REVIEW: Ninja-K #1

His name is Colin King. He is one of the cornerstone heroes of the Valiant Universe. A trained operative of MI-6, British special ops. A highly skilled ninja with an arsenal of advanced weaponry and gadgets. A billionaire. A genius. An all around badass.

Well, now in this kick-off issue for a new direction for Colin, he is NOT “Ninjak”. He’s Ninja-K. Subtle difference there, I know, but trust me it’ll make sense by the end.

This comic begins with a brief history of the very first ninja assassin for MI-6, dubbed “Ninja-A” and his role in helping the British win World War I. In preparation for the day he would undoubtedly leave, MI-6 had the ninja train another man, a Brit this time, calling him “Ninja-B”. (You see where I’m going with this.) They fought together as partners and friends, until the day came when Ninja-A returned home to Japan and was set against Ninja B in World War II. A Jonin was acquired to train all subsequent Ninja operatives for MI-6 and the rest, as they say, is history.

All this is discussed as a flashback from the elderly Ninja-D (Ninjad?) who brags of his exploits and gives advice to the younger Ninja-K in a scene a few years ago. Cut to the present and after a big action scene and a romantic one with fellow Valiant hero Livewire, Colin discovers the man and mentor is dead. Murdered by someone (or something) targeting all the Ninja Programme members in alphabetical order. Ninjak- sorry, “Ninja-K” (this will take some adjusting to)- follows a lead to one of Ninja-D’s back-ups, where he learns of the fallen warrior’s relationship with archfoe Madame Charade. The retired MI-6 agent falls under attack before the interrogation concludes, and things don’t look too good for Colin.

My one real problem with Ninja-K #1 is that the comic needed to go in that direction at all. This year has been a big one for Valiant. Ninjak vs the Valiant Universe is nearing its release and several big events have culminated in new beginnings for several characters. Harbinger Renegade is back in full force and the changes made for Bloodshot and X-O Manowar seem to be in like with solid plot progression. After Bloodshot USA, Ray has to move forward from those events and try to start fresh. Same goes for Aric of Urth who goes to another planet for peace only to find war has followed him there. But with Colin King, I don’t get that feeling. It’s like Ninjak has this super interesting back story and Valiant decided to “spice things up” to make his comics more interesting by adding in the Ninja Programme retroactively.

Now, before I get any hate comments, let me say I really enjoyed this comic. Christos Gage writes a compelling story with plenty of interesting parts working around one another. The new additions to the origins of Ninja-K are well thought out and make sense, but part of the appeal of Ninjak was the fact that he was so original. The one and only high tech ninja assassin for MI-6, their secret weapon. Irreplacable. But now, with a long line of operatives trained as Colin was, what is to stop us from subbing him out for a Ninja-H? Or Ninja-M? We are connected to the character, but if what he brings to the table is easily replicated, then what fun is that?

It reminds me of what DC and Marvel have done with their cast of heroes. How many Green Lanterns are there? Or Flashes? If Logan’s DNA is all over the place making new Wolverines all the time, is losing him such a loss? Same goes for Spider-Man or Robin or Iron Man or Hulk. If there is an interesting character that gets duplicated and tweeked, the reader is suddenly asking “Which ninja are we talking about? Which Ant-Man? Which Captain Marvel?”

If this was Ultimate Valiant (like what Marvel did with their Ultimate titles in the 2000s), I’d be all for this. New direction, new interpretation, not connected to the main Valiant universe. The latest Bloodshot and X-O Manowar titles could fall in there as well, except they refer to events previously within their existing timeline. Ninja-K just feels like a retcon with certain details retained and others scrapped. It’s a great, interesting story, but one that could have been done within the parameters of the existing character history with a little effort.

Other than that massive gripe about Ninja-K #1, I was really into this comic. Tomas Giorello and Diego Rodriguez nail the artwork. The first big action scene with Ninjak rescuing a diplomat’s son just blew me away. Very dynamic, stunning work. Same for all the flashback art. Even the relationship drama with Livewire was well executed. Every panel of every page was great and Colin King even looks slightly like the upcoming live-action counterpart. This story is expanded to nearly double-size, giving the reader plenty of time to absorb the Ninja Programme curveball and the associated new characters/background. Matt Kindt did a superb job writing the last Ninjak title and this one is a worthy follow up.

Ninja-K #1 only suffers from one true flaw and because that is entirely my opinion, you may think this comic is spectacular. It’s a real tour de force in writing and art, and despite the slight name change, Ninja-K still embodies Colin King and Ninjak. I just don’t want to deal with having multiple, equally correct backstories for a character and this may be the beginning of that. (As a Nightcrawler fan, I know all about convoluted origin stories.) If this is your first time to pick up Ninjak, by all means you will have a blast reading Ninja-K. Also, if you’re a longtime reader that doesn’t mind the new twist, you’ll think King is done justice. But if you’re like me, this great comic will leave a nagging little voice in your head whispering about continuity and driving you nuts.

Great, 4 out of 5 Stars.

NINJA-K #1
Written by CHRISTOS GAGE
Art by TOMÁS GIORELLO
Cover A by TREVOR HARISINE (SEP172019)
Cover B by LUCAS TROYA (SEP172020)
Interlocking Variant by KENNETH ROCAFORT (SEP172021)
Ninjak Icon Variant by DAVID MACK (SEP172022)
Brushed Metal Variant by MICO SUAYAN (SEP172023)

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