Ninjak Book 1

Ninjak Book 1
Ninjak review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Valiant - 978-1-68215-410-6
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2022
  • UPC: 9781682154106
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

This reboot of the 1990s Valiant franchise could easily be mistaken for landfill genre comics. The original pamphlet covers, with their over-rendered stock poses, give no hint at the artistic or narrative finesse inside. Happily, this collection of the four issue ‘Daylight’ arc, has a Javier Pulido cover, better reflecting his interior pages.

In welcome contrast to the overblown rendering of many 21st Century comics, Spaniard Pulido channels the ‘ligne clair’ style popularised by Hergé, and still widespread in Europe. Pulido’s pages, though, are less like the Belgian master, than the clear line realism of Jaime Hernandez. Pulido also brings to mind Frank Miller, not only in his balletic depictions of ninja action, but also his use of visual devices like silhouette, and an overall less-is-more approach.

Pulido’s greatest strength, though, is his layouts. He starts boldly on the opening page (pictured, left), with panels cut diagonally to indicate drug effects, and the following spread slashed into sweeping diagonals. Thereafter he offers spread after dazzling spread, each designed around the content: whether aerial scenes, ninja action, or jet-set pool parties. At times the reader may be unsure of reading order, but in this fast-paced action story, any sense of disorientation adds to the rush. Even the difficulty of reading across spreads, in a paperback that won’t lie flat, hardly distracts from this extraordinary comics artistry.

The inking and colour are similarly excellent. Pulido’s minimal line inks and flat colours perfectly complement his design and storytelling. Appropriate palettes distinguish each scene, from the cosy warmth of a British pub, to chemical blues and greens, to pool party flesh-tones. Together this creates some beautiful and evocative comics pages.

Pulido had previously impressed on various mainstream titles, yet here pushes his style further, yet for undisclosed reasons, he’s replaced halfway through the final instalment with competent, but pedestrian Beni Lobel. Bleeding Cool reports that Pulido completed all the pages, and links to them on his blog. Valiant offer no explanation, but at least Pulido finally has a cover art gig for this collection.

The premise of the Ninja skilled assassin, and his former colleagues at the British secret service (MI6) is standard genre fare, but Jeff Parker handles it with flair to match Pulido’s. Short, packed scenes around the world maintain a brisk pace, while deftly filling in Ninjak’s backstory, and the inciting event of the ‘Daylight’ arc – publication of top-secret files by an organisation of that name. That chimes with Wikileaks, and there are other allusions to contemporary events, notably the assassination by dismemberment of a dissident journalist. Scenes move from London to Istanbul, to Shandong, to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, creating an entertaining rush that, even without Pulido’s visual brilliance, few could fail to enjoy.

Extras bulking out this slim volume include the original (mismatched) cover art, an afterword by Parker, ‘secret files’ on supporting characters, and six of Pulido’s pages reproduced without the colour. That leaves the question of why they didn’t include Pulido’s versions of the final pages – perhaps to avoid drawing attention to a blunder? Whatever, the reason it’s a sad waste of excellent work.

Despite the absence of Pulido’s final pages, this is impressive work with broad appeal.