By Christos Gage, Juan Jose Ryp, Andrew Dalhouse, Ariel Olivetti
NINJA-K #4 is bloody good. Its strong story development and gripping art raise the bar for action/suspense books – as well as readers’ heartrates.
Writer Christos Gage is drawing us ever deeper into the web of intrigue surrounding the ninja program of MI-6. This fantastic story exposes the depth of scheming by the agency while telling a compelling story about one of its agents.
The agent in question is Ninja-G – whose designation might as well stand for “groovy” given her style and take-no-prisoners attitude. Ninja-G is like her predecessors, intelligent, fierce, and resourceful – but unlike the others we’ve learned about, Ninja-G is a woman of color. Her journey through the ninja training program and as an active agent was rife with personal trials. She fought against racism, sexism, and political enemies. Gage has crafted a character that readers can admire, one who strived to excel and always stood her ground. It is through her recounting of her experiences that we feel the personal significance of the actions of the Acclimation Bureau.
The format of the story works well. Without giving any particulars away, suffice it to say that Ninja-K is searching for the truth, which leads him to Ninja-G. She pulls us into the past before dropping us off in the midst of present danger. She validates his concerns, resulting in the plot being catapulted forward. The promise of danger and suspense in the next issue is almost tangible.
Though the focus of this story is Ninja-G, Gage does an excellent job of commenting on the personal character of Ninja-K. For a man who prides himself on control – both of himself and of any situation, discovering that he may have been a pawn is one of the greatest blows he can suffer. Ninja-K is a man of intent and purpose, but now he finds himself questioning whether he ever had control, given that the circumstances of his life may have been manipulated to force him towards certain decisions. Readers have to wonder about his life and how much of it may have been steered by the Acclimation Bureau, including the murder of Angela, now known as Roku.
As if the main story wasn’t enough, Gage continues the saga of the first ninja to work with the British intelligence. Taking place during World War I, the heroism of that Japanese agent is what spurred the development of the ninja program. Though this piece serves as backstory, its exciting adventure captures readers’ attention. Interestingly enough, the subject of this story never says a word. His actions do the talking, just as one would expect from a ninja. There’s a novelty to observing an agent defy the odds without the tech benefits of Ninja-K. There is also a pleasant parallel to the stories. As we readers are discovering the beginnings of the ninja program through the backstory, so too is Ninja-K discovering the truth behind the program.
Artist Juan Jose Ryp and colorist Andrew Dalhouse team up for the main story with artist Ariel Olivetti handling the backup story work. The art throughout the book is fantastic. Ryp does an excellent job depicting action. His work captures not only the physicality involved but also the ferocity. Readers may recall his outstanding depictions of female warriors in titles such as Britannia and Legends of the Geomancer. Here, Ninja-G shines during her battle scenes, and the intensity of some of the more violent imagery is startling. Ryp, though, is an excellent artist all-around, so even in quieter moments, his characters are never stiff. They are demonstrative in facial expressions and body language, and he handles it so naturally that it’s easy for the reader to overlook. A good example of this is a scene in which two characters are having a conversation while one prepares a meal. One throws a knife at the other, who deftly plucks it out of the air, all without missing a beat in the conversation. This – ease, if you will – is part of who the characters are, and Ryp’s interpretation of the scene conveys this perfectly.
Colorist Andrew Dalhouse does an excellent job of setting the mood and tone of the story with color. Faces awash with warm candlelight, the neutrality of a dojo, the use of red backgrounds for strong emotional scenes – all are examples of how his work aids in the telling of the story.
Ariel Olivetti handles all of the artistic duties for the backup story. Olivetti does beautiful work. His art has a painterly quality to it, with softly blended colors and no strong ink lines. His scenes zoom in and pan out like a camera lens, helping the reader to maintain a tight focus on the story. This also puts the main character in the spotlight, allowing for interpretation of his personality and integrity – a quality that Olivetti effectively conveys through the character’s expressions.
Ninja-K #4 is an intense story of collusion and violence, and the effects of these upon its characters. This absorbing story with its excellent artwork make Ninja-K #4 an absolute must for intrigue fans.