heading down a treacherous path.
Of course, there’s still a million directions this plot could head, but I’m pleased that Tynion is taking the time to flesh out the adult characters as well as the teens, creating a conflict that’s much richer than “parents just don’t understand.”
While all this is going down back at the school, Adrian’s group of explorers survives their first night in the woods. Group daredevil Calder’s been bitten by some sort of alien mosquito and, although he tries to hide it, passes out at the worst possible time. Isaac finds a baby alien-monkey that appears to be friendly and names it “Doctor Robot”, because that’s what nerdy drama kids name alien monkeys. The group thinks they’re being chased by a giant monster, but it turns out they’re being chased by Karen’s friend Sanami…and a giant monster.
Honestly, I’m impressed that Calder’s secret came out so quickly; many stories would’ve tried to hide the bite for months, so revealing it now instead is a welcome change of pace. I’m also pleased at how the characters are developing: we learn about Sanami’s family and see Karen, Isaac and Calder flourish in ways they never did at school, but the character I’m most interested in is Ben. Ben’s a shy kid with almost superhuman strength who keeps turning down invitations to the football team, and while most of his thoughts and motivations are still cloaked in mystery, we do get some hints as to what’s going through his head:
Hm. Methinks Ben has a crush on Isaac, which might explain both his shyness and his hesitance to join the football team. Honestly, while not much happened plot-wise in this segment of the book, it’s just so much fun to spend time with these characters and learn more about them; I can’t wait to go exploring in The Woods again next month.
Patrick, it looks like I’m almost out of space, and I didn’t even get to talk about Dialynas’ art, which is charming and impressively expressive, not only a fitting style for the high school shenanigans but a perfect contrast to the more horror-styled elements of the book. Do you have any more thoughts on Dialynas’ work? Where do you fall on the great “faculty vs. students” debate? What would you name your baby alien-monkey?
Patrick: Call me old fashioned, but I’ve simply got to name my baby alien-monkey Gizmo. I have long been our resident Gremlins expert — a title I’ve earned by nit-picking any reference we’ve ever made to the franchise. Hell, I’m such a big fan that I feel no shame referring to two movies as a “franchise.” (Given both films’ anti-consumerism messaging, it’s actually pretty hilarious that anyone would refer to them as a franchise.)
I’m afraid the faculty vs. student debate was the one part of the issue that didn’t work as well for me as it did for you. It’s kind of mind-boggling that Beaumont and Clay would resort to punishing the kids’ leadership right away. I understand the trope that Tynion is attempt to invoke in Clay’s little speech about enemy leaders that sew discord, but that is not the Army Clay would have been a part of. I’m making a few assumptions here, but I’m guessing that Woods takes place in 2014. That leads me to my second assumption: that Clay’s military experience was serving in Iraq or Afghanistan in a post 9/11 world. If he was Special Forces, that means that he must have been trained in counter-insurgency. Rather than throwing the opposition’s leadership in detention, his training would have had him attempting to reach out to her. I’m all for revealing institutional failings, but this specific military failing is a relic from a different time. Clay is less a soldier and more the gym teacher we all hated in high school. I guess it’s sort fun to have a justification for hating that teacher, but it kinda puts the adults in the “objectively evil” category.
Maybe that’s okay. Tynion is clearly more comfortable writing the kids than he is the adults anyway. I liked the half of the but that followed Adrian’s team as they trekked through the wilderness, mostly because it focused on the uneasy relationship between those five kids, each of whom has their own set of priorities and fears. Michael Dialynas uses a lot of different signifiers to help distinguish this fairly large cast, but different sizes, shapes and colors of the now-six-person kid team make all the characters immediately recognizable. Their clothes go a long way towards characterizing them. Notice how Ben wears dark blue polo — like he doesn’t want to be noticed at all. The rest of the boys wear graphic T-shirts, because of course they do, but even within that sameness, there’s a lot of room for variation. Calder sports a Misfits shirt, and we suddenly know a lot about him. Isaac spends most of the issue with that hoodie zipped up, which is already a choice I relate to, but he’s sporting a shirt with a giant Storm Trooper helmet on it.
My point is that they don’t need to be superheroes in crazy costumes to be visually distinct. Dialynas’ designs are perfectly aiding Tynion’s storytelling, right down to a style that seems to evoke Archie or Doug more than any horror or adventure influences. Just like last month, I’m much more interested in the relationships between these characters than I am in the overall mythology here. That’s exactly the foundation a story like this needs — once the narrative objective of this series becomes clear, we’ll be able to snap to whatever weirdness Tynion throws our way because the characters are so well formed. And look, maybe we’ll never know what’s going on here, that sequence where the teachers attempt to explain what they think is going on is pretty hilarious, and I’d be totally satisfied if the punchline to it was “and they never found out.”
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