With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week, we get to look at one of Valiant’s anchor characters, and his first big series since Valiant’s relaunch.
In Valiant’s big relaunch in 2012, the company slowly rolled out their flagship characters. Not everyone who was a headliner under the original company got a series right away. However, virtually every headliner who wasn’t a Gold Key-owned character showed up within the first year of the company’s relaunch. For Colin King — aka NINJAK — he guest starred in the second story arc of X-O Manowar. Of all the former headliners it actually took Ninjak the longest to appear in his own series. But it was a series that was well worth the wait.
In 2015, Valiant launched Ninjak by Matt Kindt, Clay Mann, Juan Jose Ryp, Butch Guice, Marguerite Sauvage, Seth Mann, Ulises Arreola, and Dave Sharpe. It featured the Ninja super spy getting in too deep against one of the Valiant U’s many deadly organizations while flashbacks explored his past. It was a launch which defined the character since, and with the Ninjak getting a fresh relaunch this month, we dove in to check it out.
Tony Thornley: So we’ve talked about a bunch of Valiant books and concepts now. I think of their pantheon, Ninjak might be my favorite. I just like spy-fi stories, and when you combine that with superheroes, it just clicks.
Remember how, when we talked about X-O, I mentioned that you could look at all the Valiant characters as pastiches. X-O is Iron Man, Venom and Conan. Bloodshot is Wolverine and the Punisher. Well, Ninjak is Bond and Batman rolled together, and while I’m not a huge fan of either on their own, mixed together, it works so well. What did you think?
Brendan Allen: Bond/Batman works pretty well as a description. There’s definitely a lot of both of those types of stories mashed into this one. It’s not a blatant ripoff or anything, and I think Kindt even goes out of his way a few times to separate this story from the others. That isn’t a hundred percent necessary, and in a couple places it’s a little heavy handed.
Ninjak’s childhood family butler, for instance. Super hard, abusive dickhead. Just about as far removed from Alfred Pennyworth as possible. And Ninjak’s parents were there for his childhood. No alley muggings gone wrong for this kid.
I probably could have done without the flashbacks to his childhood altogether, but they didn’t kill the thing.
Tony: Yeah, the childhood flashbacks were probably the only thing that didn’t work for me. That’s largely because there was no payoff and there were also the Guice illustrated flashbacks, which made the others feel redundant and superficial. I don’t even know if the Alfred figure had a name, but he was just there to abuse Colin with no catharsis. However, I really enjoyed everything else about it, especially each time Roku was on page.
Brendan: I thought the opening sequence with Roku was a lot of fun. “Took out most of the Russian guards by simply suggesting that they kill themselves” calls back to another famous inmate, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and how he dispatched Multiple Miggs in The Silence Of The Lambs. That was always one of the scariest things about Lecter, his ability to get in people’s heads and get them to do whatever he wanted them to. It’s a very cool ability to give to Roku.
Tony: I don’t think Kindt played up her psychic powers enough. She was a scary antagonist (especially how Mann drew her), and really was on the level of some amazing killer women in comics. If she was a DC or Marvel villain, she probably would have been in a movie already.
Brendan: I do wonder where exactly Ninjak thought she was when he was breaking into Kannon’s office. That part didn’t seem planned out very well on his part. Deadly assassin bodyguard isn’t in sight? She probably has the night off. Perfect time to go sneaking around, right?
Tony: That was definitely some plot induced stupidity on Colin’s part, but it did give us the best fight of the volume so I can forgive it. Mann and Arreola just illustrated the hell out of that whole sequence.
Brendan: I think I asked you once before how to say Ninjak, because it confuses me. It’s Nin-jack? Not Nin-ja-kay? Because I thought he got his name for being the 11th government spy ninja. Like 007, 008, and 0011. How do you say NinjaC? Seems like it’d cause some confusion at the office.
Tony: I think they went by the letters until Colin had the nerve to break from the program and go freelance. All the others are written as Ninja-A, Ninja-B, et cetera, except Colin. So I say Nin-Jack. Valiant, please correct us if we’re wrong.
Brendan: That’s weird.
Tony: Yes, but good comic book weird. What did you think of the art? I usually enjoy the Mann brothers together and this was no exception. Ninjak always felt like he was in motion, just from how fluid he was always depicted on the page. They used sight lines really well, with the lines placed just right to guide you to the next panel and then the next as Ninjak was slicing and dicing. Then you had the guest artists and back ups, who also did a great job.
Brendan: I generally don’t like it when there are multiple artists involved in an arc. I know shit happens, and sometimes there are circumstances beyond anyone’s control, so I guess I’d rather have the issue come in on time than wait three months to pick it back up when the regular artist is back. That being said, this one wasn’t nearly as jarring as some. It still flows really well.
Tony: They also made sure it made sense. Guice’s backups gave Mann more time for the regular stories. Ryp’s origin issue for Roku has Mann pages to open and close the issue. It made it feel like a full package instead of “shit we’re behind.” There was a great thoughtfulness to it.
Brendan: It probably didn’t help that the first time I saw the book was on ComiXology, either. The chapter breaks are weird. I couldn’t tell what was main story, what was backup short, what was a preview ad for another Valiant book… I got sucked into a couple ads, thinking they were part of the story, because ‘Guided View’ was jumping in and out like they were regular story panels.
Tony: Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve bought a Valiant collection on digital, but these earlier collections… They just mushed the individual issues together. It’s not the best collection design by any means.
Brendan: And I don’t lay that on the creators at all. That’s one hundred percent a format issue between Valiant and ComiXology.
Tony: Yeah, exactly. I think the extras and backmatter are all worth having but you gotta plan it way better than they did here.
So what did you think?
Brendan: I liked it. It does have a couple little rough spots, but it’s generally a very good story, and there are pieces that are dead brilliant.
Tony: Yeah, I agree. This is probably Valiant’s second best story since the relaunch. (We’ll have to do the best someday soon.) What do we have up next?
Brendan: Let’s do another Matt Kindt joint. We covered Grass Kings Vols. One and Two a while back. Kindt teamed up again with Hillary and Tyler Jenkins on Black Badge back in 2019. The first arc is packed with Boy Scout killer spy fun.