There are a lot of comics out there, but some just stand out head and shoulders above the pack. With “Don’t Miss This” we want to spotlight those series we think need to be on your pull list. This week, we look at “Ninja-K,” a series that looks into the secret history of Britain’s Ninja Programme.
Who Is This By?
“Ninja-K” is produced by writer Christos Gage, and illustrators Tomás Giorello, Roberto de la Torre, and Ariel Olivetti with colorist Diego Rodriguez. Juan Jose Ryp and Andrew Dallhouse also provide the art in certain issues.
What’s It All About?
Collin King aka Ninja-K wasn’t the only ninja in her Majesty’s secret service. By the end of things though, he might be as someone is killing his predecessors. Who would be capable of taking out a half century plus of their top assassins? “Ninja-K” explores the history of the Ninja Programme, with Ninja A – J, as Collin looks for the killer and tries to answer some personal questions.
What Makes It So Great?
On it’s face, Ninjak as a property is problematic in ways I don’t have time to dissect, mainly as it relates to cultural appropriation and mighty whitey tropes. Matt Kindt’s previous run with the character tended toward taking the trappings of the property at face value and use them interrogate the character of Collin King. With “Ninja-K,” writer Christos Gage is attempting to work out some of those problematic knots by exploring the history of the Ninja Programme and Ninja A through K. These explanations build a context for why Britain would have such a program, in the Valiant U it’s rooted in WWI alliances. It doesn’t change the aesthetics, but it’s more than the property previously had.
Working through this history is where the series shines. By looking at Ninja A-J, Gage and the various artists get to work through spy genre tropes with an emphasis on period storytelling. Ninja-D is essentially Sean Connery. Ninja-G is informed by blaxploitation and the 1970’s. In the upcoming issue #10 (due out in August) Gage and Larry Stroman look into the files of Ninja-H during Thatcher era Britain. By displacing Collin King and looking into the past “Ninja-K” gets to be the James Bond-Ninja selling point and deal with itself. Because one of the recurring elements in this near century worth of history is how self-destructive it all is. The Ninja who manage to age out aren’t happy with the way the State treated them. The same goes for those who didn’t age out. “Ninja-K” taps into the old idea of Valiant’s superheroes being byproducts of a monstrous military industrial complex in a different way.
The emphasis on history has the added benefit of displacing Collin King. He’s still the lead, but this story isn’t really about him in the way “Ninjak” was. It’s about him searching for the answer to a question: can he be Ninja-K and still be something resembling a functioning human being. The history and legacy that the series ties to him is an effective way to explore why Collin King is the way he is, that isn’t regurgitating his assemblage of origin tropes. History becomes the perfect antagonist for him to rail against as he tries to make his relationship with Amanda “Livewire” Mckee work. “Ninja-K” is a journey into history but at the core is a relationship drama.
As noted in the credits section, “Ninja-K” has fair amount of different artists. This isn’t because Valiant couldn’t keep an art team together, but because of the different time periods getting their own artist and style. Primarily the first arc features Tomás Giorello for the present. Artists Roberto de la Torre and Ariel Olivetti primarily focus on the past. The duo of Juan Jose Ryp and Andrew Dallhouse handle the Ninja-G issue. The same basic pattern holds true for the series second arc, ‘The Coalition.’
This artistic variety is one of the series strengths as it gives each Ninja and time period a unique look and feel. Giorello’s pencils are delicate but create strong pulp cover inspired imagery and the perfect choice to open the series as we learn the history between Ninja A and B. Ariel Olivetti draws everything clean and smooth, which is fitting for their particular ninja and an interesting contrast with how WWI is represented. Roberto de la Torre is the harshest of the bunch with their use of blacks and a more graphic design sensibility. Through all of this is colorist Diego Rodriguez, who smartly doesn’t try to unify these separate styles through their color palette. He colors all of them different and gives them all different textures. With Giorello’s pencils everything has a painterly quality like a pulp cover. Olivetti is given an appropriately smooth and glossy palette. He complements de la Torre’s harsh blacks with muted more meditative colors. Artistically, “Ninja-K” is at it’s best when it plays these separate styles off one another often mirroring panels and time periods off one another.Continued below
How Can You Read It?
The first trade paperback of “Ninja-K” ‘The Ninja Files’ has already been released. The second collection ‘The Coalition’ is due out October 9, 2018. Issue #9, the finale to ‘The Coalition’ is out today, July 18, 2018.