I need very little motivation to give a recommended new book a try. Sometimes it’s the plot concept that grabs me; more often than not, someone just says “it has queer people in it” and that’s enough for me. (I’ve ended up trying some terrible books this way; LGBTQ+ representation and quality are not mutually guaranteed.) Combining an author I already know I love with the promise of queer representation, though, is a no-brainer for my ever-growing to-read list. So when I saw that James Tynion IV had written a comic series I’d somehow never heard of, and that it came highly recommended by Bisexual Books, I obviously had to check it out.
Vague spoilers for Vol. 1 of The Woods below the jump.
In The Woods, a Wisconsin high school is thrown into chaos when a mysterious force translocates the entire school to an alien planet. The only clue to why they’ve been relocated is a gigantic and strange artifact that’s mysteriously appeared outside the school. However, investigating this takes second tier to not dying, as nightmarish animals begin to attack students and the realization that they now lack potable water, electricity, and a sustainable food source sets in. While the teachers and the student council butt heads over how best to survive their new and terrifying situation, a group of intrepid but not exactly well-prepared outcasts sets off into the woods that now surround the school to see if they can find out why they were brought to this new planet.
While the plot clips right along, giving us major character death, alien infections, and the sudden rise and fall of fascist government within the school care of the ex-Special Forces gym teacher declaring martial law, I still finished the first book with the feeling that it had only just begun to set up a much larger story. Part of this may be due to the fact that, unlike some trades that collect six single issues into a volume, The Woods’s first trade only covered the first four issues. While I wish we had gotten more character development from the side characters in this volume, I really can’t complain about the book’s length – it still covered plenty of ground. (I also can’t complain about paying trade price for two fewer issues, because I got it from the library.)
There’s plenty of plot development and setup for a longer more complicated story here, and if I didn’t get instant queer romance gratification, that means a longer plot arc with well-developed romance is on the way, right? Also, while I didn’t get immediate gay, just the setup for it, the series does solidify its racial diversity right away in a variety of well-developed characters. Maria Ramirez, the student council president, takes action to protect the students while the teachers sit in committee and decide nothing. Sanami Ota, whose family lives entirely off the grid, has crucial knowledge that could help everyone survive without power or running water. Ben Stone, a big, stocky Black boy, is too shy to go out for the football team (despite the coach’s repeated insistence he do so), but is able to save his friends thanks to his size once they get into the woods. In addition, Ben looks to be one of the queer characters (based on his reactions to being in close quarters with one of the other guys) so we can rest assured that the queer representation in this series isn’t going to be limited to waifish white boys in love.
The art by Michael Dialynas is beautiful and creepy, with fantastically eerie designs for the creatures the kids encounter in the woods, and dynamic action and expressions throughout the book. His art is masterfully set off by Josan Gonzalez’s colors; the bright pinks, greens, and purples of the alien fauna against the ominous darkness of the woods themselves (and the significantly longer extraterrestrial night) come together for an engaging but also unsettling visual.
One of the most interesting things to me in a meta sense is that this comic is published by Boom Studios. While Boom isn’t entirely devoted to publishing all-ages kids’ comics, the bulk of their list is made up of titles like Lumberjanes, Steven Universe, Goldie Vance, and other kids’ media tie-in comics like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Adventure Time, and Over the Garden Wall. In comparison to these, The Woods is definitively not for young kids. With some minor swearing, some major gory deaths and injuries, hella scary monsters, and a (non-graphic) streaking scene as the cherry on top, I’m surprised to see this coming out from Boom as opposed to a more teen/adult focused publisher like Image. Whether this was a one time thing on Boom’s part or they’re trying to expand their list into a wider range of audiences, I’m glad they decided to publish it. While I always will advocate for more LGBTQ+ characters in all-ages media, I’m not gonna pooh-pooh a cool older-audiences-oriented sci-fi/horror series from a queer author I’ve grown to love.
There are four more volumes in the series, and you can bet that Vol. 2 went on my library hold list as soon as I was finished with the first one. I definitely recommend The Woods to lovers of series like Paper Girls, another awesome teen sci-fi/horror comic, or to teen/adult fans of stuff like Gravity Falls, The Backstagers, and Lumberjanes. It’s got mysterious artifacts, tension (both narrative and romantic), and teens saving themselves when adults fail to, and I’m very happy that brief recommendation crossed my dash.
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