Story: Matt Kindt
Art: Clay Mann, Butch Guice, Jose Ryp, Seth Mann, Marguerite Sauvage
What They Say:
The breakout star of the hit of the year stands revealed as we learn the origin of Ninjak’s newest nemesis! But who is Roku – the seemingly indestructible warrior who’s proven to be one of the deadliest assassins in the Valiant Universe – and what impact does she have on Colin King’s future?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Part of the appeal of Ninjak so far has been its layered approach to giving us our main character. With his background being a familiar one, the execution of it is what hooks you in as the detail is strong and the singular vision helps to cement it. Combining what we get in the present day with the touches from the backup feature that explores his early days before he took on this mantle, it helped to really cement and fully realize the why of the character. And we got a touch early on in this series with his new opponent here as he saved Roku without realizing who she is, and how that would come back to haunt him, though readers could easily see it a mile away. So giving over the fourth issue, with the cover and the main story, to tell us about her isn’t a surprise. It’s a welcome addition.
Though I won’t classify her as the best kind of villain, she’s laid out to be an interesting opponent here if we do get more out of her beyond the origin. With her being part of Kannon’s arsenal in what he deals with as the head of Weaponeer, we see her accusing Ninjak of being something more than he seems to be, and betraying who he really is, and that it’s been eating away at her. That leads us to the dark path of her past, where we see her losing the life she had at the hands of a group of unnamed monks. There’s no exploration of who she was; just a woman bandaged from head to toe who has a “magical” spike thrust into the back of her skull, which begins her transformation. There are seemingly endless days she faces as she tries to understand who she is, tied to a child’s story she relates a little bit, dealing with classic Asian styled oni that threaten her life. It’s laid out as a rebirth as she strips away who she was, and it works very well.
A good part of why is the visual design, as the art team here really drives it home, as it’s more than just Clay Mann this time. It’s rough, raw and detailed in a way that the book hasn’t had to be so far as it’s been focused more on the polished side with the big city, the espionage and so forth. A good part of why the art succeeds in this origin story is because of Ulises Arreola’s color artwork, which brings it to life in a really great way that complements the details rather than overshadows them. It’s a strong contrast from previous issues, but it has its own continuity as well that binds it all together.
The backup story this time around shifts gears a bit and ends up presenting us something unexpected. Taking place some years ago in the Himalaya’s, it’s about a group of hikers that discover an “undead” monk that’s in deep meditation out in the valleys. They know he’s alive, but for years he ends up not moving. While one of the group leaves, the rest “hear” the monk and begin to build around him, praying to him, and doing his bidding. There’s a wonderful short form kind of growth to the trio that stays, but it also becomes even more pivotal as it progresses when a new arrival spends a few years doing an impossible task. At the conclusion of which, he receives the name of Kannon, which leaves you wondering just how deep this tie may go.
Ninjak does a great job here overall of taking a step to the side to focus on the origin of Roku. It doesn’t delve into who she was before, but rather the process of stripping it all away while avoiding the superficial details of that person herself. And that makes for an intriguing time because it makes clear, at least for the moment, that who she was before her transformation doesn’t matter or have any bearing, at least for now. It’s a beautifully illustrated and well paced story that makes it worth taking the time to tell it. Where it’ll go from here definitely has me curious, especially with the backup story as well with Kannon and what that may portend. Very good stuff all around.
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Valiant Entertainment
Release Date: June 24th, 2015