The New York Five #4 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, along with guest inker Jim Rugg offer up an emotionally satisfying conclusion to their college girls in the city saga. One of the best parts of this is that if this crew were indeed girls when we first met them, they are one step closer to being women as we leave them. Kind of a side note, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Jim Rugg involved with the book. He’s a gifted storyteller and artist in his own right, and it’s always cool to see “the cool people” working together, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. The centerpiece of this denouement is probably the relationship between sisters Riley and Angie. Riley finally confesses her mistake and there’s an implied forgiveness based on recognition of past sins that’s played just right. Angie has a couple years on Riley and it’s given her a wisdom and experience that she wields very responsibly. Kelly’s pencils are as solid as ever, depicting a wide range of convincing body language and facial expressions. Perhaps because of the creator line-up, I was paying special attention to the inks. There were a couple of pages where the inks felt a little “thin” and not as, well, “inky” as they usually do, but for the most part, Rugg fits right in, neither calling attention to his own work, nor distracting from the existing house style. Kelly’s inks really shine in spots, in the absence of color, they bring the events to life, creating well rendered shadows along arms or jackets that sell the whole experience. Wood’s script hits all the right notes. There’s subtle things like how he mentions that New York can feel small, as like minded individuals tend to cluster together and create their own little sub-cultures and spheres of influence, even in a humongous city. There are more meaty concepts like his portrayal of the dispersion of a circle of friends being a sort of rite of passage that most of us have experienced. Their interests, schooling, careers, families, loved ones, and unforeseen circumstances all pulling them along different trajectories in life. The biggest of those story “notes” for the characters to find is the way that Wood identifies this maturation and learning being part of a larger process. Many of his characters, from Pella Suzuki in Supermarket, to Megan in Local, and even Matty in DMZ, have been unfairly knocked for doings things we don’t agree with, or simply don’t like, but they’re all part of a learning process. It’s a dose of reality in an otherwise fictitious story. It’s a natural element of maturation and a person’s identity solidifying over time. In short, you fuck it up before you get it right usually, if we're being honest. I’ve always said that any situation you can come away from, even if at first glance it feels like a disaster, having learned something about yourself or the world, was a valuable experience and not entirely a waste of time. I think this is an important thread that more people need to recognize before they casually say “oh, Riley did something bad, I don’t like her” or “gee, Megan did something bad, she’s a bitch.” Lastly, I feel like the final glorious blurb of text in the book is the definitive punctuation at the end of a sentence for Brian Wood. In a long and diverse career which has repeatedly demonstrated affection for New York, it’s almost as if this is the pinnacle artistic statement of his love affair with the city. Grade A+.
Scalped #48 (DC/Vertigo): Did I hear Jason Aaron say recently that he could see Scalped concluding some time around issue 60, or am I making that up? For some reason, it’s stuck in my head. Well, once DMZ wraps at the end of this year, then he can definitely say for a few months that he has the best Vertigo book coming out and there isn’t another book existing to contest that statement. He’ll be in the clear. In any case, this is part 4 of 5 of this arc, and as usual, Aaron keeps ratcheting up the tension. There’s the tension between Shunka and Dash, men who both have their big secrets and can smell that fact dripping from each other’s pores, and there’s the tension between Red Crow and Dash as they finally bond. This conversation between them has basically been brewing for years and it really is a pivotal moment. There’s tension between Nitz and everyone, who is coming on strong like he’s a reborn player in a most dangerous game. R.M. Guera’s art rides its usual high of grit and emotion. The spirit world sweat lodge sequence is a particularly effective scene with the color variations, and it relays information that couldn’t otherwise be done with a more traditional narrative. I feel like my Scalped reviews are getting shorter and shorter. It’s a brilliant book, certainly Jason Aaron’s high water mark for my money, and if I haven’t said anything for 48 issues that’s made the unfaithful seek it out, I’m not sure there’s anything I can say at this point to sway opinions. The rumor mill says that Scalped’s sales numbers are low and I think that’s a shame. All things being equal, of course I’d prefer creators to walk away from books at their own pace or plan an ending of their own volition rather than have the threat of cancellation from the business side looming like a vulture over them that might skew their art. Grade A.