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She Has No Head! – Advance Review Of The New York Five #1

The New York Five. Brian Wood (writer).  Ryan Kelly (art). Vertigo. 32 pages. Black & White. $2.99.

This book has absolutely everything I like.

Seriously.

It’s got great well fleshed out characters, strong (but complex and not always perfect) female leads.  It’s got fantastic art that really places characters in a believable setting (in this case the always fabulous New York City).  It’s got attention to to everything from the characters favorite songs to their clothing choices (which are phenomenal and fitting for their personalities) and it’s just funny and smart and totally fun.

I suppose I could just end the review there, but let’s not…

So The New York Five is a sequel of sorts to Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s The New York Four which was released as a 150 page digest via DC’s Minx imprint in 2008.  And if you want to know more about how all of that happened – and read a great interview with two of the best comics creators today – head over to yesterday’s She Has No Head! for more.  You’ll probably enjoy The New York Five even more if you have already read The New York Four, but it’s not a requirement.  Wood brings readers up to speed nicely with a clever opening that quickly outlines what has happened so far and who our major players are.  If you read the opening and pay attention you can pick up this Vertigo mini-series easily without having read the previous book and still get massive enjoyment from it – that said – if you like this, you should seek out The New York Four anyway, as you’re likely to enjoy it as well.

So The New York Five follows four main characters – Riley, Lona, Merissa, and Ren – four new friends and freshman college students attending NYU and participating in mandatory therapy sessions as part of their part-time jobs as SAT testers.  FIVE picks up on their second semester, and by the end will bring them to the close of their first year as college students.  Each character, in addition to going through all the typical things a first year college student would encounter, have their own personal dramas unfolding.  Riley Wilder, is trying to reconnect with her older sister Angie, after a screw-up and partial misunderstanding left her kissing Angie’s boyfriend Frank, who turned out to be the guy Riley had fallen for online (really via text though as Riley is a smart phone freak).  Merissa Vasquez, perceived by all to be a girl constantly on the go and constantly with a new boyfriend or two, is actually dealing with a very serious situation at home with her brother.  Lona Lo is undergoing some kind of freshman breakdown in which she’s stalking and literally breaking and entering into one of her professor’s homes with unclear intentions…maybe even to herself.  Ren Severin is recovering from a post-holiday break up from a guy that was all wrong for her, just like all the others before him.

The four girls have just recently moved into a fairly sweet sublet – they’re sharing bedrooms, but have two bathrooms (which take it from me, is a sweet sweet find in the East Village).  And as they adjust to their new living situation and their semester back, we begin to see how their lives are each unraveling in different ways, and how none of them really is willing to share their troubles with their new friends, despite the fact that that might be the very thing they should do.

The writing is typically strong Brian Wood writing, where you easily slide inside the skin of each of his characters.  The set up – via the mandatory therapy sessions – helps readers further get inside what is really going on with each of the girls, even as they try to keep things from each other and from themselves.  An additional highlight to the great character work is the omni-present narration that provides a real insiders look into Manhattan, which shares with readers many of the truly phenomenal, annoying, and badass things about New York as the girls explore the city and discover these things themselves.  As a New Yorker myself, I can tell you that Wood definitely hits a lot of New York sweet spots, and certainly the spots that these freshman girls are likely to encounter, experience, love, and hate.

The Ryan Kelly art is just stunning.  It’s truly incredible artwork from huge imposing (and inspiring) cityscapes and deadly accurate New York neighborhood details to the most minute fashion choices of each of the girls.  Kelly’s work, though impressive on The New York Four, really thrives in the larger format he’s given here – taking advantage of all the extra space and really making the most of it from hairstyles to New York City landmarks.  As discussed in yesterday’s interview there is a fantastic attention to detail in the creation of each of our female leads from head to toe and it’s the kind of well-considered art that leaves you feeling like you know exactly what would be in each character’s closet.  On the surface that seems not so important maybe, but it’s amazing how much the little details like that can make a character so three-dimensional and believable. Besides, this is comics, it’s a visual medium, so you should never underestimate the ability of those tiny details and affectations to thoroughly help build a character.  It’s impressive work.

Here’s a peek at the first few pages, and you can also check out some other great preview pages at DC’s The Source blog:

I mentioned in my interview yesterday that I get quite excited when really good comics that are also female friendly come out, because it’s a really hard thing to find on a regular basis, and The New York Five is exactly that comic.  It’s got great strong imperfect female leads and is appealing to me as an adult who had similar experiences as a college student (though not in NYC).  I suspect it would be even more appealing to readers that are actually either currently a student, or anticipating one day being a student, but regardless I’d recommend it for almost anyone that just likes damn fine comics. 

It’s worth mentioning that while reading this book, you suddenly realize that though all the leads are attractive young women, not once are they objectified or treated as sexual objects. Despite some of these girls being quite sexy and sexual individuals, we never see a ton of crazy flesh or a lot of overly slutty clothes – instead we see a lot of modern fashion forward looks that are nonetheless sexy and cool and just interesting all over. The kind of clothes that real women wear – that your sister, girlfriend, co-worker, and mother wear.  It roots it all in so much reality.  It’s wonderful.

The funny thing is, there shouldn’t be anything revolutionary about this – a good well-drawn story about some well-considered and interesting female characters – but it is.  I have to fight weekly to find comics that consider female characters this way.  Comics that pay attention to clothing and hairstyles, to music and setting, to the personalities that back all those choices up – comics that spent time considering all those things before leaping into everything else.   And it all really works together to create beautiful and interesting comics…the kind of comics I’d sure like to see more of.

So…if this is revolutionary then I guess I have to say…VIVA LA REVOLUCION!

The New York Five#1 is on sale this Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 at comic book stores everywhere.  You can find The New York Four at bookstores and comic book stores everywhere as well as online.

**She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female friendly comics and graphic novels” for future columns on CSBG.  Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.**

5 Comments

[…] out She Has No Head! for an advance review of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s The New York Five #1 which releases in […]

I mentioned in my interview yesterday that I get quite excited when really good comics that are also female friendly come out, because it’s a really hard thing to find on a regular basis

What’s the definition for “female friendly” and “good comics”, and I guess even “regular basis” here? Because, as you have done a great job of pointing out over the last few months. There are more amazing comics coming out by more and more incredible female cartoonists than ever before. I know that you and I both have our problems with Marvel and DC, and while I’ve more or less given up on everything but one or two of their books you still take it upon yourself to lead a critical charge at them, bless your soul. This statement here though, just seems false.

@Julian: Thanks for the compliment…I think

Here’s what i would say, and maybe I should have been more clear in my statement…though I don’t know how I would have without going into this whole thing in detail.

This is a job I don’t get paid for, as such, while it is a giant pleasure most of the time, and it’s personally brought me great things above and beyond improving my writing skills a bit (I hope) time is often short since this is done in my “free time” and I often wish that I could just write about “single issue X, Y, or Z” that came out (as I did this week). But I literally can almost never do that going by my own personal standards of “female friendly” and “good comics” (which admittedly are going to differ for everyone).

Out of 64 posts for SHNH I have written about a single issue mainstream current comic only 10 times, and one of those was a major slam, not a positive review so I don’t think that counts. One time I also wrote about three single issues in one post – but it was also mostly negative, so I don’t know where that should fall in the stats?

Anyway, I guess my point is that there are plenty of great female friendly works out there – but A LOT of it comes in the form of older books and longer arcs, trades, and graphic novels, and a lot of it is independent and not considered mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with that…but how rarely I can just pick up my comics for the week and be inspired to write about a single issue I read, as I did this week, bums me out and is the impetus for that sentence.

I’m delighted by all the gems I’ve discovered this year, and hope I’ve brought a few to others attention or reminded them that it exists…but I don’t know that I’ll feel wildly positive about the state of mainstream comics and their portrayals of women and female friendliness in general until I can just without stress assume that there’s at least one single issue to pick up every week that would be a joy to write about for this column.

I did mean it as a compliment. I was mainly thinking about your big posts at the end of the year, where I walked away with the impression that comics as a whole are much more female friendly than I think they’ve ever been.

Hi Kelly! I’m pretty new to comics and still trying to figure out what I like and don’t like, what’s female and what’s…not so much. This? I loved this! Thanks for the awesome recommendation, and keep up the good work!

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