The Woods #1-3
The concept behind The Woods is familiar, especially to manga readers. A high school full of students and faculty is transported to a mysterious world? dimension? where they have to quickly learn to work together or die. The best-known example exploring the rapid devolution of society when teens are stranded may be Lord of the Flies, but comic readers are likely thinking of Battle Royale. Although here, the kids aren’t told to kill each other — they just may cause deaths by not paying attention or refusing to take the situation seriously.
What recommends The Woods to me is the quality of the characterization by writer James Tynion IV. The few students we get to know best aren’t quite as stereotypical and one-dimensional as one might expect. Karen, the first girl we meet, is freaking out because she has no idea of what she wants her future to be, and she’s frightened of what her parents will do when they find out she didn’t apply to any colleges. The second, Sanami, just wants to get out of their home state of Wisconsin. Both, here, will likely learn to be careful what you wish for.
These are not your typical jock/nerd/cheerleader school breakdowns. I’m curious to find out more about Ben, a large black guy who keeps getting pursued by the coach to play football but refusing. He seems to have depths we haven’t seen yet. Similarly, Adrian, the geek loner, has a weird connection to an alien artifact, which drives him to lead the group of students that sets out to investigate.
The generational aspect is more developed here, with a pushy student council member locked up by an adult coach who’s using the figurehead principal to establish his own power. There’s also more of a science fiction feel, with the runaway group quickly threatened by a giant green bear-like creature and some huge insects. Artist Michael Dialynas does an excellent job creating the feel of a world like ours — until the local fauna makes it clear that it’s not. The diversity of character types and expressions are also welcome. (Covers are by Ramon K. Perez.)
The build is slow. That’s one of the toughest challenges of an ongoing story like this, trying to balance the pacing. We need to keep finding things out to stay interested, but too many reveals at once would make few of them mean anything. So far we know, without revealing too much, that nature is gross, but humans feeling threatened are even more gross.
It’s the details that make this worth reading, with little moments and statements making this situation feel realistic and making these characters sympathetic… even when they’re doing stupid or foolhardy things. Every issue also ends with at least one cliffhanger, keeping the reader on tenterhooks wondering how the kids are going to survive the next challenge.