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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.

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The Valiant #3 [Review]

thevaliant003Writers: Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt
Artist: Paolo Rivera with Joe Rivera
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Assistant Editor: Kyle Andrukiewicz
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Comics
Cover Date: February 2014
Cover Price: $3.99

While it could just be that it’s the most immediate, this is probably my favorite issue of this mini so far.

The main thrust of the issue is that Gilad (the Eternal Warrior) has allied himself with a number of allies (basically, the rest of the major characters in the Valiant universe) to fight The Immortal Enemy, an entity as old as Time itself that is trying to kill the newest Geomancer. Gilad’s failed a number of times in the past to prevent this, but he’s highly determined that it will never happen again. Meanwhile, authorities behind Gilad’s group are working to get a mysterious box opened. As all this is going on and the heroes seem to be defeated, Bloodshot has been getting Kay (the new Geomancer) to safety and prepares to defend her if needed–he’s her last line of defense. The two learn more of each other, and Kay tests her powers…but the Immortal Enemy continues its path to the Geomancer.

I breezed through this issue hardly noticing the art, overall. In this case that’s definitely a good thing–it just fit the story, conveyed plenty, and didn’t really left me wondering what was going on. I don’t care much for lengthy “silent” scenes where I have to “focus” on the art to pick up on what’s going on. I far prefer to read a story and be able to “notice” the action going on behind the words…and this issue struck me as very well balanced in that regard. It certainly worked for me.

The story itself has shifted from what I’d thought was going to be an Eternal Warrior or Unity story to a Bloodshot story, and I think I truly like that. I’m further behind on a lot of my Valiant reading than I’d like to be, so I’m enjoying the Bloodshot emphasis all the more. I’m also definitely enjoying the development of something between Bloodshot and the Geomancer–the two are such different characters, and yet there’s definitely something quite interesting about them being “teamed up” and interacting directly with one another. I skipped the recap at the beginning of the issue, but had no problem “picking back up” with things, and am eager to get to the story’s conclusion despite knowing it leads into Bloodshot Reborn (as opposed to simply concluding as a 4-issue story that sits for a bit before being picked back up).

As a third issue of four, this is by no means a jumping-on point. But it certainly draws from what’s been set up in the first couple issues and leaves me looking forward quite a bit to the final issue, and with some suspicion that Bloodshot’s status quo has been significantly altered…and I’m hoping that Kay makes it through this story and would quite enjoy seeing her as part of the cast of the new Bloodshot series this spring.

I remember expecting skinny squarebound issues when Valiant announced the “prestige format” of the series, having gotten used to that for Marvel and DC “prestige format” comics in the 1990s. What I’ve got instead is a cardstock cover, endpapers, and a pleasant lack of ads. Best of all–the cover price remains “only” $3.99…and I count a full 22 story pages–making the physical quality of the individual issue(s) well worth the cover price, particularly compared against a standard issue. We also get “commentary” in the back with several pages of blended art, showing a few of the story pages divided in quarters showing the layouts, pencils, inks, and colors which is a neat effect…these pages overlaid with commentary in “narration boxes” from writer Jeff Lemire contextualizing some stuff about the issue (no need to have a smartphone with an app to pull up some video short that’ll eat into a data plan for a few words from a creator).

All in all, quite a good issue…plenty enjoyable, high quality, and certainly worth its cover price.

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