Friday, November 09, 2018

Capitalizing on Ninja

Amazing Comics Premieres #1 (Amazing, 1987, $1.95)
"Ninja*Bots" Created, Written, and Illustrated by: Roger McKenzie and Kevin VanHook, Lettered by: Lee Harmon.

Offered by the publisher of Ex-Mutants and New Humans, this is Amazing's showcase book, intended to be a tryout book explicitly similar to DC's Showcase and New Talent Showcase, Pacific's Vanguard Illustrated, and Comico's Primer. What began as a joke on a car trip to the Chicago Con capitalized on the mid-'80s love affair with ninjas and giant robots—and the result is quite impressive.

The 32-page black-and-white comic seems a lark on VanHook's well-drawn cover, but the interiors are anything but silly or dismissive. Instead, writer McKenzie weaves the tale of centuries-old ninja caretakers, tenku (supernatural beings), and warriors. Tao-Sun, the ancient one, encounters wayward student Ratu after defeating a group of ninja, remembering their time together serving as "sworn guardians of the sleeper from the stars."

Power hungry, Ratu slayed their mentor Sin before confronting Tao-Sun, who, as tengu, exacts justice. Now, Tao-Sun returns to the hidden shrine of the sleeper from the stars, where he realizes Ratu has taken control of the sleepers, alien shells in the form of enormous Ninja*Bots, seemingly biomechanical battle bots. Tao-Sun transforms into a tengu demon, the star-lizard, who fights Ratu's Ninja*Bots.

Personally, I could do without the giant robot, but McKenzie's scripting is excellent, and VanHook's artwork is sublime. His style reminds me slightly of Gene Day's work on Master of Kung Fu, and the inking—while brilliantly black and white—isn't heavy handed or muddy. The issue features "The Premiere of Amazing Comics Premieres;" Kevin VanHook's "The Creation of a Comic Book," which further describes the ideas behind the comic; and a couple house ads. Pied Piper later published a Ninja*Bots Super Special.

Whisper Vol. 2 #1 (First, June 1986, $1.25)
"Datapanik in the Year Zero" Writer: Steven Grant, Pencils: Dell Barras and Tim Burgard, Inks: Dell Barras and Rico Rival, Letters: Bert Williams, Colors: Wendy Fiore, and Editor: Rick Oliver.

The second series of Grant's female ninja comic Whisper follows Capital's initial two-issue series and a run in First Adventures. Alexis Devin was born in Seattle and moved to Japan with her father, who smuggled art and was killed by the Japanese mob. She donned a ninja costume and "thought the costume would make her a hero. It made her a victim... and a killer."

Devin is now roommates with Lesa, who practices aikido to strengthen her legs. Paul Eckhart of the National Security Advisory Committee barges into Illumination Information Services to ask Mr. Johnson about Squadron 49. Devin throws her ninja suit overboard from the Staten Island Ferry, but the costume mysteriously returns to her new apartment, upsetting Lesa. Eckhart confronts Kirk Mallinder, Devin's boyfriend, and the two discuss the I Ching and tarot cards as the "first computer program." Eckhart then stops by Devin's apartment.

She suits up as Whisper to find Lesa to discuss the upset. Eckhart then offers a job, but it seems to be part of a masterful manipulation. "She'll break. She'll break into so many pieces, she won't know what to do."

The comic seems best suited for readers well versed in the previous storylines, but it's a fun read. Barras, Burgard, and Rival surprise with some dramatic profile panels, and pp. 16-17 are absolutely beautiful—almost magazine fashion illustration. The issue also includes a lettercol, the "First Notes" news page, and several house ads.

Availability: Ninja*Bots material hasn't been collected. Whisper Vol. 2 #3-11 appear in The Whisper Campaign.

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