Indie Comics Spotlight: Ninjak, Rebels, Bill and Ted

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By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Ninjak #1

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“Is all of this supposed to impress me?”

If there’s any publisher who could make a character who’s equal parts James Bond and Shinobi, it’s Valiant Entertainment. That character is Ninjak and after appearing as something of a peripheral character in many of Valiant’s other titles, he gets the chance to shine on his own.Ninjak #1 has him shining pretty brightly. The issue is written by Matt Kindt, penciled by Clay Mann, inked by Seth Mann, colored by Ulises Arreola and lettered by Dave Sharpe.

Then: Meet inexperienced MI-6 recruit Colin King on his first mission in the field as he learns the basics of spycraft and counterintelligence, and develops a volatile relationship with his first handler. Now: Colin King is Ninjak, the world’s foremost intelligence operative, weapons expert, and master assassin. And he’s hunting the Shadow Seven – a secret cabal of shinobi masters with mysterious ties to his training and tragic past.

If you’ve been following Valiant Comics at all since its rebirth, then you know who Ninjak is. If you haven’t, first of all shame on you, but second of all, Kindt does a marvelous job of introducing the reader to the character in Ninjak #1. The use of “Then” and “Now” scenarios are pretty powerful in laying out the varying pieces that make the Ninjak whole, including a double-edged sword of an upbringing and a supreme confidence and cockiness pervasive throughout his entire life. Likewise, Kindt’s characterization of Roku as an extremely ruthless individual is handled through a briefing overlaid on Roku doing the things that make her so feared. Kindt uses the two characters of Ninjak and Roku as a means of carrying the story, as their first interaction dovetails nicely into the larger plot being sketched out.

Clay Mann’s pencils are extremely sharp and well-detailed. His work is most recognizable from Marvel X-Men titles and Ninjak #1 has that superhero feel to it. Each panel features a slew of intricacies and Mann excels in illustrating the action sequences. Ninjak’s first encounter with Roku is a flurry of panels that feel frenetically arranged, but demonstrate an understanding of choreographing a battle with a fluid presentation. Seth Mann’s inks are up to the task as well, accentuating the characters in a way that makes them stand out to the reader that’s easily discernible amidst the background action. And Arreola’s colors are bright and vivid, drifting between the purple and black of Ninjak to greens indicative of a lush estate.

Ninjak isn’t shy about his talents and displays them quite proudly in the fantastic first issue of the new ongoing series. He’s characterized as extremely adept at his job, which requires a sword as much as it requires spying talents. Kindt makes Ninjak #1 more than just a story about a ninja fighting; instead, he blends plenty of espionage into the mix that gives the book substance. The duo of the Manns on art performs exquisitely, as all the characters feel like they have weight to the presence in the book. Ninjak #1 is a fantastic first issue that hits the ground running and offers readers a lot to sink their teeth into.

Ninjak #1 is in stores now.

Rebels #1

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“I remember the day. It was the day my father spoke more than three words in my general direction.”

The Revolutionary War/colonial period is one of the most fascinating periods in American history, if for nothing else for the fact that there would be no America if not for that era. There have been countless takes on the events of the era, with most focused on the more “important” areas such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York. What about the wilds of New Hampshire? That’s where Rebels #1 from Dark Horse Comics turns its attention. The issue is written by Brian Wood, illustrated by Andrea Mutti, colored by Jordie Bellaire and lettered by Jared K. Fletcher.

In a rush of great public resistance to an oppressive and excessive government, a homegrown militia movement is formed in rural America. This is not 2015, but 1775. With the war for independence playing out across the colonies, young Seth and Mercy Abbott find their new marriage tested at every turn, as the demands of the frontlines and the home front collide.

Wood captures the spirit of that rebellion quite elegantly–albeit somewhat understated–in Rebels #1. Seth Abbott is the voice of the revolution in New Hampshire, contending with a father who really only cared about him as a soldier and a friend in Ezekiel Learned who wasn’t always a friend. Wood infuses the book with Seth’s narration as appropriate, helping guide the reader through the rather “delicate” interactions that come with fighting the British. 1775 was the year the war started and Wood inserts an appropriate level of tension in Rebels #1 for the characters, as the colonists can sense something brewing. Wood presents Seth with a demeanor throughout the book feels oddly calm, which sort of takes away some of the gravitas of the event, but the setting is New Hampshire, so the seclusion feels appropriate.

Capturing the feel of the era is Mutti’s pencils, all of which showcase colonists and Redcoats with an emphasis on leanness. Her work gets even more impressive when you take in her pretty breathtaking renderings of an unsettled New Hampshire. New England thrives on a sense of isolation in some points and Mutti’s depiction of vast forests is really impressive. Bellaire does an equally impressive job in filling in those forests with lush greens, as well as ensuring that the Redcoats are easily distinguishable from the colonists. Part of the divisiveness in the war was represented in the solid appearance of the British versus the ragtag composure of the American militia and it’s something captured beautifully by both Mutti and Bellaire.

Rebels #1 takes a look at a front of the Revolutionary War that doesn’t necessarily get as much attention as other areas historically. The attention to the New Hampshire frontier is a welcome change of pace in looking at the era, with characters playing as large a role as some of the other more famous figures from the events. Wood’s approach is subtle but charged with a lot of subtext, underscoring the rebellious nature of the colonists who just want the ability to manage the land they own. Mutti captures the spirit of the revolution with her sharp visuals and presentation of a world that seems so far away. Rebels #1 offers a look at the fringes of the Revolutionary War, where the stakes are slightly different but the stakes are just as high.

Rebels #1 is in stores April 8.

Bill and Ted’s Most Triumphant Return #1

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“Dreams do come true. As long as you work hard and stay true to yourself. The time machine also helps, I’m not going to lie.”

Bill and Ted were losers. Aimless. No direction. Things took a turn one fateful day after a visit by a mysterious traveler with an even more mysterious proposition. Now, the two are legendary and bathe in a sea of accolades and praise. Their work still isn’t done though and their journey continues in Bill and Ted’s Most Triumphant Return #1. The issue is written by Brian Lynch, illustrated by Jerry Gaylord, inked by Gaylord and Penelope Gaylord, colored by Whitney Cogar and lettered by Jim Campbell.

Following the time-traveling historic epic of Excellent Adventure and the turbulent life and death of Bogus Journey, Bill and Ted must now fulfill their destiny as the inspiration for galactic harmony! How can someone hate the Wyld Stallyns as much as the evil Chuck De Nomolos? With the power of time travel, Bill and Ted set their sights on turning a young 27th-century Nomolos’ non-non-heinous attitude into something most outstanding and metal!

Adapting a known property into another medium is a balancing act between creating something new while at the same time paying homage to what made the property so well-known in the first place. Lynch does an admirable job on both fronts, even if the story in Bill and Ted’s Most Triumphant Return #1 feels as if it meanders at times. Lynch managed to cram just about every catch-phrase and major player from the films into the book in ways that do make sense and touch on the nostalgic nerve that accompanies seeing familiar faces again. The story itself falters a little bit though, as the premise of the duo heading forward in time to create an album in the present feels a little confusing. The premise itself is clear, but Lynch spends much of the first issue trying to pay respects to the key facets of the Bill and Ted universe that everyone knows and would expect in a comic.

Considering that Bill and Ted’s Most Triumphant Return #1 is “adapted” from the films, Gaylord’s pencils hit the right visual notes in drawing the reader back into the world of Bill and Ted. His style is zany enough to work for the two characters, as it adds a certain bit of playfulness that accompanies the attitudes of Bill and Ted. Characters exhibit strange proportions in comparison to other characters, with Bill and Ted especially looking very tall and lanky compared to other characters. The inks by the two Gaylords are understated, as characters seemingly blend into the backgrounds. Cogar’s colors give the book a punchiness, as her choice of bold, bright colors accent the preposterous of the story.

Bill and Ted’s Most Triumphant Return #1 is a pretty satisfying continuation of a completely random saga started in the movies. All the key players are on hand to play their parts and the reverence directed toward Bill and Ted feels appropriate. Lynch’s plot evens out by the end of the issue and gives the series a direction and purpose. The illustrations are a good match for the property and maintain familiar appearances for all the familiar faces. Bill and Ted’s Most Triumphant Return #1 is going to appeal to nostalgia junkies yearning for more than just an excellent adventure or bogus journey.

Bill and Ted’s Most Triumphant Return #1 is in stores now.


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