But for the Trees: “The Woods #2”

[1 July 2014]

By Steven Michael Scott

Imagine you’re back in high school. Perhaps you still are, or it’s fast approaching. You’re faced with a lot of societal pressures such as fitting in, applying for colleges, making the football team or getting cast in the school play. Now top that off with the fact that your school has inexplicably been transported to an alien galaxy.

You are now entering The Woods.

As we saw previously, the high schoolers of Bay Point Preparatory Academy are not in Wisconsin anymore and the mystery of how and why they’ve been zapped to this strange new world is now unfolding.

So let’s meet our core cast of freaks and geeks: We’ve got the unpopular brainy one, the reluctant jock, the unhinged rebel, the theater geek, and the tough-as-nails chick. It’s as if The Breakfast Club got abducted because this planet’s ruler is a big John Hughes fan and wants to stage his own remake. Hey, it’s just a theory. 

So maybe the kids aren’t exact replicas of the Brat Pack but the archetypes are all there, and hopefully they’ll evolve into more rounded versions in the coming issues. If they live long enough. It’s a sci-fi comic but at its core, The Woods is pure horror and the survival of the fittest motif is set up early on. Not even the school is safe as flying alien creatures are bursting into classrooms and eating the first student within reach. A leader must emerge with a plan to get them home before all hope is lost and brainiac Adrian Roth has one that involves venturing into the unknown. The foreboding woods.

The concept is a decent enough hook to reel you in, but the portrayal of some of the characters occasionally doesn’t ring true. The students are depicted as taking charge and being logical while the teachers are clueless and seemingly helpless. This won’t necessarily be the downfall of the book, but it does verge on a contrived device to pave the way for a teachers vs. students rivalry. Not only are the adults lacking any leadership whatsoever (you can’t really blame the kids for wanting to rebel against the useless faculty) but they are also kind of evil. I get that teens are all about rejecting authority, and the normal school rules have now been thrown out the window, but do we really need to paint the teachers as villains? Is there not one decent human being amongst them? Their first order of business is to shut down a Tracy Flick type know-it-all, whose crime is that she’s at least trying to make the best out of a situation she has no control over. The teachers seem more concerned with keeping the students in line than actually working together to survive. Very curious.

Despite any misgivings about the absence of logic (perhaps a nod to horror movie clichés), The Woods isn’t boring. You can’t accuse things of moving too slow, as our ragtag crew has already set off in search of answers. However, sometimes it feels like the answers come too easily. Turns out they’re not on a planet, that it’s actually a moon. Minor detail, but how can they determine in less than an hour that they’re on a moon? It took earthlings centuries to determine that Earth was orbiting the sun by charting the solar system and suddenly the jock is Neil deGrasse Tyson? Can we really assume that this galaxy even remotely resembles the way ours works? Maybe there’s more to this character and the supposed moon than meets the eye, but at the very least, it gets you thinking.

The art is a mixed bag. The humans are all drawn very similarly, and the style brings to mind the Sunday strip Funky Winkerbean. This is not a slam! Certainly not against Funky Winkerbean. I really enjoy the art style of that strip. This is just to say that the art style of the humans would be more at home in the Sunday paper than in a horror comic. Having said that… where the artist really shines here is the monsters. That’s where the art really jumps off the page at you and we’re reminded that this is a scary book with real stakes. If only the rest of the book matched the tone set by the monsters, then we’d have more reason to be terrified.

The Woods is a classic B-movie setup complete with cheesy dialogue and stereotypes, which sometimes takes itself a little too seriously, denying its true essence. As soon as this comic embraces what it is and drops hints to the audience that it is self-aware, I think it will take off as fun, grindhouse-style entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/183290-but-for-the-trees-the-woods-2/