Last week was a big one for comics, what with the end of Brightest Day, Justice League: Generation Lost, and the release of Action Comics #900. I love a good blockbuster, and even though I wasn’t reading BD or JLGL, I’ve heard very good things from those who have. Those books don’t exactly need any more publicity.

Since smaller books often get lost in the shuffle, I’d like to sing the praises of another comic that reached a milestone on Wednesday: The New York Five (Vertigo), by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, took its final, bittersweet bow this week with issue No. 4. It’s a story about friendship, but a certain kind: the intense but fragile connections you make in young adulthood, specifically the freshman year of college. Riley, Ren, Lona, and Merissa are NYU students and roommates, and while theirs is very much a New York story, it’s also universal. Wood avoids the clichés about coming of age while effectively showing those wobbly, thrilling first steps toward independence.

These four characters were the main players in predecessor The New York Four (Minx), which is also a top-notch read. However, Wood structures the sequel so that you can jump right in and follow the narrative. Riley is sheltered and smarting from the fallout of a bad decision; Ren is romantically impulsive; Lona is scarily obsessed over a (in her mind) bad grade, and exuberant Merissa is keeping secrets about family trauma. The fifth New Yorker is Olive, a street kid we don’t learn much about until the end — and what an ending.

Kelly’s black-and-white images are so eye-catching, and so right for this comic. His illustrations convey the limitless energy of New York, but also the intimacy among the characters. Some of my favorite scenes are the simplest. The original four participate in videotaped sessions with an NYU psychologist, Dr. Paka, and the close-ups of the girls sharing – or hiding – whatever’s going on in their lives are effective. We see things from Dr. Paka’s vantage point, and Kelly has an excellent command of facial expressions and subtle body language. I can’t imagine this series being drawn by anyone else. The saturated cover images provide all the color this book needs.

Wood doesn’t stoop to clear resolutions, and the book is mercifully free of unnecessary internal monologues and explanation. In the end, the reader is left to his or her own imagination, and with a great deal of satisfaction.

3 thoughts on “Comic Judgment: The New York Five

  1. These are the type of books I really like to read. You don’t need KAPOWS and BOOMS to make a great comic. Just good dialog and human interaction. Very comparable to Strangers In Paradise, which I believe is one of the best b&w independent comics ever.


  2. It’s always great to find gems like these and share them with people. Not that Vertigo is a small imprint, but I bet a lot of people overlooked this in last week’s big title frenzy.


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