By Matt Kindt, Clay Mann, Juan Jose Ryp, Seth Man, BIT, Ryan Winn, Ulises Arreola, and Dave Sharpe
The really scary thing about shadows is that you can never escape your own. They can be a refuge from the truth and an ally in espionage, but you’ll always be followed by your own dark reflection of your actions. “The Shadow Wars”, and Ninjak as a whole really, has been all about exploring the elements and events in Colin’s life that have molded him into the cold, cocksure, assassin hero purple ninja spy he is today. The lies, the hidden truths, the betrayals, and the drive to forge one’s own identity; through the colorful and twisted dark reflections of the Shadow Seven, Kindt and a bevy of artists have shown the myriad of divergent paths that have split from the Undead Monk’s training. What drew them there and where they chose to go thereafter, including Ninjak himself, always involved carrying shadows of the past while living inside others in the present. Ninjak #9 draws the second arc to a close and ties together the three timelines in a nuanced and surprisingly earnest fashion. Oh, and it’s got a dude with multiple regenerating floppy arms that he uses to pickpocket things like nuclear bombs because this book has always been the best kind of bonkers cuckoo bananas high-five cray cray fun™.
It’s that balance in Kindt’s scripts that makes this book difficult to put down. Combined with subtle narrative techniques (like the layering and pacing of time or the character descriptions in the form of gadgetry blueprints) we’ve seen everything from harrowing childhood traumas to monkey butlers to lost loves to billionaire recluse French terrorists to…you get the idea. Often poignant, thoroughly frenetic, and always clever, Kindt’s thematic tapestry comes together in satisfying fashion this issue where the larger picture of exactly who the entirety of the Shadow Seven includes. This issue’s foil, Fakir, is one of the most bizarre and uproariously delightful yet, which is saying something. Kindt instills into him a swagger and confidence to rival Ninjak’s that manages to both enhance the absurdity of his abundant appendages and completely sell it at the same time. It’s great and in many ways a perfect microcosm of what makes Kindt’s Ninjak run so delightful.
With all the reflective thematic imagery, both in the literal glints of swords and glasses as well as the figurative shared experiences, the most wonderfulyl tragic part of this issue is how Kindt contrasts Neville and Colin. Tying it in with everything we’ve seen thus far and know about these characters, it’s borderline brilliant how he presents these two men as both suffering the consequences of a linked past and how it follows them, but one has wanted to forget and one can’t remember. Ultimately, they both accept this, but it’s a lot easier to make peace with the shadow ghosts of your memories when you can at least remember them.
In a nice bit of visual continuity, Clay Mann returns to close out the storyline he kicked off lo those many purple moons ago. Unsurprisingly, it’s just as sleek as we’ve come to expect from him and there’s something apt in Mann’s sharp angles that mirrors the precision of the titular katana wielder. Mann excels at dynamic action and interlacing traditional panels with sliced angular ones maintains a sense of urgency that keeps the eyes constantly moving forward. Mixing in some fun perspective points from behind Ninjak’s back make for dramatic reveals and even if slashing/punching/general ninja-ing is where he shines brightest, he can still pack a punch in the quietest moments, specifically where we get to see the crown jewel of Fakir’s purloined collection. A convenient smoke bomb does keeps a good portion of the backgrounds non-existent during much of the battling, so at least there’s a reason for the dearth of detail in many of the panels and the focus on the foreground acrobatic figures is still on point. There’s squared jawlines aplenty and some crosshatching to be found, sure, but there’s a finesse to the movements of the characters and great ability to direct the movement of your eye that reinforces why Mann is such a great pairing with this character.
Juan Jose Ryp returns for another edition of “The Lost Files” and come on, how good is he? As always, it’s the texture he crafts into every object that creates an organic visual. The wrinkles of an astral-projecting monk, the chunky remnants of an exploded head, the great conveyance of force by a foot onto a windpipe, it’s all tactile and raw while still being finely detailed. In short, Ryp gets pretty feaking metal in this issue \m/
Ulises Arreola keeps Ninjak a high-chroma affair with a sheen and palette that screams High Roller. There are flares applied with flair and Arreola keeps everything popping against the shadowed settings. It’s Las Vegas after all and he nails the aesthetic while managing to make the night skies dazzle as though someone wrapped chameleon foil across the stars like it were a Corvette. As always, he switches his application style depending on the artists and dials down the brightness and effects while working on Ryp’s art, and it’s perfectly in tune with the more mystical ambiance of that tale.
Being a spy requires a life engulfed by lies and intentional obscurities. Your relationships, if any, are rarely based on trust. So when your parents are super spies, your childhood is certainly going to be assigning you some heavy baggage to check on your flight to become one as well. Pain, both mentally and physically, came often and sheer determination propelled Colin to a temple where five others also sought to find themselves. What they found depended on what drove them there in the first place and all of them left as something far different than what wandered up that snowy mountain. Despite the debonair finish, Ninjak isn’t quite as well-adjusted or accepting of himself as you might imagine and because “The Shadow War” was only ever partially about winning a war against the Shadow Seven, we watched Ninjak wage a war on the shadows of his past. With issue #9, Kindt and co. take him into the light and diffuse the shadows. Endearingly brazen, far more clever than it has any right to be, and satisfyingly dynamic, Ninjak #9 is an emotionally-driven explosion of an endcap.