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Ninjak #1: Then and Now

It was a little over 21 years ago as I write this that yet "another" chromium-covered #1 issue of a series debuted: Ninjak #1. The November 1993 issue sported a chromium wrap-around cover in the vein of X-O Manowar #0 (which I already had), and was supposed to be this great new series…but at least in my experience, it was nothing special or valuable or such.

ninjak_1993_2015_covers

I actually can’t even remember for sure if I had my own copy, or if I’m only remembering a friend getting it, though I remember him not being particularly enthused by the issue. I now own several copies, scattered throughout my collection–obtained from bargain bins over the years. But while I clearly remember getting and reading X-O Manowar #0, Ninjak #1 sparks no such memory.

I missed the premiere of a number of the "original Valiant" books, "joining in" well after the original Unity (I believe X-O Manowar #0 and Deathmate in summer 1993 were my introduction to Valiant as a publisher) and never got beyond the first issue of Bloodshot (which was purchased because someone recommended it as a "hot" thing akin to the Superman #75 I was in line with my friend and mom for). At the time I simply didn’t particularly care about Valiant‘s output beyond what I was reading about in Wizard magazine or picking up in "buzz" at the comic shops. The issues were expensive–$2.50 or so in a world of $1.50 comics; and I was into the Ultraverse stuff that I DID get to be there from the start.

But despite all that and plenty of other thoughts looking back…I remember that darned COVER. It is–for me–a rather "iconic" cover…in terms of Valiant, in terms of "the ’90s" and in terms of my childhood and early days in comics, becoming aware of stuff beyond Marvel and DC.

And now we have a NEW Ninjak #1 and series with no such gimmick to the "main" cover of the first issue…this one I read immediately, and reviewed earlier in this blog.

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Ninjak (2015) #1 [Review]

ninjak(2015)001Book 1; The Lost Files

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Butch Guice
Colors: Ulises Arreola
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover Art: Lewis Larosa, Clay Mann, Brian Reber, Dave Johnson, Marguerite Sauvage, Trevor Hairsine, Tom Muller
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99
Cover Date: March 2015

I can honestly say that while looking forward to the debut of this series, I hadn’t really noticed its release was quite so imminent until the morning it was due out. Once I did, I found myself REALLY looking forward to getting it and sitting down to read the thing.

The cover is a bit of a mixed bag. The image is rather cool, showing off the title character and his toughness–both swords drawn, angry face, and arrows sticking out from all over…obviously he’s not some ordinary man that can be stopped with even a hail of arrows and shuriken. I dig the solid coloring to the cover text, company logo, and title…it looks good with the image, complementing it while standing out clearly and avoiding any trouble being made out against its background. However, outside of the UPC box it looks to me more like an ad than actual ads for the issue have! The advertised image that most stood out to me had the standard Valiant trade dress and the title logo at the top. At the size presented on this cover there’s no real reason I see to not have it at the top. If it were significantly larger it’d make sense to move it down to avoid covering most of Ninjak’s head/face. So while I applaud the image and the cover text coloring/use individually, it looks like a draft rather than a final piece.

For the $3.99 cover price we’re given a 22-page main story as well as an 8-page backup. This was a real treat to get the extra content withOUT losing pages from the main story…and certainly adds content value to the issue. There’s also a several-page “preview” of Bloodshot Reborn that–with the backup–makes this a fairly thick issue that physically feels a lot more worthwhile than most $3.99 comics.

The main story flips back and forth between Ninjak present-day and his past, allowing for some nice compare/contrast and insight into who he is now and where he comes from. It’s rather cinematic, which I both appreciate and enjoy here. I’m not particularly invested in the character as yet, only knowing him from a couple issues I’ve read of the ’90s incarnation and his appearances in other contemporary Valiant titles the last couple years. As such, I’m interested in learning more about Ninjak and the man behind the costume…which is something we get plenty of here. We see him on his own, in his element as he takes on a particular mission…and we see glimpses of his past which lets us see more depth of character than we could reasonably get seeing only the present. The split nature of showing present and past allows us this new story with the character, an “in” to his past, while avoiding our being forced as readers to endure simply a solo adventure or simply some prequel-esque/Year One type story.

Buried within the story itself is a little gem that made me grin and think to myself “of COURSE! That is GREAT!” In the back of my head, I’ve always wondered at the name Ninjak. Where’d it come from, why would this secret agent/spy/ninja call himself that? (Other than the fact that it’s definitely a product of the early 1990s). Being paid from a “black slush fund,” several previous ninjas were labeled A through J…Colin is the 11th: Ninja-K.

The backup IS fully set in the past, providing an uninterrupted narrative of one of Colin’s first missions. While I’d likely balk if the main story were shorter to allow for the backup, as (functionally) bonus content it’s a welcome addition, allowing even further insight into where Ninjak’s come from.

I definitely prefer Mann‘s art in the main story to Guice‘s art on the backup. Guice‘s art is gritty, moody, and works very well in what it does, and definitely fits its story. Mann‘s work is a bit cleaner and has the benefit of consistency with recent-past appearances of Ninjak. The coloring of both stories also has an impact with the main story being a lot brighter and thus fitting more into the superhero mold while the backup is darker and more fitting as a spy story.

Whether you’ve followed this incarnation of Ninjak from X-O Manowar #4 back in 2012 or simply remember the character from the ’90s (or just want a ninja-“superhero” adventure) this is a great first issue. You’re introduced to the character–where he is now as well as where he’s come from.  We see some extension to the cast around him with hints on where this’ll go. We’re set up for the story that’s unfolding while getting a decent chunk of it here…by no means a full story, but enough to work with and get a feel for things. If you’re starting here, it works as-is…and if you’re familiar with the current Valiant universe and continuity there’s added depth to be found..

Valiant takes a character that’s been around most of its history and for the past several years in its current run, and truly rewards us with an excellent first issue…from Kindt‘s writing, Mann and Guice‘s art, and the entire creative team. It’s just that cover that bugs me, from the design standpoint. Highly recommended!


xomanowar005

  ninjak001advertisedcover

X-O Manowar (2012) #5 – the first appearance of Ninjak in contemporary Valiant comics.

Ninjak #1 cover ad and what I’d expected of the standard cover.

The Weekly Haul – Week of March 11, 2015

Finally “back on schedule” after a couple of off-weeks. Vacation 600 miles away a couple weeks ago, trying to catch up on the DC Weeklies before getting prohibitively far behind, while getting back into work after a week off made the last couple weeks iffy on comics.

weekly_haul_20150311a

The new Ninjak series premiered this week, and I couldn’t resist grabbing the Bill & Ted comic for nostalgia’s sake. Magnus wraps up, I’ve bought my third Marvel Star Wars issue, and been keeping up with my reading Unity.

weekly_haul_20150311b

I’m almost certain I do have the original edition of the iZombie series, which was ALSO $1 cover price IF I’m recalling correctly, back when Vertigo was premiering some of their series for that $1 price point.

I’m amazed that I have YET to find anything that will tell me concretely how many issues the DC Weeklies each run…obviously we’re almost done, given Convergence starts next month, but still…52? 25? 48?

I have a  LOT of reading to do, and need to find a “guide” to the Convergence books, as I’ll probably buy a few (heck, 3/wk matches these Weeklies) but I’m more inclined to know how Convergence will be collected.

A topic for another time, perhaps.

Armor Hunters #4 [Review]

Armor Hunters #4Kill

Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Doug Braithwaite, Tom Fowler, Trevor Hairsine, and Clayton Henry
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

I can say from the start that this did not end with quite the grandiose hugeness I was expecting. For an 18-issue (now 19 including the upcoming Aftermath issue) thing, I don’t know what I was hoping for exactly, but this wasn’t it.

But then, I wasn’t buying this because it was Armor Hunters. I wasn’t following the story because of it being “an event” or the “latest event” or anything like that. I wasn’t following it because of chromium covers or variant covers. I wasn’t following it BECAUSE of any of the marketing or checklists or whatever. I was buying this because it was Valiant, and from May 2012’s relaunch to present, I’ve been “all-in” on Valiant.

That said, I found this issue to be a solid one, wrapping up this particular “core chapter” in the ongoing story that is Valiant continuity as a whole.

The art is very good as usual…I really had no complaints there. The style works and fits the story, and I was never taken out of things because of some visual quirk or stylistic twinge or otherwise anything distracting about the “meta” nature of anything with the art. The characters all looked good, the action was easy to follow, everything seemed consistent with what I’ve seen before. The art thus was good in the best way: only consciously “noticeable” because I’m choosing to comment on it in the capacity of this review. In the reading, it simply “was.” Nothing stand-out distractingly “great” but nothing distractingly bad–it allowed the story to take the stage.

Through the issue, we see Aric armor up again with the X-O suit, and reconnect with Bloodshot and the Unity team, as all come back together and the immediate threat of the team of “Armor Hunters” themselves is brought to a close.

The story is relatively simple on the surface for the issue–a lot of fighting as the hunters are laid low while the Earth-heroes take their own share of physical punishment for the trouble. But we also get some interesting elements for moving forward, and I feel like a key “promise” was indeed fulfilled–and satisfyingly so. While I don’t recall now if it was in some preview or interview or such (it may have been outside the “normal, organic” nature of following the comics themselves withOUT having comic news sites or such involved) but in my mind I’ve had the notion that we’d learn more about Aric’s armor in particular, and then as an event we’d have some lasting elements to carry on beyond.

We’ve learned that the armor is one of many, that they exert a parasitic influence over the “host” (that they’re a “host” rather than simply a being that is wearing the armor says plenty), that it’s not some one-shot thing of the armor being able to heal the host, and so on.

We have the lasting impact of Mexico City’s destruction–a city does not just get wiped off the map and get forgotten. That will be a long-term lasting thing in the Valiant continuity, setting it apart from the “real world” where we as readers know Mexico City has NOT actually been destroyed during an alien attack.

We also have the impact of things on Aric with the armor now totally bonded with him, and the limitation that he now lives with–he’s in control of the armor and it won’t just take him over, won’t heal him automatically. He now can WILL the armor to heal him…but in so doing, he cedes that much more control TO the armor, such that if he takes enough physical damage in need of the armor’s brand of healing, eventually he WILL be lost to the armor.

We also have a new relationship between Aric and MERO…as well as the first explanation I can consciously recall of the title X-O Manowar being given beyond some arbitrary X-O class armor also known as manowar armor…as an “Executive Officer” titled “Manowar,” Aric sort of has a “superhero name” now, yet not…but the title is given to him, as a thing, rather than merely being a description of the armor that he happens to wear.

While an 18 or 19 part “epic” is a bit grandiose for such a small family of titles as Valiant puts out, and rather large for ANY “event” or “crossover” as an independent thing…it totally makes sense as it has played out. The core story’s been in this 4-issue mini-series. Given the ties to the X-O Manowar title itself, we’ve gotten Aric’s story here and background on Malgam and the Armor Hunters in that title. Something of this scale would certainly affect the world as a whole, hence Unity’s involvement. Bloodshot’s recruitment fits and as one of the main/big players in the Valiant Universe his action should not be relegated to off-panel “mentions.” And as Generation Zero steps out into the world in general it’s logical that they–and the remnants of the Renegades–would become involved in disaster relief efforts.

Granted that’s a much larger-scale view than “just” this fourth issue, but having read everything, this is “just” a part of that.

Context is vital, and while there’s no gigantic singular event in this issue that in and of itself will HERE change the Valiant universe, if you’ve been following the whole thing or just this mini, or X-O Manowar, this is definitely an issue to get, not to be arbitrarily skipped for some random reason. It’s good and worthwhile, and a solid issue in itself. Of course, if you have not been following anything associated with this, it would thus be a rather strange-ish point to attempt to jump into stuff, and I wouldn’t recommend it as a jumping-on point. (Yet every issue is bound to be SOMEONE’s first).

The ’90s Revisited: Ninjak Yearbook #1

ninjakyearbook001Writer: Mike Baron
Penciller: Bryan Hitch
Colorist: Steve Whitaker
Letterer: Adam Niedzwiecki
Editor: Maurice Fontenot
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover: Stu Suchit
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.95

After having recently read the Trapped by Webnet arc in the current Unity series,when I was flipping through a quarter-bin the other day, I bought this issue and actually read it same-day, even though I already had it. It was the immediacy, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, except a Ninjak story and the cover had a headshot of someone that I couldn’t imagine being anyone other than Dr. Silk.

For as many of the original Valiant books as I’ve amassed the last couple years, I’ve read surprisingly few so far (telling myself I’m waiting til I can read the entire Valiant universe start to finish with no gaps). So I didn’t quite know what to expect here. The issue is labeled as a Yearbook…I’ve come to realize that would be original Valiant‘s way of saying “Annual.” So this is the 1994 Annual for the Ninjak ongoing, and while I half expected a big To Be Continued, I was pleasantly “surprised” to find that this issue is self-contained.

I didn’t think about the art all that much as I read the issue, but I really didn’t have any problem with it. Nothing jumped out in any negative way, and I didn’t feel “distracted” by it, either. It just got the visuals across and told that side of the whole of the story. In typing this post I see Bryan Hitch was the penciler, so in retrospect I kind of “see” it, though it definitely (obviously) predates his work on The Ultimates by a number of years. Combined with the coloring, I’d have to say I prefer Ultimates to this, but there’s also the fact of reading this 20-year-old single issue, and that Hitch and comics/printing in general had a good 8-some years of development between when this issue was published and when The Ultimates came along.

The story is relatively simple: Ninjak’s out and about in his civilian guise, and gets recruited for a mission. Dr. Silk’s making trouble, and of course needs to be stopped. Ninjak encounters a rather personal foe en route to stopping Dr. Silk, and by issue’s end we’ve reached the adventure’s end.

Perhaps over-simplifying, I’d say this issue is basically a single-issue Ninja-Spy story: part ninja-guy in Ninjak, but he’s also a spy. And it sure as heck beats being just some kick-off to a longer story, or a concluding chapter of a longer story, or being a middle chapter of a story…etc.

I quite enjoyed reading the issue, and it was CERTAINLY worth the 25 cents, if solely for the amount of time it took to read. I’ve maybe read one or two other Ninjak issues through the years, though I’m honestly not even sure if I’ve read the first issue…I think I know more of the contemporary version of the character from the last couple years in current Valiant‘s X-O Manowar, Unity, and Armor Hunters titles. 

That being said…I never felt lost or taken out of the story by my lack of knowledge; though I’m consciously aware of “continuity” and such, this worked just fine for me as a single-issue “episode” of stuff. Perhaps it’s a bit formulaic…but for me, that worked in the issue’s favor.

While this is a sort of Annual as opposed to an arbitrarily-chosen issue of the ongoing series, it’s very satisfying to be able to just pick up one issue and have an enjoyable story, good art, and no burning desire to go grab another issue immediately to continue or finish the story.

Now recognizing the Yearbook issues as basically being annuals, I may actually target them for reading prior to getting down to any solid “reading projects” for classic Valiant.

If you come across this in a bargain bin, it’s certainly worth 25 cents to $1. While it’s good, it’s not any issue of particular or singular significance, and as a “generic ’90s book” I wouldn’t suggest paying more than $1 for a copy, and personally consider it truly 25-cent-bin fare.

Unity #1 [Review]

unity001Written by: Matt Kindt
Art & Cover by: Doug Braithwaite
Colors: Brian Reber
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

I have yet to read the original Unity stuff from the ’90s as I’m still missing an issue or two and haven’t spent the money on the series of collected volumes. And given that Solar and Magnus are not part of the contemporary Valiant universe and the tagline for THIS series is “Victory is not absolute” (rather than “Time is not absolute”), there’s plenty of difference.

THIS Unity isn’t an event so much as it’s a title, a team…one that is formed in response to Aric (with his X-O Manowar armor) setting down in modern Romania (ancient Dacia) and claiming it as his own, re-claiming it for his people, liberated from the Vine homeworld. Russia launches an attack–this is their backyard–and Aric is victorious, which makes them all the more nervous, and the chain effect is that the entire world is poised on the brink of World War Three. As self-styled savior, Toyo Harada gets involved, first sending in his Unity team, before realizing that he’d have to get involved personally, leading an elite team of his own.

Truthfully, I don’t know if this is a “limited series” a la Harbinger Wars (if so, no clue how many issues), or if it’s actually an ongoing series, and the big “instigating event” for the formation of a status quo is “just” this tie-in to X-O Manowar. But for the moment…I’m not too concerned. I’m “all-in” with Valiant at present–getting basically anything they put out as in single issue format. As such, limited series or ongoing, I’m getting this either way.

This felt like a longer issue than usual, with a lot going on. Really, having kept up with X-O Manowar, this actually felt like an issue of that, just involving a more diverse cast than usual, and less focus on Aric as the protagonist (he’s definitely the antagonist here). That this fits so well with that is definitely a credit to continuity in my mind, and what can be done with characters that are typically involved in separate titles coming together in one. At the same time, while I mention continuity, this can also be a decent entry-point for newer readers. The “core” story is given on the inside front cover, about Aric’s past. The other characters come into play throughout the issue and you get some context for them on a surface level at least. Of course, longer-time Valiant readers will have even more context, a deeper appreciation for some of the various character interactions, based on having come across them before…particularly Ninjak and Harada; as well as Aric himself and Gilad (the Eternal Warrior) from the actual X-O Manowar series.

As a first issue, I liked this. We’re introduced to the instigating event: Aric has claimed Romania and isn’t budging from his ancient homeland. The rest of the world isn’t happy, but have yet to put together an effective (for them) response. We get the introduction of major players–Aric himself, Harada, the Eternal Warrior, Ninjak–as well as the actual Unity team Harada deploys. The opposing sides actually meet and battle in this issue (we aren’t left solely with posturing and “setup” or “building anticipation” for this issue). The effects of the first battle are felt, and set things in motion that the issue’s end promises will be brought into play next issue.

Visually, not a bad issue. After all the months of anticipating this series, wondering what would actually play out, and so on, I was far more eager to dig in on the story side than anything with art. The fact I read right through the issue without having to stop to wonder what exactly was going on action-wise is certainly credit to the art team. Doing the job well, I like when I don’t “notice” the art much one way or the other.

I doubt this issue alone would ‘sell’ you on the Valiant Universe as a whole. But if you’ve been curious, it’s a good point to get in, and be introduced to characters involved in at least three other titles (X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Eternal Warrior), and a huge influence in a fourth (Bloodshot/Bloodshot and H.A.R.D.Corps). And following only a few months after Harbinger Wars, this title brings the Valiant universe together, bridging multiple titles without forcing a multi-title crossover…you can get the story from this issue even without having read any of the other titles.

My only real problem with this issue is the many variant covers; I’ve long had issue with there being so many/regularly variants anyway, but with five or six (at least) variants, this was rather ridiculous to me.

Ultimately, variants or otherwise, if you’ve any interest in Valiant past or present, I do recommend this issue. And if nothing else…you have a $3.99 book that is not being double-shipped, and does not continue (directly) into some other series.

Recent Acquisitions: Older Books

Along with the various “free” comics I picked up on Free Comic Day, I also snagged a couple other bargains: a fresh copy of the Superman Tribute issue from Wizard that came out after The Death of Superman stuff; a hardcover The Trial of Captain America, and most surprising of all (to me) a $5 copy of Solar, Man of the Atom: Alpha and Omega still in the original bag with a poster! (originally cover-priced $10 on initial release back in 1994). The Captain America book was also $5, and the Wizard issue was a mere 25-cents.

FCBDnonfreebooksI’d also found myself that Saturday revisiting eBay, checking on the current pricing of the Ultimates 2 hardcover. I’d snagged the first hardcover in early May last year, paying a bit of an unwelcome “premium” for it including shipping, on the expectation that its price would skyrocket with the Avengers movie as “everyone” would want the darned thing. I wound up getting Ultimates 2 (also out of print like Ultimates) including shipping for well under cover price, giving me the two-volume set I’ve wanted to have for years.

ultimatesHaving managed to track down the Ultimates 2 volume, I turned my attention to tracking down the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy hardcover. I’d first seen it at a Books-A-Million a number of years ago while visiting with a friend, and I passed on a $17 copy several years ago at Kenmore. Managed to get this copy, including shipping for under $14.

ultimategalactusandvaliantmastersI also have meant to get the Valiant Masters hardcover edition of Bloodshot since about the time the book came out last year. I wound up finding both it and the Ninjak volume, and got both–including shipping–for little more than cover price of either of the single volumes.

ultimategalactusandvaliantmastersstacked Continue reading

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