By Matt Kindt, Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Butch Guice, Ulises Arreola, and Dave Sharpe
It’s all cyclical. The circular outline of a watch face; the dish at its proper place upon the table; the multitude of open rings atop glasses and cups; and, most importantly, the way the events of the past spiral forth to play their part over and over again through time. All of these circles are there if you see them and all of them, like the man who encounters them time and time again, can be shattered. Ninjak #2 continues the sleek, downright sexy approach to superhroic espionage that Matt Kindt, Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Butch Guice and Ulises Arreola do so damn well. Alternating from an over-the-top assault on the senses to grounded street level crime to deceivingly innocent childhood hi-jinks, Ninjak is a hyper-stylized book that is deceptively clever in its structure and leaves little doubt that it’s building to something both complex and immense. But in the meantime, there’s chimpanzee butlers a plenty, so after reading that it’s cool if you stop reading this review and just go buy it immediately because…chimpanzee butlers.
This issue sees Ninjak get closer to fully infiltrating the criminal organization Weaponeer via further earning the trust of its rotund and ruthless leader, Kannon and things get bonkers pretty much from the get-go. Kindt is weaving together three very distinct levels of narrative in Ninjak; the untold past of a young Colin and his coping with the loss of his parents and strict (okay, abusive) butler; the early days of Colin’s spy career; and the present day Weaponeer mission and it is this one that is by far the most infused with “yeah, let’s just go cuckoo bananas fun with this one.” Like the sleekest, most absurd James Bond mission, Kindt’s present day narrative is an exponentially rewarding endeavor of beautiful people trying to kill things atop a canvas of technological and circumstantial excess, presented through the lens of the best possible 90’s aesthetic. It really is all about the excess and this issue pushes that to the forefront with a visit to a club that would have even Stefon do a double take, rife with the aforementioned chimpanzees, tigers, and legit psychedelics pushed through the ventilation. Then the assassin with razor-sharp locks of hair takes out a bunch of dudes with terrifying ease and enthusiasm. Then there’s a sumo fight. Look, the whole thing just revels in its playful insanity and it’ll leave you shaking your head with perverse pleasure the whole way through.
Matt Kindt, however, is far too skilled and far too intelligent a writer to just let the superhero spy action take center stage without a firm, emotional set of legs underneath. The vast majority of the dialogie is delivered via caption boxes that deliver Ninjak’s inner set of decisions that highlight his impressive competence and inherent suaveness. He’s cocky, sure, as if he were Batman with a hundred times more bravado, but because Kindt has chosen to incorporate multiple timelines into his tale, there’s far more weight to actions and decisions than mere vanity. The back-up pieces showing his early days in the spy game highlight his self-doubt and humanize him, while the flashbacks to his disturbing childhood belie his current calm and assurance. The placement of the childhood flashback is perfect, and utilizing a wonderful Nancy Drew homage, help set up the thematic elements of trust, deception and circularity that play a role throughout the issue. Ninjak is the sum of his parts and Kindt is peeling back his various layers and developmental moments to reveal the facets that comprise our ultra-modern protagonist. Like the idea of the character himself, Kindt has melded the silly and the sexy with the emotionally resonant in exhilarating fashion. The surface layer stuff is great, but what’s underneath breathes new life and meaning into every throw of a shuriken.
Everyone in this book is hella attractive, right? Even Kannon has a swagger about him. Clay Mann clearly loves the idea of going big or going home and with Ninjak, he’s a long way from home. There is a certain, square-jawed, super-sharp feature look to a lot of the characters that calls back some of that 90’s look mentioned, but that’s not a knock in the slightest. His style fits perfectly for the tone of the book and he is clearly in his element with the action showcases, specifically every time Roku appears on the page. Mann alternates between extraordinarily detailed renderings (the animals on display this issue are pretty breathtaking) with less defined long distance shots (the opening page certainly works to establish setting rather than character) and back soars when it comes to putting these Adonis’ in motion. Occasionally characters feel posed, but its more than made up for when they’re crashing through windows or in the absolutely brilliant tension building Mann puts on display in the flashback tea-drinking scene. The look on young Master Colin’s face perfectly encapsulates the character both in that moment and what he’ll go on to be. Extra kudos for the storybook elements as well that appear seemingly out of nowhere only to slowly reveal themselves to be far more sinister than imagined. Seth Mann keeps the inks fluid, allowing the pencils to take precedent, but instilling the appropriate and effective sleekness called for.
This issue’s installment of ‘The Lost Files’ again shows us that middle timeline of pre-Ninjak Colin and Butch Guice is all about that atmospheric noir that grounds all that appears before it. Guice was a great choice for these tales and his spotted blacks and affinity for slow-paced, dramatic storytelling perfectly match the emotional heft Kindt’s script puts forth. The crowded marketplace is bustling and claustrophobic and Guice makes great work of various angles to convey both Colin’s initial confidence and how quickly it unravels. The surgical-like diagram intertwined with the panel of a potential target is particularly striking in its cold, matter-of-fact presentation and is a fun added dimension to a sequence already dripping with tension.
Throughout it all, Ulises Arreola unites the various threads, tones and teacups with varying applications of color that bolster the art and equally participate in the storytelling. Honestly, the insanely bright flares of the opening story (in the murder zoo club) would almost be offensive in their garish assault, if it weren’t so perfectly executed to match the experience our hero was undergoing as well. The palette is boldly saturated and the lighting manipulated to complete the reflectively clean sheen style of the story, with brightly glowing bursts of radiating blues and fuschias that give way to a near anime-like experience of electric green background speed lines. This Tokyo feels the way it does almost entirely because of Arreola’s contributions to the rainy night lit aflame by all matter of neon irradescence, but impressively Ulises manages to muddy applications up perfectly to accompany Guice’s far grittier tone.
You want to get nuts? Then let’s get nuts! As cool as the other side of the pillow, but with an intricately constructed spine, Ninjak continues to balance the sleek and sexy with dramatic flair. The second issue doesn’t juggle multiple threads and ideas, so much as it tosses them up and slices them together into one lovely diced fruit salad of excess. This book won’t rest on its action laurels, instead its determined to build towards understanding the complexities and frailties of what makes up a master assassin, time and time again. Plus, monkey butlers!