By Matt Kindt, Clay Mann, Butch Guice, Ulises Arreola, and Seth Mann
Like any good super-spy worth their salt, Matt Kindt knows how to play the long game. Not content to simply hurl the reader into a barrage of quippy one-liners and shuriken, Kindt deftly handles the debut issue of everyone’s favorite purple-clad ninja and infuses it with nuance and intrigue. Oh, there’s katana-slashing and C4 explosions aplenty, of course, but in Ninjak #1 there is so much more at play here it’ll have you looking at its right hand while its left is busy picking your brain pocket. Daring, debonair and deadly may be today’s Ninjak de jour, but what type of trauma and pain shaped the man behind the mask? With surprising depth, espionage drenched thrills and bold, striking visuals, Ninjak #1 is indeed a suave, killer first issue.
Matt Kindt clearly enjoys playing with misdirection, which is of course wonderfully apropos in this wholly espionage-themed title. His script constantly tantalizes with one thing, only to have it fall out from under you with the turn of the page. The opening sequence turns out to be something it’s not, as seen by someone you weren’t expecting only to temporally thrust you forward to a place that isn’t what it appears to be and an action completely opposite of what you’d assume. Confusing? It’s actually an incredibly smooth read and that’s not even the first half of the book.
Kindt’s script is effortlessly tidy which belies the complexities of having what is essentially three separate narratives occur simultaneously and structured to all intertwine; there’s Colin’s childhood, modern-day Ninjak and amateur spy Ninjak. All three are ripe for mining the multitude of facets for Kindt’s Ninjak and all three will no doubt be thematically linked, as this issue certainly looked at facing adversity. Sometimes it beats you, sometimes you beat it and sometimes you learn that in order to overcome adversity, you let it think it beat you. Kindt’s Ninjak isn’t some orphan swearing vengeance nor was he gifted with supernatural abilities from a freak accident, instead this issue manages to instill a surprising sophistication to what was already an unquestionably fun character.
In the midst of all this, there’s also just some straight-up wacky ideas that are everything your inner adolescent self could ever possibly want from a ninja spy that lives in a castle. There’s a psychic assassin with hair that can behead you and start fire who works for a sumo wrestler-sized international crime lord that can build any weapon imaginable, but also loves to force others to sing karaoke. Beyond just being borderline insane, it’s also a terrific complement to the more traditionally somber espionage notes. Because that’s what Kindt’s Ninjak would appear to be shaping up to be; above all the finer, intelligently layered structuring and surprising depth, it is fun as hell. To cap it all off, the tease as to what Ninjak’s name really means and what it implies is fully in the “that’s so silly, it’s genius” camp.
Visually, this issue is as sharp as the blades found within. Clay Mann’s eye for action and attention to detail keep the story moving swiftly and his rendering and character work is finely tuned, even if it occasionally feels like everyone has remarkably chiseled jawlines and noses. Adonis-like features aside, Mann has been tasked with depicting numerous locales in varied time periods as well as incorporating frenzied action and emotionally heavy stillness. The way he depicts young Colin, wide-eyed and mesmerized by a kung-fu movie or sunken and slumped in the back of a cab, is especially effective when contrasted with the rigidly suave demeanor he has an adult. The inking of Seth Mann incorporates a needed emotional heft, most noticeably in the flashback sequences and strengthens the sharp line work throughout.
The second part of this hearty issue, focusing on the amateur spy period of Ninjak’s life, is drawn by Butch Guice, who seemingly creates form from the negative space of his heavy blacks. It is dark and it is heavy and it looks exactly how you want a spy-thriller to look with a tinge of pulpy texture. Whereas the first half of the book was reminiscent of the clean superhero aesthetic, this moody shadow-laden affair is the perfect reminder that this character and this book under Kindt’s guide is so much more than it appears.
Throughout each, the colors of Ulises Arreola are as versatile as any multi-tool battle belt. There’s a sheen to the opening story that plays with lighting to great effect, like how he creates a prismatic effect of neon signs reflecting off of a car window or in the jungle river or the way in which the varied applications blend with the speed lines in battle backgrounds. Like seeing the full rainbow reflected in liquid chrome, there are moments in this portion of the book where the coloring adds to the illusion of movement that is a perfect match for the energetic tone. In the Guice drawn portion, Arreola’s colors are toned down and flatted just a bit, but still fairly saturated with a palette to match the darker tone. Though due to the nature of Guice’s style some of the digital aspects are more evident, such as shading used to detail the contours of a face. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just more noticeable than in the earlier portion.
Ninjak is a sly, cocky European MI-6 agent who dresses up as a purple ninja and lives in a castle while fighting bad guys that have fire-producing hair and a penchant for karaoke. If that doesn’t sound awesome to you then continue hating fun you monster. But of course, Kindt, Mann, Guice and co. are crafting a book that looks to know exactly how serious to take itself while still weaving a story of intricacy and mystery. There’s depth here between the silly fun and the razor-fast action that’s sure to pay off down the line. This issue provides just a taste of each element and ensures that the potential teased here will match the surprising complexity of its main character.