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The Stupor Friends

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In this medium, an "ensemble" piece typically means a bunch of spandex-clad steroid cases teaming up to pound some evil genius with their fists. It can therefore be quite a shock to read a comic about four adult friends who struggle with issues of career, relationships and sobriety. At last, something I can relate to! The second and third issues of Henrik Rehr's "Tuesday" (Kim-Rehr Productions; 24 pp; $2.95), with its group portrait of New York sophisticates, reads like the movie Woody Allen hasn't made in years.

"Tuesday" number three

The Tuesday of the title, a reference to September 11, 2001, has become the leitmotif of the series. The first two issues, covered by TIME.comix, gave us Rehr's remarkable autobiographical account of the catastrophe as he experienced it from a few blocks away. Now, Rehr has followed that up with a fictional story, "Tribeca Sunset," which explores the relationship of four men in the aftermath of that red-letter day. Craig, Mac and Neil, three former New York art school chums, get together with Neil's brother Rob to attend Neil's gallery opening and meet his fiancÚe. In the course of the weekend, they renew their bond in the way that a lot of men do — busting each other's chops, getting into fights, and covering for each other's screw-ups.

Like Rehr himself, these guys are pushing 40 (another rarity for comix characters) and are all facing the issues of that life stage. Craig moved away before 9/11 to become a professor and raise a family. Though he harbors a secret mid-life crisis, Craig seems the most grounded of the crew. He becomes the story's locus as he reacquaints himself with his friends. Mac, a successful painter and permanent bachelor, left the city after the disaster. Deeply shaken by the experience, but loathe to admit it, he puts up a vain and pompous front — "Don't touch my hair" he screams — that only his chums can get through. Craig and Mac wonder if Neil, a notorious womanizer whose painting career seems to have reached a ceiling, is marrying a wealthy semi-celebrity for the right reasons. Rob, the smart-mouthed, black sheep brother with a history of drug abuse and jail time, rounds out the troubled quartet.

Four Friends: (clockwise from top left) Craig, Neil, Mac and Rob

The story's action takes place mostly on couches and at tables where the guys drink and needle each other right from the beginning. Rehr, a native of Denmark who moved to New York in the '90s, has an exceptional talent for creating compelling, nuanced urbanite characters. Each has a distinct, believable personality driven by vulnerabilities that inevitably reveal themselves over the course of the story. Between the moments of emotional nakedness you get to enjoy the easy banter of smart friends. It's like eavesdropping on the table next to yours at Balthazar.

Rehr invokes the tone of post 9/11 New York by drawing "Tuesday" in black and white, with a light grey wash for highlights. (The artwork throughout has a richness of detail that adds tremendously to the verisimilitude of the story.) The covers feature atmospheric, nearly depopulated "snapshots" of the city: a rainy Park Avenue looking south to Grand Central Station; Central Park's ice-skating rink with just a few dots of people on it. Throughout the story, the disaster's aftermath asserts itself on the lives and psyche of the characters. The story takes place during a snowy weekend, causing Mac to see swirling ash for a moment. Craig dreams of HAZMAT-suited real estate agents in SOHO. Neil has to keep the news on all the time because he says, "I don't want to be the last person in the city, watching the cartoon channel, while everybody else's being evacuated." Inwardly disturbed but outwardly cool, 9/11 New York becomes a metaphor for the lives of the four friends.

Henrik Rehr's "Tribeca Sunset," from "Tuesday" number three and four, sets itself apart as the best work of fiction involving 9/11 I have seen, and also one of the best ensemble comics. An insightful, funny and moving portrait of four friends, "Tribeca Sunset" shows what friends say about each other is one thing, but how they feel is something different.

Unfortunately, "Tuesday" will be hard to find except at exceptional comic books stores.