If there’s one thing that Valiant Entertainment does well, it’s launch new comic book titles, just like Matt Kindt, Clay Mann and Butch Guice’s “Ninjak” #1. The two artists’ styles are different enough to be a headscratcher when readers pick the title up, but Kindt has divided this debut into two tales: a twenty-two page lead-in by Mann and an eight page back-up from Guice.
“Ninjak” #1, a martial arts-heavy action adventure like James Bond meets Shang-Chi by way of Batman, opens with a cross-section technical diagnostic of Ninjak’s multi-tool battle belt. Upon closer inspection, readers will realize that it is actually a cleverly-disguised summary of Ninjak’s backstory. Though closer inspection is not necessary for readers to jump into the action of “Ninjak” #1 and join in the fun, it does add some depth.
The lead bounces between “Now” and “Then” as appointed by letterer Dave Sharpe and opens in a “Then” segment that gives readers a chance to learn about the troubled past of young Colin King. At points, this investigation seems unnecessary and sensationalist, especially as King’s knack for adventure finds him on the receiving end of a harsh punishment. Kindt keeps the repercussions in the past fairly abstract and works in a parallel to “Now” that eases the sensationalist nature of the predicament. In between, the writer begins to plumb Ninjak’s training and experience as he crawls into the character’s head and makes it quite clear to readers that there is a distinct difference between Ninjak and any number of other similar characters, including James Bond, Batman and Wolverine.
Mann’s work in the lead tale is filled with great storytelling. He does include some tight panel choices that could have served the story better with more space for the characters and action to breathe, but the variation does keep the expectation of action high throughout the issue. The artist establishes the tone of the adventure from the start and amps it up a bit as he choreographs Ninjak’s fight with Roku. With weaponized hair (this is still comics after all) and abilities to offer optimal resistance in battle, Roku is a perfect foil for Ninjak and turns up later in the tale as well with the promise of even more interaction to come. Mann and colorist Ulises Arreola hit the sweet spot in their collaboration, filling “Ninjak” #1 with great visuals and strong effects as they cooperate on the story. Reflections in a cab window, projections from a near-magical debriefing device and magnificent atmospheric textures make this a gorgeous comic to soak in.
The lead story dips in and out of Colin King’s personal history, but the back-up tale, with art from Guice, features an early covert adventure for Colin King. Guice’s art is more heavily shadowed than most of his “Captain America” work, but the extra weight works for this “The Lost Files” tale set in North Korea. Arreola’s colors are less dynamic here, dropping in atmosphere more than effect, but this lower-keyed adventure prescribes that color treatment.
“Ninjak” #1 introduces readers to Ninjak and his opposition: Kannon and the Shadow Seven. The Shadow Seven head up Weaponeer, an arms-maker for hire that has come under the attention of MI-6, as readers would hope most covert, freelance arms dealers would. All of this congeals nicely into a comic that is strong, sharp and entertaining. Kindt, Mann, Guice, Arreola and Sharpe give this first issue plenty of good balance, a solid adventure and a lead-in to what will hopefully be a long run. With recent feature film announcements from Valiant Entertainment, “Ninjak” #1 makes a very strong case to be in consideration for the leap.