2015 was a veritable wellspring for Spy-Fi. Starting last January with Mortdecai, most months had seen intelligence agents, intelligent or otherwise, grace the silver screen, including such films as Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., American Ultra, Agent 47, and Spectre.
One of the most acclaimed games of the year was the stealth-shooter Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, while Invisible, Inc. immersed gamers into tactical espionage with equal aplomb and Black Ops III channeled spy-fi’s penchant for intel and intrigue. 2016, comparatively, has seen a dramatic dearth of the genre. The upcoming Jason Bourne is the only major spy thriller coming to theaters, and Hitman the only one coming to consoles. Yet even in such trying times, fans such as myself have two stalwarts to cling to: FX’s perfect mix of mundane and high-octane in the animated Archer, and Valiant’s blend of Bond and Batman in their best book, Ninjak.
Ninjak #17 (Valiant Entertainment)
Issue #17 concludes not only the current “Siege of King’s Castle” arc, but constitutes the culmination of the entire series thus far. Secrets strongly implied in the first few issues are explicitly revealed to both Colin King and the reader alike. As obvious as Roku’s identity has been all along, Ninjak now knowing adds additional layers of complexity to their rivalry going forward. Moreover, every plot point previously touched upon – from his tutelage under the undead monk to his infiltration of Weaponeer to his elimination of the Shadow Seven and even his recent excursion to the Deadside – have all been tied together by the singular connective thread that is Roku.
Roku’s systematic destruction of Colin King’s entire life over the previous three issues proved one of the best examples of a classic trope “Brought Down to Badass.” Even stripped of his ancestral manor, multi-billion-dollar bank account, advanced gadgetry, and government contacts, King proved fiercely formidable. It was a compelling balance of the hero being thrown off balance but remaining competent nonetheless, constantly shifting in his role as predator or prey. The only other time a comic executed on the same premise as well was when Ultimate Hawkeye, stripped of his bow and arrow, strapped down by every limb and surrounded by armed guards, killed nearly every one of his captors by using his own fingernails as projectile weapons. Ninjak memorizing the telephone number on a booby-trapped pen as it exploded in his face and sent him pummeling several stories was nearly as impressive.
While King’s feats in this issue are decidedly less impressive, there is far greater satisfaction to be found in the emotional payoff of the series finally starting to cohere as a single story. Much of this is done through exposition, fundamentally reframing scenes from throughout the title so far, and such work to engender the sense of an architectonic structure having existed from the start. Interspersed with these revelations are a fight between Roku and Ninjak; to say that it’s fairly standard fare for the series, no better or worse than many of the other action scenes, belies just how impressive the battles in this book have been so far. Normally a series with rotating artist suffer for the inconsistency, but all the creators have consistently impressed. They do seem to be employing a Valiant house-style, but even that is to the book’s benefit; the work of Diego Bernard in these issues has been nearly indistinguishable from the work of superstar artist Clay Mann on the first arc.
After dropping out of grad school, I initially pursued a commission as a Naval officer specializing in Human Intelligence, with hopes of eventually becoming a field officer for The Company. Though my aptitude tests guaranteed me a place in the program, more economically enticing offers in the oil industry forced me to relegate a potential career in espionage to once again being just a boyhood dream. Looking back, it’s hard not to imagine how my life very well might have turned out. When doing so, it’s works such as the Bond films, Archer, and especially Ninjak, to which I turn, if not living out their lifestyle as I might have then at the very least living it vicariously through them, pulling off honey-pots and secretly saving the world, one femme fatale at a time.
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