Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s “The New York Five” continues to impress and inspire as the mini-series follow-up to Wood and Kelly’s 2007 Minx graphic novel “The New York Four.” “Five” picks up with the original four college students -- Riley, Lona, Merissa, and Ren -- embarking on their second semester as NYU freshmen.
In this third issue, the ladies begin to drift apart in very serious ways, as their relative storylines continue to spin out – i.e. Riley’s affair with her sister’s ex, Merissa’s problems at home, and Lona’s continued stalking of a teacher. Additionally, Ren, the most mysterious character of the group to both readers and her friends, drops a massive bombshell on the group that will change her life forever. It’s significant life changing stuff for all the ladies involved and it poises us nicely for a powerful final issue. The themes here about growing up and moving on are relevant and poignant, without ever feeling “after school special” or ham-fisted. It’s great nuanced work, which is no surprise considering the source.
One of the high points of Wood’s story, and there are many, is the way in which New York itself is a character, and how the omniscient narrator takes readers through the city, as if on their own personal private tour. Wood’s use of video therapy sessions for each of the ladies continues to be a stroke of brilliance; It gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the truth of each of their lives, which they, for the most part and for their own reasons, keep from one another. The secret keeping has been a sad, but smartly realistic tact Wood has taken, exposing to readers the reality of each character’s situation, but well-illustrating the self imposed barriers, fears, and self-consciousness that keep people from truly connecting. It’s obvious to the reader that what they really need is to lean on each other and trust each other, to help each other along. Instead, they gut it out, feeling alone and ostracized and each going through their personal dramas privately. It gives the story a bittersweet tone that well fits the very idea of trying to make it in New York.
The only flaw in this issue, is that Olive, the titular “five,” a homeless girl “living” near the East Village apartment of our main characters, is coming off a little cliché at this point in the story and perhaps a little too obviously designed as a cautionary tale of sorts for these four young ladies on their respective paths. Hopefully, the story with Olive will resolve a little more interestingly than where it seems headed, and if there’s a writer that can do it, it’s certainly Wood.
Ryan Kelly’s artwork here is nothing short of amazing. His ability to render New York in all its stunning glory and grit is matched only by his ability to so effortlessly flesh out the five main characters who look as distinct and real as any comic book character ever has or will. The clothing, hair, and shoes in the book are particularly spectacular, and while that may sound silly, it’s amazing what detail like that can do to flesh out a character and create such visual richness. This Vertigo series is also actually an improvement over the Minx volume in that the larger format is a much better fit for Kelly’s expansive beautiful artwork. His New York cityscapes and famous landmarks come alive with insane detail and clarity in a way that felt slightly more restrained in the digest size.
Overall this comic delivers an insane amount of pleasure, especially considering it is 32 luxurious pages for only $2.99. Truly great slice-of-life comics are far too rare in monthlies, but this is one of the best.