By Matt Kindt Juan José Ryp, Stephen Segovia, Ulises Arreola, and Dave Sharpe
The Shadow Seven. Ninjak. Lost souls all searching for something amidst the invisible ether high atop the middle of nowhere. Were they searching for strength? A second chance? Punishment? Or just purpose? Ninjak #7 continues to mine the depths of Colin’s isolation and determination while introducing the most disturbing member of the Shadow Seven yet. Kindt toyingly drops breadcrumbs through the temporal forest while having our mauve suave ninja spy take down witch #3 on his hit list in the form of Russian masochist activist, Sanguine. Down the mysterious well we go with a glimpses into the shared past experiences of being cloistered and challenged to rise up. Tight plotting keeps the tension high and the pages turning while textural wizard, Juan José Ryp injects all manners of beautiful nastiness throughout. Examining Ninjak through his enemies, this issue once again proves there’s plenty happening below the surface while ensuring a wild espionage action ride above. Hell, Ninjak’s just here to bring her ass down.
Once again paired with Ryp as he was on the phenomenal issue #4, Kindt’s scripting this issue feels expertly precise. It shifts its scope from small to grand, from an unassuming school in the present to a tragic school event in the past and onwards into the cavernous mythological depths of the place where all are challenged. It’s more street-level and grittier than the super sleek high-rise vistas we’ve seen in issues past and the focus is entirely on how to deal with pain and what it means to be in control. As Kindt unravels the backstory of Sanguine, a tumultuous and cringe-inducing affair, it’s yet another example of digging deep into the hero’s psyche via his villains. You know how each of Batman’s villains can be thought of as a dark reflection of some element of himself? It’s similar, but thematically more subtle in nature as we’ve seen Ninjak’s technological dependence brought to its extreme last issue (with divinely named La Barbe) and his emotional detachment from pain this issue. Kindt’s crafted Ninjak into something so much more than a cocky, efficient, and stylish hero (though he is that too, in spades) and instead has chosen to isolate him, literally cut him off from his support system, in order to best break down what makes him tick. And slice. And punch. You get the idea. Ninjak has thrived, or so he believes, by being on his own. No one to slow him down, no one to hamper him emotionally. No one that can cause a pain that doesn’t bleed. He’s turned himself off from his past even as it’s rearing its head in the form of twisted monster versions of aspects of himself and for all his wild success (he is 3-for-3 so far) his recklessness is surely leading to a rough awakening.
The ironically named Sanguine’s childhood trauma was overt and in turn she shaped her life to never feeling out of control again. Because life is pain without meaning and she can control pain. It’s a tricky thing, introducing a character, specifically a villain, who causes self-harm as the result of a traumatic event. The very sad, very real world occurrences of people cutting themselves as a result of depression, personality disorders, etc. is hardly something to make light of especially if said character is an anarchic, monstrous villain. But Kindt isn’t making judgements or trivializing it per se; it informs the character insomuch as it is the physical representation for the themes of this issue’s conflict. One thing these lost souls can do is control their pain. Sanguine embraces it, manipulates it and lets it fuel her. Ninjak neatly compartmentalizes it, folds it properly, and locks it away. Intertwined with the continuing flashback narratives of his neglected childhood, his romantic Parisian encounter, and this “The Lost Files” installment, we see Kindt implying that Ninjak may be running out of pain drawers in his mental armoire.
Few artists can inspire a gleeful “yech” as well as Juan José Ryp. There tactility of his work is remarkable in its ability to make your skin crawl, eyebrows raise, and smirk sneak up when necessary. The characters feel appropriately plump with life and the world has a soft cragginess to it that provides heft and grit. Still Ryp manages to blend it seamlessly into the signature lustrous aesthetic with balanced, rapid action and serene park talks that play alongside the squalid punks and cloak and dagger backroom manipulations. It feels intentionally raw, highlighting the grotesqueries of monstrous acts and of the monsters themselves while moving in step with the ever-changing scope of story from small to large. While the dirty and dingy is palpable, so too is the ethereal silence of the Undead Monk’s trials and the barely falling snow over a Russian park. Ryp really went all out transitioning from the sharply angled panels of battle replete with speed-lines to the layered, bulky stuttered chaos of a club of punks. It’s a richly textured world that’s at its best in grimiest of locales, but controlled with the same level of pacing and scope that the story as a whole has maintained.
Appropriately, Stephen Segovia keeps “The Lost Files” in the shadows as often as possible. Faces are rarely seen unobscured which keeps up the mystery of whether or not identities even matter in this cryptic temple of what seems like countless assassins. Segovia likes to play with angles, zooming from high to low shots and seemingly always with Colin centered in the composition. There’s not much sense of immediate danger, but plenty in the way of feeling lost at sea up here at the bottom of the mountain’s well. Segovia’s figures are relatively clean, with some hashes for texture and the aforementioned shadows and it’s really far more about the notion of being lost than it is trying to convey typical superhero momentum.
The steady hand of Ulises Arreola keeps the visual continuity in each feature with a lush cacophony of chromatic insanity in the main tale and a far more muted palette in the backup. Sanguine’s design was already pretty eye-catching, but Arreola’s coloring takes it up an appropriately disturbing notch. The secondary color palette incorporating the traditional villain color pairing of green and magenta are turned up to eleven atop an ashen skin tone for a truly horrific effect. A wonderful complement to Ryp’s textures, Arreola amps up the murky mood or lets the pastoral sing all with a fine sheen finish throughout.
Ninjak remains full of surprises; a psychological carnival of the ridiculous and the austere. Building a mythology of inner strength and rebirth borne from a place of hate and pain, Kindt, Ryp, and co. are taking a character study to unexpected heights of the monstrous and the familiar alike. There’s been plenty of narrative seeds sown through these first seven issues and they’ll need to intertwine more closely soon lest they become too scattered between the multiple timelines, but for now it makes for an interesting sub-textual experience into who Ninjak is and why he is that way.