The New York Four is New York City through and through. I was roped in immediately by Kelly's amazing ability to capture that wonderfully soul-crushing city on the page, and Wood's uncanny knack for developing characters in an environment that is filled with both relentless hope and unending challenges. If you're a sucker for that city like I am, you'll be a sucker for this book. Of course, if you're a fan of Young Adult fiction, you'll also be very attracted to this title. I don't fall into this camp: in fact I fall into the opposite camp. YA fiction is often contrived in such a way that it relegates itself to enjoyment among people who are either at the peak of their adolescence, or who are otherwise in some way looking to live vicariously through someone who still thinks it is them versus the world.
But damnit if this book isn't wonderfully charming. There's a particular struggle that belongs to coming of age in New York City, and Wood's way of narrating life in this city as well as Kelly's way of really taking us there on the page really screams "New York" from cover to cover.
The first story collected in this trade (The New York Four) belonged to DC's Minx imprint, which was supposed to cater to young women and ended up catering to pretty much nobody, so it no longer exists (the second story, The New York Five, was published years later under the Vertigo imprint). With that in mind, it might seem like this is a comic that is meant for that set of people; but even as someone who is not the biggest fan of YA (and also not a woman), I have to say I do not think the audience for this story is quite so narrow. Perhaps the demographic who enjoys YA is comprised mostly of girls for certain reasons, but that hardly means that nobody at all with a Y chromosome would find this story appealing. I can personally confess to really enjoying the read.
An awkward but fun feature of the book is the constant barrage of panels where the main character Riley is on her phone "PING!"-ing away, and we're just kind of left to sit here trying to appreciate the New York splendor with a main character that won't even pay us any mind. Of course, this is an awkwardness you should feel: Wood is aware that these panels alienate the reader, and Kelly presents the sequences so perfectly as to represent an everyday real life alienating action that even manages to alienate the reader from a fictional character.
I wonder if the ending of the first story (The New York Four) isn't a little rushed, and much of the build-up to the climactic moment is pretty typical Young Adult fare, but boy if that climax didn't punch me right in the gut. I guess I wish there was some more substance to the first story's third act. Granted, much of the charm and substance of the comic is in the build up to the final moments, which are really just the cherry on top. But some of the elements of the story were leaned on so heavily that it was sort of disappointing to see them come crashing down. Then again, this is pretty typical Young Adult fiction for you.
Anything that might have been missing from The New York Four is present and thensome in the second story, The New York Five, and I'm really excited that the two of these are being printed together. Wood's character work really crescendos in the second story, and takes the scenario of these four young women living together in the first book to a place where we can identify with at least one character, maybe more. That I can find these characters relatable as a dude in his mid-twenties is pretty cool; one character's story arc reminds me of struggles that my mother had with her family when she was around that age, and other characters often personify frustrations that have been close to home for friends of mine, and for myself, in the big leap from high school to college and beyond. Additionally, Kelly really brings his ‘A’ game to the second book and brags with the details in his settings.
Remember, I'm not just reviewing this product in a bubble: it costs money. To get two full stories like this, reprinted and all in one place is a pretty great deal for twenty bucks. If you were just getting The New York Four, I don't think I'd recommend the purchase, but since the trade being released by Dark Horse collects both stories, and since The New York Five really takes this work somewhere splendid, the price is more than fair: there isn't a better way to read these stories. Grab a copy.
Writer: Brian Wood Artist: Ryan Kelly Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $19.99 Release Date: 11/5/14 Format: TPB; Print/Digital