Incorporations are people, my friend…
I don’t think I’ve been too hyperbolic in my praise of The Woods. It’s been an incredibly solid series from its beginning. However, I’ve been rather amazed by the way this series continues to improve. The first trade’s worth of material was worthy of recognition, but the flashback stories of the second arc really showed off James Tynion and Michael Dialynas’ skill. So imagine my surprise when the third arc of the series abandoned the each trade is better than the last approach to top itself with each new issue.
The introduction of New London has been a huge boon to this series. James Tynion is doing some excellent world building and forcing his characters into new situations. Whether that means making Cassius essentially one of the main cast or pairing Calder and Sanami up for more or less the first time, the series still feels fresh, possibly more so than it ever has.
I also really appreciate that Tynion isn’t satisfied to lean on the audience’s expectations. After his heavy-eyed freak outs last issue, it looked like Isaac was ready to take up Adrian’s role as party member to keep an eye on. However, like a teenager rather than a character, this issue shows that he’s still in the process of incorporating what’s happened and growing as a person. In another comic, possibly even earlier issues of this one, Isaac would have made his claim near the start of the issue and followed it, unrelentingly, for at least the rest of the arc, but instead Tynion demonstrates his talent for building tone and highlights Isaac’s desperation instead.
Likewise, from the moment we saw him talking with Coach Clay, the Duke of New London has been an intimidating character. While Clay has a role to play, the Duke has been the one who feels like this section’s Big Bad. But despite his ominous presence and most of this issue laying out the grave stakes of his plan, Tynion spends two sequences demonstrating the validity of the Duke’s motivations. Both sides feel reasonable and human. Imagine that!
Despite the intrigue of New London, Tynion does get rather expository at times. This is at it’s worst during a scene between Sander and Cassius, where the young man explains to his father what happened at an event they were both present for. The dialogue tries its best to justify the history lesson, but it can’t quite manage. Similar but more natural examples seem to follow Sander around this issue, as he’s the one who understands the situation, but it definitely feels like Tynion just ran out of time or patience and decided to sacrifice naturalism for the sake of clarity.
Despite this flaw, the structure of the issue is otherwise quite strong. There are a few places where cutting back and forth between characters is a little jarring or the purpose of a scene isn’t entirely clear, but, for the most part, Tynion uses intelligent juxtapositions to enhance and clarify the story.
As ever, it helps enormously that Michael Dialynas is a fantastic storyteller. Normally when I say that I mean that there’s a flow or continuity between panels, and there is, but part of what makes Dialynas so much fun to read is how much he’s able to communicate in a single panel without complicating it. Every face is legible, human or otherwise, and every panel tells a story.
The issue is also rather cinematic in its pace. I feel like I know exactly how Tynion and Dialynas want each moment timed. The scene in the crypt is a particularly fine example of this and you can almost hear the breaking silence in the final scene.
I will admit that the line of Dukes is a somewhat homogenous bunch and, having not seen him since last month’s issue, I almost thought that the current Duke was very old when his predecessor showed up 200 years ago. Nonetheless the similarity highlights a particularly interesting element of the story. Having incorporated numerous groups, New London’s imperialist trappings belie it’s racial diversity. It’s actually quite interesting and impressive to see how subtly the mixing of cultures affects the people of New London and the two Dukes are a great example of this. You can really tell that the Dukes married one of the incorporated groups somewhere along the line, but the current Duke doesn’t just look like a person of color in the same clothes. You can tell that he’s not only mixed race but incorporating elements of both of his cultures and the ability to do with without any mentions in the script is something I’d love to see more of in comics.
I also have to mention how well Dialynas and colorist Josan Gonzalez work together. The layouts and colors in this issue are both really strong. Dialynas doesn’t do anything revolutionary but he keeps things varied and tied to the narrative while Gonzalez’s colors help provide contrast and guidance to the reader. The pages featuring the New London Guard are particular favorites in this regard.
Finally, while it could be said of most issues, Gonzalez is really starting to tempt my curiosity about the mysterious aliens, whose receive a really interesting suspected motive this issue. Obviously Tynion is the one weaving the story and that’s really what’s behind it, but I’m a big kid and I can let him tell the story at his own pace…except I really want to see Gonzalez cut loose with the eerie color palette that he’s chosen for the Black City.