Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing The Woods 8, originally released December 3rd, 2014.
Spencer: We’ve all liked someone we shouldn’t have, right? Crushes aren’t choosy, and it’s easy to shrug off or explain away someone’s ugly traits when you’re infatuated with them. Unfortunately for Isaac, this exactly describes the dynamic between him and Adrian in James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas’ The Woods 8. I relate to Isaac a lot here, but while my particular brand of blind, tasteless crush just ended with a broken heart and some particularly sad relationship experience points, poor Isaac’s is a matter of life-and-death. Such is the fate of anyone who falls in love in a comic book, I suppose.
One year ago, back on Earth, Isaac confessed his crush to Adrian, and needless to say, it didn’t go well. Isaac later finds a note from Adrian where he apologizes and tells Isaac how much he needs his friendship to keep him in check, but it turns out the entire note was fabricated by Adrian’s mother to help keep Isaac under his “control.” It worked like a charm, as, one year later, Isaac continues to rush to Adrian’s defense, this time saving Adrian’s life just long enough for him to betray the entire group and run off with creatures of unfathomable power. Oops.
Actually, Adrian’s mother may be the most fascinating part of this issue for me. At first she simply comes across like a concerned mother who only wants “what’s best” for her difficult son:
Ms. Roth’s monologue in the second panel is actually a rather apt description of The Woods as a whole, but I’m mostly interested in how good this advice seems at first; nobody wants to be alone, right? This is some practical motherly advice, but the thing is, Adrian and his mother are only interested in people for what they can offer them, and this only becomes more obvious as the issue goes on and Ms. Roth’s version of “what’s best” starts to sound like a supervillain mentoring her protégé:
She reads like a retired megalomaniac; her days of scheming are over, so now she has to live vicariously through her son. This fits in well with the theme Tynion’s been establishing across the last few issues of how parents’ actions affect their children, no matter how good or bad of a parent they are: Ben’s father unintentionally laid expectations on him that made him an anxious wreck; Calder’s grandmother practically lives in her own version of reality, unable to see Calder and his brother as they really are; Sanami and Adrian’s parents both have very specific plans for their children, and don’t seem all that concerned by how their plans affect their child or anyone else in their lives.
In Adrian’s case, that’s Isaac. While most of this issue is told from Adrian’s point of view, we learn a lot about Isaac as well; his devotion to working in the play as a stagehand despite how unwelcome he is shows his need to be needed, and that’s just the emotion Ms. Roth plays on to keep Isaac in her son’s life. Isaac’s whole sense of worth seems to be based upon how useful he can be to others, and if there’s a more direct way to become a doormat, I don’t know what it is. Adrian allows Isaac to live out the role of a human security blanket; he thinks he’s the essential cog in Adrian’s life that keeps him human, and knowing that Adrian “needs him” allows Isaac to completely overlook his many flaws. It also keeps Isaac from noticing anyone who may legitimately care about him.
First of all, let me point out how refreshing it is that The Woods’ two gay characters don’t automatically hook-up, and let me also point out that Isaac is in no way obligated to be into Ben just because Ben likes him (that should be a given, but in our culture, it’s always better to be explicit about that sort of thing). My point is, though, that Isaac is oblivious to people who actually like him because he’s too caught up in this part he’s playing for Adrian — in a way, Isaac may even be subconsciously using Adrian as an excuse to avoid real intimacy and affection, likely because he doesn’t think he deserves it in the first place.
Despite its sci-fi trappings, it’s in depicting these messy teenage emotions that The Woods truly shines. It’s easy for adults, with many more years of experience and perspective, to blame and criticize these kids, but Tynion never forgets how intense and confusing it can be to be a teenager, and while he’s not afraid to show his young characters’ flaws, he grounds them in enough legitimate emotion and relatable situations that any reader who actually left the house between the ages of 12 to 18 should be able to see a version of themselves reflected in this book’s pages.
I suppose that’s why the actual mythology of The Woods is the least interesting part of this title to me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to love there as well, and I can’t get enough of Dialynas and colorist Josan Gonzalez’s breathtaking depiction of the alien world, but that world’s greatest purpose is simply to provide a more extreme landscape for these kids’ traumas to play out in. Adrian’s betrayal would be heartbreaking in any context, but the woods provides an opportunity for Adrian to show that he literally doesn’t care whether Isaac lives or dies, and could there be a greater hurt in the galaxy? The savage nature of this planet raises the stakes of these kids’ problems to life-or-death levels, and I can’t think of a better way to represent how urgent a teenager’s emotions can actually feel.
Patrick, I feel like I’ve covered so much, yet I’ve covered so little. Since I’m respectful of people’s feelings, I’ll leave it up to you: what do you want to talk about? The art? Adrian’s mysterious motivations? That last page cliffhanger? Maybe that adorable little three-eyed messenger parrot?Patrick: Dealer’s choice huh? Then let’s talk about Adrian.
It sure is tempting to read him as a straight up sonofabitch, but there’s an awful lot working against our understanding of the kid. First, there’s his mother, who — as you point out — sounds an awful lot like a supervillain in her “here’s how you control someone” speech. Here’s the thing though: a simple word substitution turns that speech into thoughtful motherly advice. If she uses the word “love” instead of “control,”the advice turns downright wholesome.
“But she didn’t say ‘love,’ she said ‘control.'” First, don’t interrupt me, it’s rude. I wouldn’t interrupt you. Second, yes, that’s a great point, but there’s a fine line between wanting someone to love you and wanting to control them — especially in the teenage mind. Hell, most commercial representations of love lean on tricking someone into a life they wouldn’t be leading otherwise (how many narratives involves “fixing” a member of the opposite sex?). That’s not healthy, necessarily, but I do think it’s a reality, and often a goal, for many in search of love. It’s also important to remember that those aren’t Adrian’s words, but his mother’s. In fact, Adrian had made himself clear, and was even following through on being a good friend by coming to a play he wasn’t all that interested in going to in the first place. There’s literally no ulterior motive there: he wanted to support his friend.
I love that Tynion presents this kind of relationship — the gay kid who wants to get with his close straight friend — because that can be an impossibly hard thing for both people to process, and neither one of them is comfortable with the power dynamic between them. What makes it so painful in real life, and so compelling on the page, is that I think Adrian does genuinely care for his friend. He may not have the tools to express a meaningful platonic love back in Milwaukee, but there are some telltale signs that Isaac is important to him too.
Let’s look at the “Give it up boy! We have your friend!” moment. It may not be easy to read Adrian’s emotions anywhere else in the issue, but we get one clear look at his pain as Dialynas articulates his blood-weeping eyes behind those glasses.
What Isaac is saying is true — Adrian doesn’t let those guys hurt his friend. He does it by emotionally distancing himself from everyone. Look, Adrian is smart — he must know that pretending to be disinterested in his friend would let him off the hook. That aching, bloody stare speaks volumes about what Adrian is going through in the moment he makes this decision.
The other thing that’s clouded in mystery is exactly what information Adrian has about the woods that makes him so eager to ditch his friends and strike out on his own. Obviously, there’s a lot of LOST in this series’ DNA, but while the truth about what the island was vs. what it appeared to be was actually not all that extreme, The Woods has already shown its own “island” to be a strange sci-fi / fantasy pastiche, and none of our heroes understand what we’re dealing with. He get something close to an answer from one of those knight dudes.
So much for these guys being experts, right? “That’s how we’ve come to understand it”? Never mind the fact that the prison part of the woods hasn’t been activated in the last 200 years, even the people who live here full-time don’t know what this place is. Adrian has some information, and is clearly able to tap into some high technology to manipulate his surroundings.
My point his: as much as we might want to consider Adrian a rat bastard, it’s hard for me to find fault in what he’s doing. He might be the one that finally shows them all how to get home, and he may have to sacrifice all his relationships to do so. That’s selfless. Is he the villain? Or is he the hero?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?