by Spencer Irwin and Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: Drew and I had the immense pleasure of chatting with The Woods artist Michael Dialynas at New York Comic Con a few weeks ago, and early in our conversation Dialynas caught me off guard by asking me how I wanted The Woods to wrap up. I like endings, and I like endings that surprise me, but I’ve also been following these characters for over three years now, so I answered, “Well, I just want a happy ending for everyone. Especially Isaac.” Dialynas proceeded to sign my comic with the words “I’m so sorry.”
Final issues are always about wrapping things up for beloved characters, but after that conversation, I especially approached The Woods 36 trying to figure out what kind of life each character could possibly live going forward. What kind of futures have Dialynas and writer James Tynion IV granted their creations?
Since I brought him up, let’s start with Isaac. I wanted a happy ending for him because I felt bad for him, because he’d been neglected and overlooked at home and essentially seduced by a heartless weapon of ultimate destruction on the alien moon, but I can’t deny that, no matter how much his mind was tampered with, he also played a role in his predicament, and ultimately, in his crimes as well.
It’s hard to look at Isaac and not see the many comic nerds or gamers who have used any sort of persecution they’ve endured in their life as an excuse to return it three-fold to others. A happy ending for Isaac cannot mean simply ignoring the consequences of his actions. And, devastatingly, that certainly does not happen.
Poor Ben; what a terrible moment, executed in the most heartbreaking manner by Dialynas. All he’s ever done is love Isaac, and all Isaac ever brought him was sorrow. If Ben’s been underused in the back half of The Woods, it’s only because he grew the most, the fastest. Ben entered this series timid and scared, afraid to defend his interests, express his sexuality, or use his strength. His time on the alien moon allowed him to grow into a noble, honorable man, and being that kind of man sometimes means bearing great burdens, and he’ll return to Earth with the knowledge that he was able to grant the last wish of someone he loved, even if it meant doing something horrific. That’s the kind of strength he’s gained.
Isaac himself may have died, but his mind lives on, along with Adrian’s, in the alien moon’s supercomputer. It’s probably the only ending that could have ever been both just and happy for Isaac — it’s a chance to redeem himself, a chance for Isaac and Adrian to finally be the great men they always dreamed of being, and a chance for these two to spend eternity with the only other person who has ever truly cared for them. Considering everything they’ve been through together, it feels fitting, and it was certainly a satisfying end for me.
Then there’s Karen, who entered The Woods so petrified of the future that she never even applied to college. Since landing on the alien moon she’s grown into a powerful leader, and her speech to the alien computer highlights why she used to be so scared of the future, and how she’s grown past it.
Indecision often stems from a fear of failure; if you never make a choice, then you never have to worry about making the wrong one, right? Through her adventures, though, Karen has discovered that perfection is impossible, and no matter what happens, failure is inevitable — you just have to learn from it.
With that lesson learned, Karen’s happy ending is simply learning to embrace uncertainty and face the future with hope rather than fear.
There’s reason to be nervous. Karen’s returning to Earth after having been gone three years, and the skills she’s learned on the alien earth don’t exactly translate to many job opportunities on Earth. Sander and the rest of the New London colonists have never even been to Earth, so they especially have a lot to be nervous about. But opportunities are still opportunities, and worrying won’t help anyone — it takes a bit of a push from Sander, but Karen has learned to embrace the future and move forward with hope rather than let it paralyze and destroy her as she once did.
And thus the last page finds Karen and Sander walking into the light of endless possibilities, embracing whatever the future may bring them — as Modern English would say, “the future’s open wide.” There was no way The Woods could ever have a 100% happy ending after so much death and tragedy, but the chance for these kids to build a new, safer life applying the lessons they’ve learned is about as happy and as satisfying a conclusion as I could’ve hoped for. For all its sci-fi trappings, at its heart The Woods was a coming-of-age story, and these kids ended up growing magnificently. I’m glad I got to take this ride along with them, and along with Tynion and Dialynas.
Drew, I know you hadn’t been keeping up with The Woods as closely as I had; did you find this to be a satisfying conclusion as well, or were you expecting something a little different? And hey, colors were a very big part of this series and especially this issue, especially green and purple; what do you think of Dialynas’ use of them here?
Drew: I remember seeing you flip through the pages of this issue after Dialynas handed it to you, remarking on all of the green and purple. Both colors are obviously very important to the storytelling here — purple is the de facto color of the woods, and that iridescent green is the color of whatever has been touched by the Black City’s technology. Heck, even the scenes we get of Sanami and the parents back on Earth are moodily shaded in nighttime blues and purples. Indeed, because those colors are so omnipresent in the issue, I’m actually most struck by their absence. There are a few glimmers of more natural colors (what colorists call “local color”) throughout the issue, but I’m most struck by it after Adrian and Isaac pull Karen and Sander out of contact with the computer.
Obviously, Dialynas needed something to broadcast the difference between Karen and Sander’s physical beings and Adrian and Isaac’s digatal astral projections, but in reserving local color for this scene alone, he lends it an extra bit of gravity. This moment is so real, even the colors have to drop the pretense.
And actually, this moment also highlights one of the key themes of this issue. In a series that has spent so much time talking about deaths having meaning — of dying for something — I find Adrian’s assurance that this is an end to be particularly empowering. That is, Karen’s actions can have meaning even if she doesn’t die for them — that life can have meaning, too. That lesson, along with the one that mistakes are inevitable, makes for a compelling one-two punch, giving the formerly aimless and indecisive Karen the perspective she so desperately needed.
But while I’m talking about meaningful deaths, I have to at least mention Isaac’s. As heartbreaking as it is to watch Ben kill his first love, that moment also lends him some much-needed closure on that relationship. For Ben, Isaac not only died, but sacrificed himself nobly (if a bit late) to save others. It’s a heroic(ish) death that elevates Ben to a key player in Isaac’s life. If there’s anything I dislike about the issue, it’s that Isaac’s ascension to the computer astral plane kind of undermines this moment. It gives Isaac a maybe-too-happy ending, allowing him to pal around with his best friend for all eternity while all of the rest of the cast (who never went on murderous rampages) will live and die as mere mortals.
But whatever quibbles I have with Isaac’s ultimate fate, I have to admit, I freaking love seeing him come to Karen’s rescue.
I’m not always a fan of YA — I think it often dangerously fetishizes teens’ worst attitudes and impulses — but the thought that the computer hadn’t factored in the heightened emotional connections teens make with one another is absolutely brilliant. This computer is a being of pure logic, so the raw emotion teens often display was actually an asset here. You can see that notion stretch back throughout this series, as impulsive, emotional decisions end up catching the computers or the Horde off-guard. The fact that the antagonists were so perfectly poised as anti-teens goes a long way to make me okay with the more YA-influenced bits of this series.
As a coming of age story, I think this works wonders. Karen’s journey from someone paralyzed by indecision to someone resolving to save the day is particularly meaningful to me, as someone who still struggles with the fear of doing something wrong. Tynion and Dialynas handle the ending of that thread perfectly — Karen hasn’t magically transformed into a decisive person, but she’s gained enough perspective to not be so overwhelmed with possibilities (and the potential for failure). That’s an ending that pushes her into her future while leaving the rest of us with something to chew on.
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