By Matt Kindt, Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Butch Guice, Brian Thies, Ulises Arreola, and Dave Sharpe
Ain’t Nobody Dope As Me, I’m Dressed So Fresh So Clean: The Ninjak Story. Three issues in and the degree to which the titular master spy/assassin is so fresh and so clean clean is undeniable. Balancing the slickest of action in the present day with the harshest of lessons from the past, Ninjak #3 is both elegant and cocky in is execution, depicting by far the most ninja action thus far without sacrificing the craftily constructed dual narrative Kindt has been utilizing to develop the multifaceted hero. As sleek and graceful as the lens flared race against the clock main tale is, the backup flashback story keeps pace with its strongest installment to date. This issue might serve to set-up the big confrontation coming next month, but few set-ups play out quite this nimbly. Ninjak may have lacked that proper TLC growing up, but damned if he hasn’t achieved full CrazySexyCool status.
Kindt keeps the dialogue to a minimum this issue, save for the captioned inner thoughts of Ninjak. Typically having a character explicitly explain the action occurring on the page is a negative, but here it’s an asset that provides the drive while also framing the events via the countdown to how much longer the drug slipped to Kannon will be effective. Plummeting from a high rise with a razor-sharp tressed assassin bearing down on him, Kindt shows Ninjak’s adeptness at prioritizing the multitude of threats and objectives. He’s more than confident that he’ll escape the current, less than ideal situation and instead focuses on the apparently much larger problem of erasing his appearance on Kannon’s video camera. What follows is a sequence of high-flying, acrobatic ass kicking rife with the finest technological spy gadgets one has come to expect from this Nth-level agent trained in the black arts of ninjutsu and it’s fun as hell as Kindt gets out of the way to let Mann bust loose.
Of course there’s the requisite flashback to Colin’s childhood that have come to be some of the heaviest hits of this series thus far. Look, it’s fair to say there’s a lot Batman in Ninjak. The absurdly skilled, always prepared, rich playboy orphan that was raised by a butler? Except Kindt’s gone ahead and inverted that relationship into one of antagonism and down right abuse and in doing so, we have a far more complex understanding of how young master Colin came to be the suave purple ninja wrecking dudes throughout this issue. Kindt specifically highlights the survival instinct, patience and determination, while keeping the lumbering force that is Alain looming. While the dialogue is equally light, letting the actions speak far louder than words ever could, Kindt has Alain drop the foreboding foreshadowing that is Ninjak’s constant enemy with the line, “You must face the consequences of your actions.” From childhood to now, it hints at Ninjak’s retort “Not if I’m good enough, I don’t.”
Clay Mann provides the most dynamic pencils yet, nowhere more impressive than the mid-air (mid-fall?) maneuvers of the opening sequence. There’s a great fluidity to his figures and the moment-to-moment transitions feel as though time has frozen and blisteringly fast simultaneously. Given his slight photo-realistic style, having the action feel as though it follows naturally and not as a sequence of stiff stilted images is impressive. It’s convincingly cinematic in the camera work, shifting from super tight and confined close-ups of various tools and methodologies to graceful pans to the blurring cityscape as these two small dots plummet rapidly. The bits with Ninjak’s wrists and fingers positioning themselves to release a hidden gadget in four panel sequences filled with odd contortions and cracking sounds are especially indicative of the smooth pacing. One definitely gets the sense that Mann has been eager to break loose a little and have Ninjak efficiently dole out the punishment to nameless thugs and he pulls it off with a series of silky splash pages and panache.
That level of flair is most evident in the gleaming flashes of Ulises Arreola’s colors. There’s certainly a digitized effect at work, with the aforementioned lens flares abundant in city lights, blades of steel, and explosive emanations of gunfire, but it fits the tone of this book so well that it’s far from distracting.; at least, when it’s not supposed to be distracting, that is. Arreola is at his best when his appropriately cool palette of analogous colors blend and radiate, especially as couple of brightly adorned assassins fall atop the lively canvas of a city’s night sky. On occasion, specifically when Mann has laid down hashmarks for shadows, the coloring on characters’ skin tones and faces is a little overdone as far as shading. Sometime it works and other times it adds unnecessary definition not found in the original pencils. It’s glitz and glamour aplenty, perfect for the requisite flair of this book’s protagonist, but Arreola proves he can dial it back when needed, especially in this issue’s back-up tale where he flattens things out and mutes his palette to better serve the somber, more grizzled atmosphere.
This time around in ‘The Lost Files’ (the flashback moments from Colin’s early spy days) Kindt serves up a far more grounded espionage experience that sheds light on particularly endearing moment of Ninjak’s aptitude for breaking the rules. It’s yet again another example of showing without telling and it’s paced beautifully as we follow our hero around London’s streets. It’s charmingly laid out and effortlessly weaves itself into the much larger tapestry Kindt is constructing with his varied time periods. As always, it’s about consequences and how his actions or lack of action will come back around in this ouroboros tale, no matter how much Ninjak thinks he’s outrun them.
Butch Guice continues to create that heavy ambiance, but looks even sharper with the addition of Brian Thies on inks. It’s still appropriately shadowed, but gone are the more splotchy elements to the art. Characters look a little sharper, with more detail paid to the fine lines of their features, but the backdrop is as much a character as the lovelorn spies operating around it. In the rain and out, Guice gives a rustic, but lively attribute to the textured streets and buildings that pulls you into the grittier tone of these lost missions. If the over-the-top sheen and thrills of the modern day story best serve to remind you of the dopest of Outkast beats, than these Lost File tales are the bluesiest moments of Tom Waits’ melodic compositions.
With an eye towards the finer nuances of proper ninja-ing this issue, some of the denser storytelling techniques took a bit of a back seat, but calling it mindless would be a huge mistake. Is it stylish? Well, of course; one can’t be a proper super spy without the proper dosage of freshness. Whether it’s the clever use of the opening page utilizing weapons descriptions to examine Ninjak’s character traits, or the thematic ties between interwoven narratives of different time periods, Ninjak is far more than it appears. What else could you expect from the sleekest of ninja spies?