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J. Torres Gets Violent With “Ninja Scroll”

by  in Comic News Comment
J. Torres Gets Violent With “Ninja Scroll”

You know how the old story goes. Heroic man saves woman from stone giant, starts to fall for her, and then he finds out that touching her will result in his death. Might even remind you of those torturous high school years. But things are deadly serious in “Ninja Scroll,” the popular anime that has created legions of fans all over the world , chronicling the journey of a samurai named Jubei and his quest to defeat the Eight Devils Of Kimon. Set in Japan’s feudal era, and mining some Japanese mythology, the anime, in both film and television form, “Ninja Scroll” is full of the action and drama that American comic book fans crave. Debuting in late September/early October from DC Comics/Wildstorm, “Ninja Scroll” fits in between the continuity of the first two films, further chronicling the adventures of uber-cool samurai Jubei. CBR News spoke with series writer J. Torres about the book and how he became involved with the series.

“I was talking to Wildstorm about something else when this was offered to me,” Torres explained. “I can’t remember but it was either Hank Kanalz or John Nee who asked me if I was a fan of ‘Ninja Scroll.’ So, it was one of those right place, right time things.”

“I’m trying to write it as new reader friendly as possible without doing too much retread and trying to get into a new story in the same vein as the film as quickly as possible. Even if you’ve never seen the anime, you should still be able to get into the comic. The concept, the characters, and the world of Ninja Scroll lends itself to episodic adventures rather well, and knowing the backstory is a bonus not a requirement.”

Before we go any furtherÖ J. Torres and violence? Isn’t he the “Degrassi” writer? How can this man adapt one of the bloodiest anime movies seen in this country and preserve the violence? “It’s all been building up, man,” he admits. “After years and years of writing kids books and comics starring teenagers I was bound to blow! But seriously, as much as I’d love to be as graphic as the show, I don’t think DC’s editorial policies will allow that. It also wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do in terms of trying to make this appeal to as many readers as possible. Hopefully, we find a compromise like… one decapitation per issue.”

If you’ve never seen the anime, Jubei might seem like your typical fictional samurai, and it’s true that he shares some traits with other warriors. But, as Torres told CBR News, the character is far more nuanced than meets the eyes. “Jubei Kibagami is your classic ronin, a masterless warrior whose mysterious past ties him to the warring clans in this feudal setting. And of course, he has no allegiances to anyone but himself, and he wanders the land as a sword for hire.”

“But he’s portrayed in the anime as a cross between the ronin archetype of Japanese samurai movies meets a kind of modern Clint Eastwood-esque character. When you think of the ‘Yojimbo’ to ‘Fistful of Dollars’ connection, or even the ‘Seven Samurai’ to ‘Magnificent Seven’, it’s interesting to look at the character as a cartoon culmination of this East/West exchange coming full circle. He looks and dresses like your typical samurai hero, but he cracks wise like a typical American action movie hero while he slices and dices like The Bride making her way through an X-Men movie. The antagonists in the first arc are members of the clan known as The Eight Devils of Kimon, as seen in the movie. They’re super powered and rather monstrous ninja who you could compare to mutants or metas in the superhero world. To me, that’s what makes Jubei and Ninja Scroll different and cool.”

Still, samurais and ninja may seem like they’ve worn out their welcome with fans, who are used to seeing them appear regularly in their favorite superhero comics, from “Daredevil” to “Batman.” Instead of simply eschewing some of those clichÈs, Torres is taking a different approaching, saying “I actually want to do the opposite and take certain clichÈs head on and have fun with them. I made a ‘Kill Bill’ reference before. Consider how Tarantino pays tribute to and also sends up various martial arts and 70s action movie clichÈs. I want to do that with samurai films and anime and manga because that’s where Ninja Scroll culls its influences from. I want to embrace it… then gouge out its eyes with my thumbs! But I’ll try to keep the one-liners to a minimum, and I also want to play with different Asian myths and legends, again, the way the anime does.”

The artistic styling of Michael Chang, based in Hong Kong, will help to differentiate “Ninja Scroll” from other samurai series. “We’ve never actually met, and have thus far only exchanged e-mail a few times, and this is his big American debut,” says the scribe of his artist. “But I’ve seen some of the material he’s published overseas. It reminded me a lot of Inoue’s work on ‘Vagabond.’ And I predict he’s going to be the next hot artist to come out of Wildstorm.”

It’s not entirely surprising to see Torres on “Ninja Scroll,” as much of his career has been based upon licensed adaptations, from “Degrassi: Extra Credit” to the kid friendly “Teen Titans Go!”. While these kinds of properties are restrictive for many creators, Torres has prospered greatly, earning a lot of acclaim, and pleasing a variety of readers. When it comes to keeping his work fresh, Torres says, “For me, it’s two things: First and foremost, I’ve been super lucky enough, especially in the last two or three years, to have been invited to work on properties that I have some kind of affinity for. I’ve worked on licensed stuff thatÖ I can’t say I was a huge fan of and it makes a big difference, it made it feel like ‘work.’ Writing ‘Teen Titans Go,’ ‘Batman Strikes,’ ‘Degrassi,’ and now ‘Ninja Scroll’ doesn’t feel like ‘work.’ Most of the time. And when it does, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m just another hack, and this brings me to my second point, I always have Oni Press. I’m fortunate enough to have fooled them into publishing most of my creator-owned work, and I hope to always have such an outlet as I continue to do the commercial stuff. I think I actually need it. No, I know I do. I’m a Libra after all, and we’re all about the balance.”

Though “Ninja Scroll” is restricted by the continuity of the first two films, Torres doesn’t feel that continuity restrictions cause creative restrictions in this book. When asked how long he can see the series running, he replies, ” If books like ‘Usagi Yojimbo’ and ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ and ‘Vagabond’ are any indication, then I’d have to say a pretty healthy run. I really think it’s a great concept with lots of potential for some good stories and an ongoing series. Hopefully, readers will feel the same way after picking up the first issue.”

Don’t expect Torres to give up too much about the future of “Ninja Scroll.” “I think the solicitation gave too much away already!” he contends. “But I guess it had to in order to entice Ninja Scroll fans. So, we already know that it appears as though some of Jubei’s old enemies are using the ‘reincarnation technique’… or are they, grasshopper?”

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