The New York Four


  • Books
  • Monday, 23 Mar 2015

The cover to The New York Four, which also includes its sequel, The New York Five.

Author : Brian Wood/Ryan Kelly

Genre : Comic

Publisher : Dark Horse Comics

Every day’s an adventure when you’re in a city many call the greatest in the world. Just ask the leads ofThe New York Four, an unlikely quartet of young women, all who moved to the Big Apple to study at New York University.

Written by Brian Wood (DMZDemoNorthlanders) with art by Ryan Kelly (LuciferLocal), The New York Four is an entertaining slice-of-life drama with fascinating characters. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the series ended in a whimper, external factors causing it to not achieve its full potential.

Wood’s series wove four interconnected plots together. Shy and literate Riley, who’d rather be with her phone than with people, finds herself dealing with the advances of a mysterious suitor. Smart, overachieving Lona, who grows obsessed with her tutor. Laid-back, tomboyish Ren, usually awkward around boys, finds love in a most unexpected place. And the free-spirited Merissa finds herself having to make crucial decisions that will shape her future.

The New York Four was released as part of Minx, an imprint by DC Comics that published comics aimed at teenage girls. Launched in 2007, the imprint featured diverse and fascinating content from a number of talented creators, including Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg (The Plain Janes), Mike Carey, Sonny Liew, and Marc Hempel (Re-Gifters) and Ross Campbell (Water Baby).

While the premise of four women in NYU may sound a lot like Sex And The City, the two titles are pretty different: The New York Four are much younger, for one thing, and not as obsessed with shoes.

Minx was a bold attempt to cater to a different market: in a medium dominated by superpowered people kicking the crap out of each other, it was nice to have a different sort of story on the market.

Depressingly, it was unsuccessful, with the imprint being cancelled a year later in 2008. The New York Four, however, had developed a small following, with a sequel (The New York Five, which introduces a new girl, Olive, to the mix) eventually being published by Vertigo in 2012. This graphic novel compiles all of them together.

The girls of The New York Four: (L-R) Ren, Merissa, Riley and Lona.

There are no fights or explosions in Wood’s series: instead, the intrigue in The New York Four is character-driven, with the four girls having to deal with love, family, and the future. While the plots can be a little slow-moving, they are well-sketched and realistic.

Indeed, while this book was marketed under an imprint primarily aimed at girls, its themes are universal enough to be enjoyed by male and female readers alike. While this reviewer was not the target audience for this graphic novel (disclaimer: he is as straight and male as they come), he still enjoyed reading it.

Wood drops titbits and trivia about New York City in little text boxes all through the narrative, enlightening the reader about various landmarks there. This is a nice little touch, which really adds depth to the setting.

Every reader will probably be able to relate to one of the four girls: the most prominent character, Riley, is well crafted, and her family relationships (particularly with her estranged sister, Angie) are charming and compelling.

Riley’s storyline however, gets a little too much prominence. While each of the girls has a plotline of their own, they are touched on rather lightly (Merissa’s in particular) to the point they sometimes feel like asides to Riley’s much juicier story. One has the feeling that the creators were intending to flesh them out more in future, but had to stop after the series got cancelled.

Indeed, this is the main issue with The New York Four: it seems to have been wrapped up drastically and unsatisfactorily. Ren and the new girl Olive in particular were rather fascinating, yet the series concluded before they could really get interesting. The worst story wrap-up, however, is suffered by Lona, who has a completely new character appear in the end to help solve her problems in a contrived manner.

On the plus side, Kelly’s black and white illustrations are wonderful, and the series is worth getting for his richly drawn scenes alone. His panels are lush and detailed, and his characters distinct and memorable, if sometimes a little too cheesecake. The book also comes with over a dozen pages of preliminary sketches and extra material, which is a nice bonus.

They say the saddest words in the English language are “what could have been”, and that certainly rings true with this series. The New York Four was a valiant attempt at more diverse storytelling, and if given more time, could have turned into something wonderful. What we have, however, is merely good, and that will have to do for now.

 

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The New York Four

   

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