by Matt Kindt, Clay Mann, Butch Guice,

Even in among other “Valiant Next” titles such as Divinity and Bloodshot Reborn, Matt Kindt, Clay Mann, and Butch Guice’s Ninjak might be the most anticipated of the publisher’s newest wave of titles; the original series helped launched the careers of such luminaries as Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmoitti, and fans have been demanding a solo title for the character since his first post-relaunch appearance in the pages of X-O Manowar. The result is fantastic, although, for this issue at least, it probably isn’t quite what fans might have expected.

Ninjak #1 is essentially composed of three separate storylines, each occurring at a different point in Ninjak’s life. In the present, he is attempting to infiltrate the inner circle of Kannon, one of the seven heads of Weaponeer, an organization which creates dangerous weapons. In order to do so, he must first face, and then free, Kannon’s right hand, the assassin Roku before proving himself to be trustworthy in the eyes of Kannon. Additionally, there are flashbacks to Ninjak’s childhood, and the book also features a backup devoted to his earliest days as a spy.

Interestingly enough, there isn’t a great deal of action in this issue with only a short-lived fight sequence. Given that the character has become associated with dynamic action scenes in X-O Manowar and Unity, this was a huge surprise. That said, this is by no means a slow issue, with a lot unfolding very quickly.

Matt Kindt is avid fan of espionage stories (which is evident in his highly regarded creator-owned work, Mind MGMT), and the plot of this issue unfolds in a manner much closer to a James Bond film than to a Batman comic. The colorful assassin, Roku, whose hair is a deadly weapon, seems particularly well-suited to this narrative style. Yet, this book is played entirely straight, and the childhood flashbacks indicate that Kindt has plans to explore the character on a deep emotional level. The backup story also appears to be quite promising, as it seems to be a more realistic spy story (at least at this point). While this story is probably not what anyone would have expected, it’s hard to imagine many readers feeling disappointed.

The art is every bit as strong as the writing. Clay Mann draws the present and childhood scenes, and his work is absolutely breathtaking in its detail. It’s clear that much like Mico Suayan on Bloodshot Reborn, Mann has been given a generous amount of time to work on this. The result is absolutely gorgeous. Butch Guice’s work on the backup is equally strong. Whereas Mann’s artwork is more clean and crisp (I was reminded of both Doug Braithwaite and Patrick Zircher), Guice’s is more moody. He inks his own work and uses heavier lines than Sean Mann (who inks his brother’s pencils). Given that the backup appears to be leaning towards a more cloak-and-dagger type story, it’s a great fit for the material.

This is an incredibly strong debut for Ninjak, perhaps even stronger than Divinity or Imperium (both of which I loved). However, if the quality alone weren’t already enough to recommend the book on, there’s also the fact that the reader is essentially getting a double-sized issue for the standard price of $3.99. In terms of value for money, there may be no better comic out there.

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