After dealing with some personal issues, it’s time for Collin King to get back in the spy game and be the Ninja James Bond he wants to be. Only problem is, someone’s killing all of Britain’s Ninja James Bonds.
Written by Christos Gage
Illustrated by Tomas Giorello
Colored by Diego Rodriguez
Lettered by A Larger World Studios
Cover by Trevor Hairsine with David Baron
A NEW CAN’T-MISS ONGOING SERIES! From acclaimed writer Christos Gage (Netflix’s Daredevil) and superstar artist Tomás Giorello (X-O MANOWAR), the United Kingdom’s most dreaded intelligence operative delves into the cold, calculating world of espionage and international intrigue!nFor nearly a century, MI-6, the most elite branch of Britain’s clandestine intelligence service, has honed a ruthlessly effective, top-secret division – THE NINJA PROGRAMME – into one of its nation’s most finely wielded weapons. Tasked as the first and last line of defense for queen and country, this small shadow army of agents and assassins has produced a succession of notable assets, including NINJA-A, the Queen’s silent weapon of World War I; NINJA-E, the globe-trotting secret agent that pulled the Cold War back from the brink of Armageddon; and, most recently, NINJA-K, aka Colin King, a brash but fearless instrument of lethality that has saved the world from madmen and terror at every turn. But now… an unknown enemy is hunting and killing members of THE NINJA PROGRAMME one by one – and NINJAK is next on the list.
The PBS docuseries, Superheroes – A Never Ending Battle is well named as a history and examination of the genre. With its historical view it emphasizes the unending and mutable nature of these concepts, characters, and symbols. Batman is forever at “war” on Crime because he is continually being published, republished, and remediated. In this eternal formula, consumers have come to view relaunches and creative shifts as the end point … at least for a specific creative team. When writer Matt Kindt concluded his 28-issue run on the character Ninjak, in his eponymous series, in the first half of issue #0 (oh comics) there was the siren call to jump off. Matt Kindt had provided a final statement on Collin King’s, in Sherlock terms “high functioning sociopathy,” with an excellent comic. In a typical comics fashion, Valiant had already announced a relaunch in the pages of “Ninja-K” (note the ‘-‘) and new creative team for the character consisting of Christos Gage (writer), Tomas Giorello(lines) and Diego Rodriguez(color) whose run sort of began in the other half of “Ninjak” #0. In the months since that issue came out the siren call to jump off was matched with the siren call to pick up this new series as Gage did the media round along with Giorello and Rodriguez’ art. And so here I am writing this review for “Ninja-K” #1 the next battle in Ninjak’s unending one.
Inside Kindt’s statement on the character, his ability to hyper compartmentalize all aspects of himself, is fertile ground for infinite Ninjak series. He contains multitudes. The new Gage, Giorello, Rodriguez use this 40-page first issue to make a statement and show how different from its predecessor. “Ninjak” was a character drama about how a broken man became, and functions in that state. Along with awkward orientalists tropes about traveling to the East to learn and master the mystic arts with a dash of super spy aestheticism. There is an orientalist bent inherent to the property, “Ninja-K” attempts to mollify this by fusing it with a more overt James Bond sensibility. Collin King isn’t so much a high functioning sociopath as acting in the long tradition of James Bond types now. Those types have their limits and Gage throws him right into them and cuts through the spy persona when Livewire declares she wants something more than a physical relationship with him. It is a level of vulnerability Collin has never had a good history with. While the art team does an excellent job depicting the violence and gonzo elements of the series, this sequence is rightly human. The get the struggle in Collin’s eyes as he tries to figure out how to open up (and still be guarded) and how easy it is to put on a Balaclava and act like someone else.Continued below
Instead of being an interior focused character piece, writer Christos Gage recasts the series as an exploration of the secret history of Britain’s Ninja Programme with the series opening sequence giving a brief rundown on the Ninja A-J from roughly 1917 to the contemporary moment. Giorello and Rodriguez seal the moment with a beautiful splash page of the various techno-ninja through the years all waiting to be explored as the series goes forward. When considering this history lesson, it’s worth noting that the historical evolution is predicated on at first international relations (Britain and Japan being allies in WWI before a break in the interwar period) before giving way to an emphasis on tracking technological changes. The slightly more grizzled Sean Connery lookalike Ninja-D notes “never stop improving your tools.” This rhymes with the overall arc of Superheroes as a concept, who first started as State propaganda icons before turning into their own slowly evolving textual entities that continually try to repress these core elements. This formula also pulls the curtain back on the aesthetic appropriation going on here and makes no attempt to deal with it. It’s an awkward gaping wound, that you’d think this current incarnation of Valiant would want to attempt to textually salve in some way as they expand their media footprint. Marvel’s films have attempted to rectify some of the more racist origins of their characters despite how awkward and half-measured these exercises are at times.
But a reckoning is coming. Someone is killing Britain’s NinjaThe murder, seen in the back half of the zero issue, hints at a glimmer of a cultural retribution with the assailant’s desire to kill all the remaining Ninja. But much like how The Mummy(2017) marketing hinted at a potentially feminist and anti-colonialist bent to the titular monster, these statements lack context and have yet to be fully explored. What that reckoning looks like in the end is yet to be seen, but attempting to grapple with the historical-cultural implications of the property might turn out well for it in the long run.
It might be, potentially, intellectually dishonest, to praise the pulpy art work created by Tomas Giorello and Diego Rodriguez after commenting on some of the culturally fraught aspects of the property. However, if you enjoyed their work in the first arc of Matt Kindt’s relaunched “X-O Manowar” you should very much enjoy it in this context. “Ninja-K” is a pulpy title in all the sense of the word. It is both a seeming low art property fueled by storytelling sensibilities that would that feel at home in old Pulp magazines. In an issue that creates a meta history to match reality, showing things through a pulped-up point of view reads as consistent with the series.
The key to the pulpy cover art appearance is again Diego Rodriguez color pallet, with his smooth color blends and muted tones. This contrasts with Kindt’s art teams, which were consistently bright and saturated almost leaning into the absurdity of it all. Rodriguez painterly application accentuates Giorello’s line work to give everything a weathered texture. Also like in “X-O Manowar” certain characters with excessive wrinkles almost become all wrinkle and crack instead of face at times. The only one who isn’t seemingly beaten down by all this is Livewire.
Sound page design gives moments of action a sense of violent intent. There’s nothing overtly clever about how these pages are constructed, but they hit the right notes on how to track an action sequence. Gage and Giorello tended to setup page turn moments as the moments featuring examples of extreme violence. Ninjak using his foot blades to stab-slash his adversary’s necks for example was qued up on the previous one and allow the moment to land. Giorello and Rodriguez also have a knack for creating evocative moments of immolation, even if everyone’s reactions tended to be the same.
Cape comics are a never-ending battle. As one series ends, another begins. At least in the case of transitioning from “Ninjak” to “Ninja-K,” the creative teams set the titular character off on a fresh new chapter and intend to go in a different direction from the previous series. Valiant is at its best when they take their characters and cast them as something other than the Superhero and mix genre. Leaning into the spy antics and institutional history of Valiant’s best spy gives the book a novel quality that should be solid ground for new and returning readers.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Ninja-K” exploring the history of the Ninja Programme might open the character up to a brighter future going forward.