By Daniel Vlasaty
Ninjak is something I’ve been aware of for some time now. As a comic book reader this should be obvious. He’s a character I’ve seen here and there. But one I don’t think I’ve ever actually sat down to read before. It’s kind of like that with a lot of the Valiant stuff for me, though. I’m aware of most of it, maybe even read an issue or two. But for whatever reason it’s a publisher I tend to pass by on the shelves. I don’t know why. It’s nothing personal. Nothing against Valiant or the books they’re steady putting out. I think that I just get so wrapped up in the DC, Marvel, and Image books I buy and read each week that I kind of forget about all the other companies putting new books out week after week.
Because I’ve never read the character before it’s hard for me to place this book among the rest of Ninjak’s history. I’m not really sure if this is a continuation from a previous storyline or if it’s a reinterpretation or a reimagining or the character or whatever. I don’t know. What I do know is that, in Ninja-K at least, Colin King works for MI6’s Ninja Programme. He is Ninja-K, the best and brightest and strongest and smartest in a long line of ninjas to come out of the programme. And because of this, or maybe despite it, he’s different than the rest of the agents…er, ninjas. Ninja agents. Rather than being driven by purpose or honor or whatever it is that drives most other ninjas out there, King seems to be mainly driven by money. Or I guess greed. Which is why he’s known to some as “the Freelancer.”
I’ve never read anything by Christos Gage. But here he’s created a book full of history and legacy and mythos that dates back to, at least, the early 1900s. This is interesting and there is so much to work with here story-wise. But I did feel that the book fell a bit flat when it came to the characters. Ninjak is a fine character, maybe only slightly clichéd – like most of the other characters here are. But the problem I had with Colin King and his Ninja-K alter-ego is that he just isn’t really likeable. There’s nothing relatable about him. He’s got the honor and the determination and dedication to avenge the death of another Ninja but there isn’t really anything beneath it. There’s nothing to hold that to. Dude’s just flat, he’s a character that’s been done before.
Gage attempts to human King by giving him a love interest. He’s a ladies’ man – adding to the very strong James Bond feel the book’s already working with. But this relationship (this it’s only a booty call but it’s actually more than that kind of relationship) is a bit clunky and awkward and, again, clichéd. I’ve seen it before. Two people dig each other, they hook up, but they’re both unable to actually open up to each other – maybe it’s their training (she’s some kind of spy or agent, too) or maybe they’re both too selfish or blah blah blah. Whatever the case may be this is the type of shit that can change the overall feel and tone and experience of a book. Now that this relationship – and the will they/won’t they undertone of it – has been brought up (right off the bat, in the first issue, no less) it’s going to have to be addressed again moving forward. It’s just a bit of a boring sub-plot to me. Especially in a secret agent/ninja/spy/murder mystery/vengeance story.
I’m not even going to lie. One thing that’s always given me a pause when I look at Valiant books is the art. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad – it’s actually probably more of a comment against myself than the artists working for Valiant; that I’m a pretentious douche that needs to get over my own shit, or whatever. But I think at first glance that some of the art can come off as generic. And, initially, that’s kind of the case here too. Again, Tomas Giorello is a name that I’m unfamiliar with. But I will say when I was first flipping through the book, before actually sitting down to read, I was not super impressed. But as I actually read the thing the art quickly became very enjoyable. The overall feeling of the art fits the book perfectly. The first half of the book is basically a montage and Giorello’s overlapping style is well-suited to portray that. There were a few instances, though, where this style leads to like a weird James Bond-esque movie poster spread. If that makes any sense. Giorello’s art is best when there’s action on the page. Fight scenes and explosions and movement is where it really excels.
Yes, I had a few things I wasn’t super down with about issue #1 of Ninja-K but does that mean that it’s bad and that I didn’t enjoy it? I actually think that I liked it quite a bit. I had fun reading it, even if I was picking out a few things I didn’t like as I was going. But it’s a solid story with a huge and tumultuous history. I am sure there are things I overlooked or just completely missed that long-time fans of the character will have caught. I don’t know. There’s a lot to work with here and I’m actually pretty excited to see where it goes. I think I’m also going to take some time to dig into other Ninjak stories. And probably other Valiant titles too.