By Matt Kindt, Doug Braithwaite, Juan Jose Ryp, Brian Reber, Soto, Ulises Arreola, and Taylor Esposito
Hey Mambo, Mambo Punkiano, hey hey mambo! That’s right, our suave and stealthy purple provocateur side-steps to allow the Voodoo Priestess (Ms. Mambo if you’re nasty) to take the reins of this magical mystery tour. Matt Kindt and Doug Braithwaite, following the two very smart and deceptively intricate opening story arcs, pivot the tone of Ninjak ever so slightly to allow for the shift in landscape. With some dry humor and smooth as silk visuals, Ninjak #10 is, well, just plain fun. Is it a lot of set up? Totally, but it doesn’t feel like a set-up slog. Is it largely surface-level magic and Artic-Freeze alternate costume type shenanigans? Absolutely, and it’s delightful. Ninjak #10 congenially grabs you by the shoulders and says, “Just go with, mate” while spiking your drink with far too many narcotics. Oy, these dark times are good times.
After the surprisingly deep dive into the character study of the man behind the ninja mask, Kindt doesn’t so much flip the script as he does tilt it. Framed by a “bring me up to speed” caption overlay between Neville and his MI-6 superior, Kindt’s script is straightforward and well balanced. Well, as straightforward as anything dealing with the magical impossibilities of a dimension of dead souls can be. Valiant has heralded this issue as a jumping-on point, and that’s a fair assessment in-so-much as those who have been reading the series since #1 will have as little an idea about what’s going on as someone new to the title would be. That’s not to say it’s confusing, it’s that Kindt is successfully structuring the opening salvo to a much larger composition this issue and entices rather than confounds with what he’s choosing to obscure in this first installment. If by the time you’ve reached the end you’re not saying to yourself, “Yes, I would indeed like to see where this story of a ninja in a mech-suit and a drug-enthusiast Voodoo punk rock lady in a hell dimension goes,” then comic books in general might not be for you. There may not be a plethora of subtext to mine, but there’s a deluge of radical fun on the surface well worth reveling in.
Kindt’s always had a real knack (in this title specifically, but with all his work) for blending sharp, authentic dialogue with radically out-there ideas (that can often border on goofy) and a lot of this issue’s joy comes from that dynamic. Ninjak and Mambo verbally spar like any good opposite end of the spectrum heroes turned begrudging partners should. Between essentially taking a piss on Ninjak’s legendary preparedness (what good is technology in the land of the dead?!?) and humorously upending the traditional riding roles of the magical entity known as a Loa, Kindt once again packages the fun with the genuinely compelling. Everything isn’t clear, like precisely who Ember is or what his motivations are, but that’s by design. After spending so much time delving into the depths of Colin’s psyche, it’s a nice break to have so much of the focus this issue go towards Punk Mambo and Kindt has her characterization down to a middle finger flipping tee.
It doesn’t hurt that all the aforementioned dark yet wacky ideas are given visual vitality through Doug Braithwaite, Brian Reber, and Soto. Ninjak #10 is sleek, but not flashy. No, there’s a smooth subtlety to the painterly pencils as Braithwaite keeps things in the photorealism realm even as he masterfully renders inter-dimensional monstrosities. It’s the same A+ functionality meets soft elegance that Braithwaite reliably throws down, and the layouts throughout are always in the service of the story and rarely for the sake of spotlighting a particular rendering. Things definitely get busy on the page, but because of Braithwaite’s ability to balance the composition of each page, it never gets lost. It is always worth pouring over just to appreciate the pacing and skill. It’s a style and implementation that works great for the superhero genre, but also shines with the fantasy elements rampant throughout this opening entry.
While Braithwaite undoubtedly brings the goods on pencils and inks, it’s Reber and Soto that lift the art to new heights as their colors absolutely set the tone of the entire story. It’s a prismatic fervor of soothing, hallucinogenic hues as the more mundane settings give away to magical revelry. The more down to Earth aspects are all applied with a smooth blended texture and remain on the darker end of the spectrum, fitting enough for the intended ambiance of the tale, but then the bold flames of Ember light up and the rest of the way Reber and Soto have every come to life in a lightning flurry of high-frequency cools. The way it all contrasts with the darker, more monotone sequences (like Mambo’s appropriately dank green introduction) only reinforces the fantasy of it all. Looking at it as a whole, this wasn’t a palette: it was as if someone blew out Rainbow Bright’s brains all over the book.
Taylor Esposito is a great edition to the team on lettering duty and handles both the main and back-up portions with careful, well employed skill that never detracts from the unfolding madness.
A quick word on the surprisingly poetic back-up story; it’s oddly beautiful in every way. It’s creepy. It’s captivating, and it’s surprisingly tragic. Juan Jose Ryp is always a pleasure to see and he brings some of his best work to date in bringing life to the Magpie. Kindt’s script reads like a pre-Code era EC classic and Ryp complements that tone to perfection, especially his handling of the horrified family. Ulises Arreola works in lock-step with Ryp and the two (with Kindt, of course) get to play with the haunted wasteland that is the Deadside.
“Operation: Deadside” is underway and while the promoted hype about this storyline revolves around the return of a certain shadowed someone, Ninjak #10 actually is a refreshing jumping-on point that stands on its own merits of superhero spy fantasy euphoria. Bizarre, confident, and captivating, the wild espionage heroics supplant themselves into Kindt and Braithwaite’s new surreal landscape with ease. Punk Mambo gets to steal the show and the story’s structure allows for a smart starting point to the darker (and hopefully even more insane) shadows to come.