Thursday, January 04, 2018

Secret Ninja Soldiers

Ninja-K #1-2 (Valiant, November-December 2017, $3.99)
This is a new series featuring a character that first appeared in the 1993 Valiant Ninjak series, which ran 28 issues before being canceled mid-storyline. Already, this series featuring writing by Christos Gage and art by Tomas Giorello (along with several introductory pages by Roberto de la Torre in #2 that show promise), makes me wonder why the previous series didn't last longer. (The '90s Bloodshot, also recently relaunched, for example, ran 50-plus issues.) The character has legs!

Since the early 1900s, MI6 has used a line of secret ninja soldiers (starting with Ninja-A) to do things the usual British army couldn't—or wouldn't. Each trained its successor until the arrival of the Jonin, a dedicated teacher. This issue establishes that lineage, focusing mostly on Ninja-A, -B, and -D—undoubtedly the best"—before introducing the current iteration, Ninja-K.

After rescuing an ambassador's son. Ninja-K returns to the arms of his lover in London, a woman he served with in Unity (whatever that is). She gives him an ultimatum just before Neville arrives to inform him about a series of murders targeting other operatives in the ninja program. Ninja-K goes to meet with Ninja-D's backup D-3 in the Cotswolds, where he learns about Madame Charade, a mistress of disguise and Ninja-D's obsessive paramour before it all goes to heck.

Giorello's artwork is stellar. (Has he drawn Batman yet? He could.) Combined with Diego Rodriguez's colors, the visuals are detailed, dark, and well suited for a spy and ninja comic. Highlights of #1 include p. 2, 4, 6, the spread on pp. 8-9, and 32 (worthy of a Howard Chaykin pinup, that one!). Very solid and moody without getting muddy or overly violent or bloody—despite the violent nature of the comic.

#2 opens with five pages drawn by Roberto de la Torre to offer an interlude from 1952, perhaps setting up #1's less-mentioned Ninja-C as an antihero, enemy, or foil for the ninja program. Ninja-K survives the end of #1 and heads to Luxembourg to confront Madame Charade. Pp. 11-15 are among the best pages I've read in comics for some time—the very concept of the Madame Charade character over time is fascinating.

Ninja-K continues to the Birmingham facility where Ninja-D worked at the end of his career, where he makes a startling discovery and meets a new, perhaps old, enemy. This issue also includes an eight-page backup story (huzzah!) drawn by Ariel Olivetti showcasing an early mission from 1918.

This comic is more Master of Kung Fu than Usagi Yojimbo, and strikes me more strongly than I remember Steven Grant's Whisper.

Availability: A previous Ninjak series has been collected starting with Ninjak Volume 1: Weaponeer

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