NINJAK #0 by Matt Kindt, Francis Portela, Christos Gage, and Tomas Giorello
NINJAK #0 is a beautiful, emotional book that gives a new, vibrant look at its title character, but may be less of jumping on point than one would think.
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While NINJK #0 has been advertised as a “star-studded jumping-on point” for the series’ titular character, this description does not give the whole story. The issue is not a beat-by-beat recap of the character’s origins. Instead, writer Matt Kindt (with help from co-writer Christos Gage) ends his run on NINJAK with a dour, impressionistic take on the hero. Combined with Francis Portela and Tomas Giorello’s stark artwork, NINJAK #0 is a fantastic book that takes a strange look into its character’s psyche. However, it is not the true jumping on point that Valiant advertised. Overall, this issue is a swirling, gloomy montage of powerful moments.  NINJAK #0 cobbles together a striking image of Ninjak’s fragile mental state.

Passing the Torch

This book functions as a passing of the torch from Kindt to new series creators Gage and Giorello, who will take over in this winter’s NINJAK #1. Because of this, there is a meeting of old and new in this issue that never feels divisive or rushed. Kindt’s style effortlessly weaves with the new creative team’s. However, the more origin-focused aspects of the book are definitely more interesting than the prelude portions. The latter serve solely to set up future story arcs. While the set-up story is not boring or uninspired, I think that the origin and character-focused aspects of this book are something we have been missing in comic books.

Image from NINJAK #0, courtesy of Valiant Entertainment.

Origin Story

The authors combine elements of the past and present for a holistic view on Ninjak. They expertly choose glimpses that subtly tell the story of Ninjak’s transition from a directionless, violent child to a focused, brutal adult. These layered vignettes of Ninjak’s formative years are interspersed and framed within a contemporary story where we see the title character as we know him today — a ruthless, morally ambiguous, super-spy antihero. As such, the authors do not spoon feed the audience. Rather, they show you the past and present and lets the reader fill in the blanks. Kindt makes NINJAK #0 a thought provoking look at a longstanding character.

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Image from NINJAK #0, courtesy of Valiant Entertainment.

From Boy to Man

The most striking example of Kindt’s storytelling technique is the juxtaposition between two particular scenes. As a child, Ninjak acts out his violent urges by surgically killing the birds around his palatial mansion with a bow and arrow. As an adult, we see a calmer, more calculated Ninjak disposing of his gangster enemies with the same brutality. Kindt presents these scenes with no monologuing or over-explanation. Therefore, it is up to the reader to decide whether or not Ninjak is still the same violent impetuous child or someone (or something) different.

Image from NINJAK #0, courtesy of Valiant Entertainment.

Jumping On?

The story set in the present day is a by-the-books heist caper that merely serves to show off Ninjak’s skills and moral ambiguity. It is sparsely detailed and does not really flesh out any other characters or his enemy’s motivation. If readers did not know who Ninjak was, they will get a general sense of what he is all about from this storyline. In short, he is a high-tech, ruthless ninja with a Batmanesque backstory. Beyond these broad strokes, readers will not learn anything specific about current arcs or plots. As a general jumping on point, it is the absolute bare minimum. I would have appreciated just a little more reference to current plot machinations only because Valiant advertised this issue as a place for unfamiliar fans to begin. There are several pages of set-up, but the creators could have easily recapped this in future issues.

Image from NINJAK #0, courtesy of Valiant Entertainment.

Furious Flashbacks

Portela’s art bounces back between styles and is fantastic throughout. However, the standout images are the flashbacks to Ninjak’s childhood. Portela portrays Ninjak’s childhood in grainy, etched artwork that has fuzzy outlines, reminiscent of memories. There is a frantic, child-like nature to the etching. As the character focuses and progresses to his violent, methodical adulthood, so does the art. The rest of NINJAK #0 is in a modern style, complete with wonderfully violent action scenes. Extra bits of detail like this artistic transition sets NINJAK #0 apart and makes it a true piece of art.

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Image from NINJAK #0, courtesy of Valiant Entertainment.

Final Thoughts on NINJAK #0

In conclusion, NINJAK #0 is a rare one-shot origin story. While light on plot, the comic is nonetheless heavy on character development and mood. If readers want to really feel like they know Ninjak as a three-dimensional person, rather than a Wikipedia list of plot events, they should absolutely pick up this issue. Hopefully, future issues of NINJAK will incorporate this type of expressive, artful storytelling. The exciting events that will absolutely unfold in NINJAK #1 will definitely be outshined in comparison by this book’s deeper emotional elements.

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