Written by Brian Wood and drawn by Ryan Kelly, “New York Five” is a sequel to their Minx OGN “New York Four,” absorbed into the Vertigo line and set one semester after the events of the previous story. If you read any of Wood and Kelly’s work on “Local”, you know more or less what to expect. If you didn’t, here is as good a place as any to find out what you’ve been missing out on.
Without wanting to venture too far into cliche, one of the book’s selling points is that as well as a small, tightly-defined cast, it also treats New York almost as a main character in its own right. The locations are carefully chosen and contextualized, occasionally even annotated in the authorial voice. It creates an almost unique mix of fact and fiction that, in turn, gives the book’s fairly straightforward concept (no Vikings or spec-fic civil wars here!), an unusual twist, and added texture.
As we catch up with the characters, Wood rather throws the reader back into their world. A recap page admittedly fills in the finer points of who they are and what they’re dealing with, but so long after the original it can make one feel a little lost at times. That is the book’s sole fault, however, as the rest of the story is immediately engaging and enjoyable. Wood might be best known for high-concept series like “Demo,” “Northlanders,” and “DMZ”, but there are familiar themes of family and belonging that permeate all of his work, including those. “New York Five” simply places those elements further forward than usual.
Kelly’s artwork is virtually perfect; his characters don’t just look great, they also look awkward and flawed when they need to. Kelly pays attention not just to what they look like, but how they dress and act. It’s a level of nuance few artists can achieve, and it’s all the more notable that Kelly can reach such heights with female characters, a task that would take far more popular artists past the limits of their abilities. Kelly also has a gift for architectural rendering, which is essential in a series such as this, where place plays an important part. The deeper you look, the more detail you see.
But enough of the technique, what of the story itself? It is, as you can probably guess, a gripping read with an unexpectedly tense cliffhanger. In a genre more suited to sci-fi and fantasy, it’s good to see a writer unafraid to do a simple, slice-of-life comic, and do it so well.