Today, Spencer and Ryan M. are discussing The Woods 29, originally released February 1st, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: The Woods is a series about teenagers, but it’s never neglected its adult characters. From Principal Beaumont to the rulers of New London, the adults have all had their own desires and motivations that have made them more than just stock antagonists for the Bay Point kids. James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas have spent quite a bit of The Woods’ third year fleshing out their protagonists’ parents back on Earth, and now that Sanami’s been teleported home, it’s clear why. Some are proving themselves allies while others stand in Sanami’s way; the splintering of Earth’s forces provides an interesting contrast to the action back on the moon, where old enemies may just be coming together against a common foe.
The Woods 29 opens with a long, unhurried prologue that follows Diego Ramirez from his home to the bedroom of Sanami, where she fills him on everything that’s happened to the Bay Point kids since their disappearance. It’s a bit of a slow open, but it not only eases readers back into the book after a month-long break between arcs, but allows us to see how each parent is handling Sanami’s momentous news. Unsurprisingly, Diego and Vicki (whose children, Maria and Adrian, died on the alien moon) aren’t dealing well, while Karen’s mother Marcia seems filled with hope.
(Sanami’s father Hiram, meanwhile, is trying to monetize his daughter’s story, in typical Hiram Ota fashion. Sanami’s resentment towards her father has been a minor running thread throughout this series, and now that they’re both on the same planet, I’d love to see it explored more.)
Diego’s “betrayal” of Sanami (by calling the FBI to suppress her warning about the Black City) is portrayed as an uncharacteristic move. Sanami was close friends with Maria, so no doubt trusted Diego, but even the few flashbacks readers saw of Maria and Diego together in past issues portrayed him as a wise, caring father. It’s tempting to chalk this up, then, to the “adults vs. kids” conflict that’s so typical of young adult stories, but I don’t think that’s it; after all, other parents are still supporting Sanami.
No, the conflict that’s really defined so much of The Woods is the one between the Bay Point kids and authority in general. Sometimes that conflict is obvious, such as when Coach Clay, the New London government, or the Horde have directly tried to kill or enslave the kids. Other have been more subtle, though: Beaumont, Sander’s parents, and now Diego have supposedly had the kids’ best interests at heart, but have generally just obstructed their plans, slowing things down and hand-wringing until it’s too late to fight back.
That anti-authority message — the idea that authority can’t be trusted, that at best they’ll drown you in red tape and apathy or at worst outright attack you, and that the only way to get things done is to take matters into your own hands — feels awful timely and empowering in our current political climate. It’s a message Karen puts into action back on the alien moon by sneaking herself, Sander, and Ben into the Horde’s base. I’m eager to see how her plan shakes out. Karen and the rest of the kids ignoring orders and taking action has usually worked out for the best, but her willingness to play Taisho’s game may just drop the kids into the same kind of bureaucracy they’ve been trying to avoid all this time. Then again, by playing Taisho’s game, Karen’s going against the advice and orders of just about every authority figure (including Sander) on the moon; it’s a transgressive act in its own right, so maybe that makes it the right move? We’ll have to hope so.
One element I’ve loved about The Woods’ third year is Dialynas’ colors. Former colorist Josan Gonzalez is a hard act to follow, but Dialynas has only improved on his work, adding a lush sheen to the signature palette Gonzalez established. This month, I particularly love how Dialynas uses color to create a sense of place, and to establish the mood of each location. Let’s take a look at the last page set on Earth.
And now let’s compare it to the very next page, the issue’s first set on the alien moon.
It’s jarring, isn’t it? Earth is shaded in much dimmer colors than the alien moon — it never looks bleak or dingy, but the difference between our normal planet and the alien wonder of the moon is immediately clear. The colors don’t just show the differences in environment, but in mood as well: Sanami’s mission on Earth is much bleaker than Karen’s, which, even if it is a suicide mission, is still a fantastic adventure, played out like an action movie. You can get a feel for what kind of story each scene is telling immediately from the colors alone, before any action is taken or words spoken.
The colors reach their crescendo in this one masterful spread:
Again, Dialynas paints Sanami and Diego in the colors he’s established for Earth, but the story Sanami’s telling solely in the heightened neon aesthetic of the alien moon. The colors are an integral part of the story, but this spread is working on all levels: I love how tiny Sanami and Diego are, with the story exploding around them to fill up two full pages. That shows how the weight of the story hits Diego, and the images themselves remind the readers of everything the Bay Point kids have gone through up till now — and how overwhelming those events must be to an unprepared human.
Ryan, I still love this book — how about you? Did you enjoy seeing the parents’ reaction back home, or were you hoping to see more of the Bay Point kids? What do you think of Karen’s plan? Brave? Suicidal? Somewhere in between?
Ryan M: This book gives me anxiety in the best way. The mix of authentic human behavior and outsized alien adventure makes for a compelling and involving read. The current threat seems the most ominous yet, and this issue didn’t give me hope that I will be able to stop worrying about these kids any time soon.
The Earthbound section of the story is an effective way to show the distance between the world that the Bay Point kids left and where they are now. The parents are getting twenty-eight issues of plot in a single sitting. It’s no wonder that their reactions don’t have measured or rational responses. Dialynas renders Marcia’s wide smile in her first appearance with such a unworried joy that seems unhinged when you consider that she is greeting a man who is about to find out his daughter died on a distant alien moon. Diego acts as protagonist of the first half of the story and we see the other parents and Sanami through his lens. He has little patience for Marcia or Hiram but cannot deny Sanami when faced with her presence. She is quite a sight in her bedroom.
The incongruities immediately jump out. The sword leaning against the bed with a doll on the floor next to it. Sanami herself standing with a mug in one hand looking aged and more adult in this one look than the parents do in any of the preceding panels. It’s also this moment that we shift our perspective a bit to be with Sanami. Some of that is only natural. This is character we know well on a mission that we support. Tynion IV also makes this transition easier by giving us the issue’s only moment of levity as Doctor Robot scares the bejeesus out of Diego before retreating to the closet to hang out with a teddy bear and eat chocolate bars.It’s also worth noting that Doctor Robot maintains some of that alien moon coloring and acts as a visual link between the two palettes. Diego is a bit shaken and this seems to inflame Sanami’s confidence and she strikes a bit of a pose before sitting down to share her adventures.
The choice to spend so much time with the parents was a really effective way to show that the Bay Point kids are going to have to continue to fight on their own. Tynion gives us different flavors of unhelpful. Vicky is too consumed with grief, Marcia is loony and Hiram is too focused on his own glory. No adult, not even the ones who raised you, can be trusted in this series. That’s why Karen’s plan is so risky.
It’s also the kind of bold move that the Bay Point parents would never make. Parents have an instinctual duty to protect their young. From the time their child is born, they soften the edges of life, keep out danger and provide a safe space for growth. Karen is beyond that kind of thinking. The things that she and her comrades have seen and experienced have made her understand that bold moves are necessary. The final panel of the issue is such a strong moment for her.
She is resolute and bold. She presents the aboriginal people the truth about the upcoming fight. Her honesty and strength work in direct contrast with the parents’ weaknesses. It’s a great moment for Tynion IV to end the issue. Whatever comes next, our hero is declared.
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?