(W) Christos Gage, (A) Tomas Giorello, (C) Diego Rodriguez
Of the entire stable of Valiant characters, Colin King ranks among the best. Essentially a Batman/James Bond hybrid, King has proven to as resourceful as he is deadly. And while the character’s first title of the relaunched started strong, it clearly showed that writer Matt Kindt was strained by his workload of writing 80 different books. The latest title starring King, Ninja-K, shows no such fatigue in its storytelling. Penned by veteran writer Christos Gage with art by Tomas Giorello, Ninja-K kicks off a new chapter for the character full of vigor and style.
Ninja-K #1 begins with the previously untold backstory of the Mi6 Ninja Programme, with roots dating back to World War I. While hinted at in the past, Gage and Giorello blow open the Programme, revealing that many characters have carried the “Ninja” mantle, and that Ninja-K (more commonly known as Ninjak) is a cog in a much larger machine. While Valiant’s dedicated fans question how this reconciles with Ninjak’s already established history, this backstory reaches out to the uninitiated with welcoming arms. It’s easy to grasp, and builds a historical foundation for this title and the world it inhabits.
True to his other appearances is Colin King himself. He is still as snarky and standoffish as ever, but now he has an added layer of emotional depth thanks to a slowly budding relationship with Livewire, a teammate of his from Unity. Time and time again, Ninjak has proven to have a weakness when it comes to the woman he loves. His relationship with his lover-turned-nemesis Roku was a throughline during Matt Kindt’s series, and we see something similar unfold with Livewire. However, Gage approaches this idea differently, making the romance an active part of the story rather than alluding to it through flashbacks. By making it part of the present, readers are more actively engaged to find out how it will ultimately play out. It doesn’t hurt that Livewire has been developed over the years as a strong, dynamic character.
The central conflict of the story – a killer hunting down past (and possibly present) members of the Ninja Programme – provides enough intrigue and mystery to keep readers hooked for the foreseeable future. This mystery antagonist appears to be a formidable foil to King based solely on ability, something that past series lacked. There is a genuine sense of danger. This is partly due to the newly added stakes, such as King’s personal relationships, but it is also due to the wonderfully moody artwork by Tomas Giorello and Diego Rodriguez.
Much of Giorello’s artwork is heavily shadowed, giving each panel a feeling of uneasiness and mistrust. For an espionage book, it works really well. Most characters appear with part of their face obscured, making it difficult to determine who is a friend, and who is a foe. Motivations are clouded, and the tension builds with each passing page. It doesn’t hurt that Giorello renders each character with flourishes of realism rarely seen in superhero comics. Crows feet, asymmetrical faces, and blemishes are all present throughout. These little flourishes make the characters feel more real, and as a result so do the stakes.
Valiant has set a high bar for itself, and Ninja-K #1 hurdles it with ease. Gage and Giorello have not just laid the foundation for a compelling series, but they kick it into high gear in the issue’s final pages. With a compelling narrative and beautiful artwork, Ninja-K is a gripping page-turner.