By Matt Kindt, Raúl Allén with Patricia Martin, Stephen Segovia, Ulises Arreola, Borja Pindado, and Dave Sharpe
Awwww snap, they went and flipped the script on us. Transitioning with all the ferocious grace of a deadly ninja assassin super spy, the sleek boisterous glints of Ninjak’s debut storyline have given way to the suave confidence of being off the grid at the head of the world’s most despicable weapons provider. Buoyed by the stunning visual choices of Raúl Allén, Ninjak #6 is a welcomed change to a series that was starting to spin its wheels ever so slightly despite the sharp narrative tapestry Kindt is continuing to craft via his plethora of mysteries and pernicious dalliances. Forget the other side of the pillow, this issue is cooler than being cool with a much needed visual twist. Yet for all its cocky fun, Kindt is still managing to skillfully examine the mental labyrinth of Colin’s character and how he’s coped with isolation and trauma since he was a child. Don’t worry, there’s still lots of punching too.
A billionaire genius hermit with a technology-controlling helmet that lives in the French countryside in a holographic piece of real estate that would give the Tardis a run for its money when it comes to square footage: this issue has brought the wacky awesome ideas, y’all. As loaded with creativity as it is, the real story of this issue is Raúl Allén. The polished and dynamic tone set by Clay Mann in the previous arc was a perfect introduction to this high-gloss ultra-modern British killing machine clad in purple and now we have Allén (our flipper of the aforementioned script) flattening things out a bit and slowing the beats to a perfect linger. Allén has been running a graphic design clinic on several of Valiant’s covers as of late, so it’s a treat to see what he can do in terms of sequentials here with Patricia Martin. It’s rhythmically paced showcase of silhouettes, blisteringly entrancing palettes, and playful serenity.
Stylistically, there’s an Archer quality to the art with its bold outlines of figures and lack of line busywork, but much like Ninjak’s plan, it’s all about control. Allén’s storytelling skills are completely devoid of mania, they’re clean but never sparse especially in the heavier action sequences. Instead, there’s a metronome accuracy to the story’s sequences that allow the reader to revel in the subterfuge even as it gets playful in its presentation such as when Ninjak ricochets and maneuvers on, through and around a giant sound effect with each letter become its own unique panel. Counter to that there’s a gorgeous sequence that turns Paris into the most beautiful nihonga painting framed by arresting cherry blossom saturated trees on a pallid canvas. Five consecutive panels ever so slightly zoom in on a park bench creating a tidal wave from the bench’s back that moves the eye with its guarded momentum to the reveal of a woman; it’s a quiet sequence, but packs as much punch as any fight sequence found within. Paired with some fun use of Muybridge Sequences during the battle with La Barbe, a palette that alternates between high intensity neons (the French countryside is aglow with haunting magentas and radioactive greens while flashbacks are smartly washed in sepias), and rigid background perspectives, the emphasis on controlled action is a delightful and radical shift from what’s come before.
Okay, sure, Ninjak is a smartass and Matt Kindt makes sure to put that biting tongue on full display this issue. The cockiness of the character remains at the forefront and is constantly bolstered by his elegant efficiency to back up all the talk. For the first five issues we’ve seen Kindt playing with building blocks for not just Ninjak’s past, but for a surprising corner of the Valiant universe as a whole. While playing with the triad of narratives focuses on different eras of Colin’s life and in turn witnessing thematic mirroring, it was beginning to feel like some payoff needed to come sooner rather than later and we get an intriguing one in this issues The Lost Files installment. The main storyline continues to shine as a playground for utterly insane ideas like Le Barbe (which means “The Beard” for all you francophobics out there) and Ninjak sabotaging every weapon he sells as the head of Weaponeer and basically everything else, but it’s Kindt’s ability to lull you into a false sense of playfulness that really impresses as he manages to develop the character of our favorite smartass beyond the swagger. Considering his upbringing essentially consisted of absent spy parents and getting his head smashed into things by the closest thing to a guardian, it’s safe to say that Colin has emotionally detached himself from others. As such, he’s compartmentalized his traumas and become a calculating and often cold figure that prides himself on relying solely on himself. Kindt mirrors this assuredness by stripping Ninjak of his gadgets and forces him back to basics; a task Ninjak is, of course, quite sure of himself in. But there are cracks in that smartass armor and where the story will go as it concerns the woman in the park are enticing. Add to that the spice of the ever-growing mystery of how it’s all connected and this remains far from simply a splashy and flashy ninja jaunt.
Taking over The Lost Files (the backup story featuring Ninjak’s early pre-purple spy days) is Stephen Segovia that makes for a distinct visual transition from Allén. With a style more akin to Clay Mann than previous Lost Files artist Butch Guise, the formerly noir espionage tone morphs into a more straightforward action adventure tale. Kindt makes the most of these pages and packs in a ton of character work in the form of Colin’s inner thought captions and Segovia does well to establish scope of the setting. It’s not as stylized as the main tale, sure, but it’s got a traditional superhero dynamic that works well enough to bolster the frenzied action of Colin’s tribulations. Ulises Arreola adds a soft palette with an often shimmering lighting effect that doesn’t overwhelm, but still manages to instill a sense of gravitas.
Ninjak remains all sorts of bananas; a book as confident as its protagonist that deftly juggles the ridiculous until it’s indecipherable from the insightful and delicate character work. Raúl Allén steals the show here and allows the story to flow with a quiet aplomb that is remarkably refreshing. It feels like the story is once again moving towards something, a unified vision that combines the slivers of Colin’s past and present into a faceted whole.