Valiant’s recently released Ninjak #1 proves that reboots can still feel remarkably fresh. Fans of 90’s Valiant comics should be quite familiar with Ninjak as the character attained some decent popularity including being named the number one comic in Wizard’s Top 10 for February 1994. This isn’t even Ninjak’s first reboot as the 2012 Valiant Universe relaunch saw him taking a more villainous role. But the debut issue of Matt Kindt’s new Ninjak solo series returns the character to its heroic ninja-meets-spy roots.
Kindt does a great job presenting parallel narratives in Ninjak #1 that are revealed through time jumps between the “Then” and the “Now” of Colin King, Ninjak’s true identity. An adolescent King is the center of the “Then” narrative, while the “Now” follows King in present day.
The issue begins in the “Then” showing a young Colin King stuffing his face with popcorn and taking in a violent Samurai film, which undoubtedly left a substantial impact. Suddenly, the reader is whisked away to “Now” in a scenario that isn’t unlike the movie King was watching years ago, except this time, he is part of the action as his alter ego Ninjak.
Through Ninjak’s MI-6 field briefing, we’re told of his current target: the highly powerful agent Roku, who enjoys pain, is a martial arts expert and can force others to off themselves through telepathy. Roku is in the midst of a jailbreak from a Russian prison, and, after taking care of the last living guard, she attempts her escape. But Ninjak interrupts her with a smartass remark, “Hey Roku…Is all of this supposed to impress me?” “Who Cares,” Roku responds, and then it’s on.
What follows is a battle brilliantly drawn by artists Clay Mann and Butch Guice that combines vibrant anime-style imagery with explosive action straight out of a Jason Bourne film. After subduing her with an explosive device, Ninjak demands Roku leave the area and disappear rather than taking her out. Roku then hesitantly takes off, and Ninjak pulverizes the Russian prison with explosives leaving only fragments as he races off in a stealth bomber-like aircraft.
The dramatic, cinema-ready fight scene does a nice job establishing the story’s foundation. From there, Kindt deftly presents more background on King the ass kicking Ninjak seen in the “Now” and young King in the “Then.”
Young King’s story reveals a more sorrowful existence. He sneaks out late at night to the movies only to have to sneak back into his family’s massive estate, after which he barely escapes whippings from a stern butler due to his own self-induced exhaustion.
In the “Now,” King is debriefed by his MI-6 contact on his previous mission, and details emerge about why he let Roku go. She’s the “right-hand woman” of King’s next target: “happy-go-lucky” billionaire Kannon. King will have to gain Kannon’s loyalty by taking credit for Roku’s escape with the primary objective of infiltrating Kannon’s inner circle.
Kannon is part of the arms-making organization Weaponeer, which is “For hire to the worst people imaginable.” Only Kannon has information about the identity of the other six leaders of Weaponeer, known collectively as the Shadow Seven. To find their identities, King will have to complete, “A gauntlet to test your personality and your loyalty,” which includes singing Karaoke, a race to Kannon’s office after being dropped naked five miles outside of Tokoyo and a violent beating from Kannon’s men. Only after that does King earn Kannon’s trust.
However, one of issue’s most absorbing sections is the back-up story, “The Lost Files,” which finds Kindt’s storytelling taking a decidedly noir-ish approach. That approach is reinforced by the art of Grice and colorist Ulises Areola, which becomes greyer, darker and emphasizes a tenebrous tone. Though an adult King is at the center of “The Lost Files,” there’s no ninja costume in sight. Instead, King dons a tuxedo and is scheming in a North Korean hotel room with one of his supervisors. It’s the point at which issue one reaches its most Bond-esque, but it works as welcome change in mood.
Ninjak #1 is an excellent reintroduction to a great comic book character that’s not part of the big two. Kindt shows his versatility in storytelling by presenting three distinct Colin King takes – battle-ready ninja, carefree child and suave secret agent. That’s a lot to pack into a first issue, but Kindt does so effortlessly and leaves the reader salivating for issue two.