Naja is probably one of, if not the best hit-man/assassin storylines I’ve ever read. The thing about Naja is that while it’s based in a fantasy world in which assassins are ranked and there’s huge untouchable crime families, there’s also a degree of realism that’s absent from a lot of assassin stories. The problem is always that the story begins based heavily in reality and then fades into the fantastic, but that’s not the case here. Naja is the same from beginning to end and it’s a better story because of it. Naja isn’t just the name of the story, but it’s also the name of our main character. There’s actually a Kill Bill style name cover up in which we’re kept from learning the main characters real name, so Naja it is. We find her as she lands in France and prepares for her next job. It’s a quick job as she’s in and out from a very public assassination. As she kills, our narrator describes her to us. That she doesn’t smile and can’t feel pain or really anything at all. Her escape plan is all mapped out for her by her handler Zero. She’s never met him, but he sets up the jobs for her from beginning to end. She just needs to follow instructions and everything will work out.
After her job she heads to her home in Iceland. She lives there because she hates people and it’s the least populated place to live. That’s right; Naja is a woman after my own heart. She calls it a night, but as she’s sleeping we see someone watching her in her room. She wakes up and catches a glimpse of the man and begins to attack. The problem is that he’s better than her and eventually he knocks her out. When she wakes up again she’s in restraints. The man begins talking to her, telling her not to bother trying to place his face. He’s unknown, but he knows her and Zero’s entire operation. Then he drops a bombshell on her, he knows that she’s going to die soon because number one wants her dead.
In Zero’s organization there’s a hierarchy and right now Naja is the number three killer. He spouts more information and places one thing in her mind… doubt. She’s never doubted Zero before. The mystery man then leaves her restrained like that for hours before telling the police to come help her. Now Naja has to decide what to do now that she doesn’t have Zero for help and has number one after her.
The catch is that our mystery man tells number two and number one the same thing he told Naja. From there the mystery unfolds with more reveals and truths that Naja could never have known about.
Writer JD Morvan said in an interview with me that the concept started as:
“When the number 1 killer of an organization has a contract out on number 2, how does the number 3 killer react?”
Now the idea grew and changed from there, but the basic premise is there and works. His story is layered very well. You never really feel like you know everything that’s going on until the very end. Every reveal just leads to more questions. The strength comes from the narration as well which is from the POV of one of the characters. I won’t say which one since that’s a surprise revealed while reading, but the amount of info they have on every character in the story makes total and complete sense.
As I said Morvan keeps everything realistic. Naja doesn’t get a free pass on anything. If she needs to leave the country she has to figure out how to do it legally. At one point she has to abandon all of her finances so that Zero can’t see what she’s doing and so she robs an armored truck. She treats the money like trash as she just uses it to do what she needs to and really has no concept of what a lot of money is and that never changes. It’s just not important to her.
Morvan shines with Naja’s backstory which at first comes off a little pointless, but that’s the genius as it actually ends up playing a huge role in everything that’s come since. Her childhood, the accident that took away her ability to feel pain and everything after. It’s all connected in a brilliant way.
This story is nothing without the art. Bengal’s wonderful anime inspired artwork has a solid European look to it. It’s gorgeous. The line work, the coloring, it all works together to make a story that looks animated. It looks like it could move on the page at any moment.
With this being a story about assassin’s there are many aspects of the art that are important. The action of course is the biggest aspect. Bengal’s artwork flows wonderful making every action sequence not only easy to follow, but visually entertaining as well. Each action sequence is intense, but no two are the same. It’s impressive, but Bengal manages to present each gun fight differently keeping it from being a wash and repeat.
The other major aspect is the settings. This story spans the globe for sure and Bengal brings each location to life. Each city visited is realistic, but fits the story. He’s pushed to the max with this story, but he delivers each and every time.
This book as a little of everything: travel, assassins, mobsters, prison breakouts and plenty of action. It’s a complete story that has excellent pacing and mystery that will keep you guessing and interested all the way to the very end. If you like even a fraction of what I’ve covered in my review than be sure to check out this gorgeous book. You won’t regret it.
Writer: JD Morvan Artist: Bengal Publisher: Magnetic Press Price: $29.99 Format: OGN, Print