WARNING: Contains Ninjak spoilers.
Assassin. Enforcer. Technological savant. Roku Rokubi is one of Valiant’s newest femme fatale and quickly becoming one of the most popular. Who is this woman with the psychokinetic hair? Ninjak #4 sheds some light on her origin. The more important question may be: who was she?
Our first encounter with Roku is in Ninjak #1, inside a makeshift Russian prison that was built specifically to hold her. They managed to contain her for around two hours before she killed all the guards or convinced them to kill themselves. In the meantime, Ninjak was sent in to secure her “release”. Through his mission briefing we learn that she has been genetically modified, her hair is a living weapon, and that she is in every way Ninjak’s equal or superior. Their initial battle is brief but intense, ending when Ninjak tells her to go, and Roku acquiesces. At the time, I wondered about MI-6’s motivations. Let’s take a step back and look at the larger picture before dissecting Roku.
The first arc of Ninjak is the story of his infiltration, at the behest of MI-6, of the criminal network known as Weaponeer. The Weaponeer group designs elite weapons for the highest bidder. Tasked by MI-6 to bring the organization down, Ninjak poses as a new client with an interest in joining the board. To do so, he must fool the leader of Weaponeer, Kannon, as well as his right hand woman, none other than Roku.
Despite misgivings that someone was on to him, Ninjak passed Kannon’s tests easily. He joined the Weaponeer team and immediately set out to break into Kannon’s computer systems with the goal of stealing Kannon’s identity. Take note that while subtly mentioned in this instance, the theme of identity will be threaded throughout the arc, particularly in the case of Roku.
In the process of his theft, Ninjak is interrupted by Roku, who seems to have been waiting for him. A fight ensues. Issue #3 is devoted to their battle which takes place in the space of a few moments as they fall from a high-rise. Ninjak escapes with just enough time to don his cover identity and return to Kannon. But nothing is that easy. Roku has also returned, and Kannon is aware that he is actually Ninjak.
This brings us to issue #4, where Roku and Kannon confront Ninjak, demanding to know his real name. Roku recognizes Ninjak on some level, remembering his scent from before. But does “before” refer to her earlier encounter with him in the Russian prison or to an earlier episode in her life?
Roku slips into a memory of the past. We see a woman who has apparently undergone training at a secretive and seemingly dangerous monastic order. Bloodied and bound, she’s told that she is an ideal candidate for the final journey which will see her reborn in a new identity. Roku describes this as her last memory of herself before being killed. Of note is a surprise appearance by a Valiant villain who provides the power which transforms her. We also learn that MI-6 is correct that Roku has been genetically modified, but science is not the root of her change. It’s magic.
Roku emerges from ground like one of the dead, not knowing her name and having few memories of before. Her hair morphs from golden to red and grows to great length. She feels more alive than ever, with an awareness every cell and fiber of her being. This is the source of her abilities to control individual strands of hair and to literally break and heal every part of her body. One of her few memories is of a childhood story regarding a young girl who must face Oni to save her brother. Roku herself faces a gauntlet of demons in the underworld, each asking her of her name. She must fight to survive, and as she does so, she learns more about her new capabilities. As she finishes the gauntlet and presents herself to the order, she names herself. Rokurokubi.
Roku is an interesting character even aside from her unusual skills and beauty. She inhabits a grey moral area not unlike Ninjak. She’s a killer, but she seems to be a killer for hire, taking no great joy in the deed. She is duty-bound. She promises death to all those who attempt to disrupt her purpose but will walk away from a fight without killing – as we saw her do in Ninjak #1. I don’t believe she is inherently evil despite the source of her power. If one is to believe the content of cover art, sometime in the future Roku will be fighting alongside Valiant heroes.
Now we know how Roku gained her unique abilities and the source of the power that bequeathed them. What we don’t know is why she sought out the monastery and the training, nor do we know who she was before she became Roku. I have my own theory about who she was, but the reasoning why she did it is not yet entirely clear – though I have a wild theory on that, too. As Roku determines the identity of Ninjak, I believe more will be revealed about her true identity.