NINJAK (2021), ISSUE #1
Writer: Jeff Parker
Illustrator: Javier Pulido
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
WHAT IS IT?
A new creative team brings a fresh vision to this ninja action/espionage comic.
Ninjak has the feel of a psychedelic, cold-war espionage thriller in the mold of The Avengers (the TV show featuring Steed and Mrs Peel, rather than the Marvel team), Bond or the Matte Helm series of films.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
MI-6 agent, Myna, has been trailing Colin King around the globe for months, watching him perform covert operations, and wondering about the nature of his motives.
Colin is furious with the organisation after the revelation that a department, even more secretive than his, has been operating without his knowledge to keep him in check. Ninjak now spends his time freelancing as a killer for hire.
Then Myna receives a chilling message from headquarters.
Meanwhile, 2 MI-6 officers meet in a London pub unaware that their conversation is about to be intercepted by a pair of sinister enemy operatives with seemingly supernatural powers.
The writing! Parker's pulpy script might have felt very different in the hands of another artist, but despite the layer of cool that Pulido generates this is still one exciting ride and a setup that promises plenty more excitement and intrigue.
The art! It grabs you, holds your attention and tells a powerful story. At times Pulido uses clear, concise panels and at others, he experiments with layout and design to dizzying effect. It’s a sight to behold and even when it’s tricksy and playful it never gets confusing.
Pulido's colours are bright, all drawn from a brutally small, well-controlled palette. The colours change with each location, always keeping us anchored geographically.
Dave Sharpe's letters are clear and clean with Pulido's sound effects using as much invention as the art.
Again, the art! The opening sequence starts in a straightforward manner, but as a dangerously cool enemy uses its power, the world, and panels, turn and split in a beautifully disorienting manner. This is powerful stuff and it’s only the beginning of what promises to be a highly visual series!
This is one fast-moving book – a lot of ground is covered between these covers, in terms of both plot and geography. Parker gives us a dizzying tour of the world and the surprises come fast. The dialogue is unfussy and delivered staccato when the tension ramps up, turning from detailed spycraft to hard-boiled noir.
One plot strand references the horrendous murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, bringing an element of real-world stakes to an already tense tale.
I think special mention needs to go to the strong character design here. From the two mystery visitors to the London pub, to the collection of characters at the embassy in Instanbul, all are drawn with an individual touch that suggests Pulido does not draw all his people from a limited set of templates.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
There’s very little that doesn’t work here. You could say it was over too soon and that’s its biggest flaw!
OK, there’s one thing. The story holds your hand a little too much. A flashback reveals all we need to know about Colin and feels superfluous and editorially mandated. Maybe Parker could have left us to fill in the pieces ourselves over subsequent issues, learning from what our characters say in modern times.
There are stabbings and bursts of violence but it rarely rises above a very cartoon feel. In another artist's hands, it might be sickening, but here the killings feel almost quaint and bloodless. That said, there is fighting with blades and even an angle grinder.
The guest covers, by David Nakayama, Caspar Wijngaard, Damion Scott and Ibrahim Moustafa feel like they are from another book entirely, great as they are. Only the Javier Pulido cover, naturally, reflects the tone of the interiors.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Javier Pulido is turning out something that looks like nothing else on the stands. The energy and brio on these pages is remarkable, and the story moves at such a clip that there is no time to be bored.
The retro texture, added to the striking colours and art, makes the book feel like something from another age – something fondly remembered recently discovered by a modern audience. But Parker is also bringing modern elements into play on top of that. News reports and references to real events remind the reader that this is a contemporary work, even when it leans into psychedelia and old British spies who look like they should be hanging out in East End pubs with Michael Caine.
What Pulido is trying to do is play with the language of comics and that gives us some experimentation that I really hope is carried on into subsequent issues. And it's a new look at a popular character that might bring in new readers as well as entice old readers to return. And hopefully, Parker will continue to bring us new spins on existing spy tropes while balancing it with a fast-paced story that continues to bring us fun, new characters.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Mysterius the Unfathomable (2010) by Jeff Parker & Tom Fowler
James Bond 007 comics by various
Queen and Country (2002) by Gregg Rucka & various
If you like the art:
The Bulletproof Coffin (2011) by David Hine and Shaky Kane
The Adventures of Tintin: Flight 714 (1968) by Hergé
Private Eye Deluxe Edition (2015) by Brian K Vaughn & Marcos Martin
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Jeff Parker – Writer
First writing job was Solitaire, published by Malibu Comics.
Before writing was a commercial artist and Storyboarded TV shows such as The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot
Was caretaker of Future Quest, an event series featuring the classic action heroes of Hanna-Barbera.
Javier Pulido – Artist
Studied at the University of Fine Arts, Barcelona.
First published work was Spanish title Mentat in 1996.
Dave Sharpe – Letterer
Studied at the Joe Kubert School before graduating and then started work in 1991 for Personality Press on the title Madonna.
After that, Dave became a letterer for Marvel Comics and eventually ran the in-house lettering department.
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