“If I learned one lesson from my time with the CIA, it is this; everybody believes they are the good guy…”
―Amaryllis Fox, former CIA Officer
The best way to describe Ninjak #27 would be to call is an outstanding G.I. Joe story with strong plot elements akin to the Metal Gear video game franchise. This is a significant shift from the mystical and spiritual overtones that have been the hallmark of most of the Ninjak series thus far, and with good reason; it is the first time that a writer other than Matt Kindt has written an issue of Ninjak (NOTE: Robert Venditti wrote X-O Manowar #5 which introduced the character to the modern Valiant Universe).
New York Times bestseller writer Kevin Maurer makes his Valiant debut with Ninjak #27. Maurer was embedded with the U.S. Army during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with subsequent return trips spanning several years to include Afghanistan and Eastern Africa. He wrote the book No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden.
There is an interesting concept that much of the human population often does not understand, which Maurer addresses in this issue. It is the idea that both sides strongly believe they are justified in their actions; both sides justify the need to kill to achieve their ends. While the means used to achieve the desired end-state of the antagonist in this story are easy to see as immoral, evil, and grotesque, one might easily argue (with all the facts in place) that the motive behind these same actions holds water based on Utilitarian Theory. Utilitarianism is “a normative ethical theory that places the locus of right and wrong solely on the outcomes (consequences) of choosing one action/policy over other actions/policies. As such, it moves beyond the scope of one’s own interests and takes into account the interests of others” (Source: HERE). In the 1982 film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Mr. Spock described it by saying “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Ninjak disagrees with aspects of his mission based on his own moral compass; however, (as is often the case) often the most evil and hated “enemy” targets possess vital information or abilities; or are the lesser of two evils insomuch as stabilizing a region that might otherwise deteriorate into a far more horrific and chaotic state. In this particular story, the mission objective is at odds with what the protagonist (Ninjak) might otherwise wish. Will he chose personal morals over achieving a tactical or strategic objective? The lines are morally and ethically blurred in this story, as frequently occurs in real world operations. There are countless situations where there are no positive courses of action or outcomes and only bad options to choose from (navigating this ethical minefield is a task that even the greatest minds in human history have often failed to do). It is easy to debate one’s own convictions and point of view as we seldom are faced with the viewpoint or reality of the opposition. But know this; they likely believe (much like ourselves) they are the good guy, and are doing the right thing for their way of life. Read and discuss Alan Moore’s Watchmen for more on this line of thought, which has been debated extensively since its 1986 release 30+ years ago.
Matt Kindt’s work on Ninjak has been quite strong; however, as he focuses his efforts on a number of other titles (X-O Manowar, Divinity, etc.) the addition of Maurer on this title may be a highly valuable evolutionary move for the title. Ninjak working in para-military and high-tech world fits incredibly well, and similar to Japanese video game designer/screenwriter/director/producer Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series, there is MASSIVE potential for awesome (+120% more potential than expected). The value of Maurer’s work on Ninjak cannot be measured by the success of issue #27 or Diamond’s reported sales numbers; it must be measured by the future and direction of the Ninjak IP with him on board.
Artistically, CAFU (Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano), who is an exclusive artist with Valiant Entertainment, is on point as ever. CAFU is one of the absolute greatest talents Valiant has when it comes to interior artwork as he blends sharp, well defined lines with brilliantly layered grey tones to create some of the richest, cleanest, and crispest (is that a word?) art in comics today. His understanding of anatomy, and depiction of size and proportions are first rate! It was particularly interesting to see the USS BONHOMME RICHARD (LHD 6) operating in the Mediterranean; however, as the BONHOMME RICHARD is home-ported in Sasebo, Japan its operational focus is more likely to be in the Western Pacific or Indian Ocean. The USS WASP (LHD 1), USS KEARSARGE (LHD 3), or USS BATAAN (LHD 5) are home-ported on the eastern cost of the United States and are much more likely to operate in the Mediterranean due to their deployment cycle and strategic geographical positioning. This is a very minor gripe that takes nothing away from the story of course.
Colors are provided by the always awesome David Baron, who provides a number of panels depicting special operations at night illuminated by gunfire and red laser sights (Crimson Trace?) as well as the low light conditions that exist in the Combat Information Center (CIC) onboard the BONHOMME RICHARD. There are a number of panels containing lighting sources that illuminate characters and environmental surfaces appropriately and add to the artistic illusion of reality.
Ninjak #27 is pure tactical espionage in a world of genetically-enhanced assassins, special operations forces, and Ninjas battling one another, their own ethics, and the geopolitical realities of their world. If you like G.I. Joe or Metal Gear, you will love this issue. It is a strong debut for writer Kevin Maurer, who we can only hope to see more of in the Valiant Universe.