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Daredevil: Ninja

The last thing from Marvel that I reviewed was Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. And the only other thing before that was Daredevil related, Elektra. I did not discover this until I went to write this review, thinking, "Gee, I must have reviewed something else from Marvel, besides Daredevil…(opens My Documents)…oh. Guess not."

It's not that I hate Marvel or any such thing. I just don't find too much of interest in the Marvel Universe. X-Men, as it's being written by Grant Morrison, is just not my particular brand of vodka, and Chuck Austen is the worst writer that still receives regular work in the comic book industry. Spider-Man has some bright spots (I'm fond of J. Michael Stracynski and anything Romita draws), but like Troy Benson said, "You have the proportionate strength of a spider and you're married to a supermodel; life ain't that bad." Too many Marvel books walk the fine line of emotional/depressingly suicidal angst for me to be a Marvel universe aficionado.

Why does Daredevil seem to hit so well with me? Don't know, but Bendis helps.

Ninja is literally a movie on paper, in so much that the "opening credits" of the comic say, "A Marvel Film Production." This three issue miniseries came out about two years ago and faded into Marvel obscurity, among many books in their multi-monikered trade paperback division (what the hell makes a Marvel Legend and why is it slapped on the spine of every book they produce?). It's an interesting little miniseries written by series regular Brian Michael Bendis, and drawn or "directed" by Rob Haynes, colored by David Self.

Matt Murdock would be nowhere today without the training of his blind, homeless, pole-wielding sensei, Stick. That sensei taught Matt how to control his heightened senses and then a thing or two about beating people into unconsciousness. Stick made Matt becoming Daredevil a possibility. So imagine how Matt feels when someone breaks into his home and steals Stick's…well, stick. Someone does just that, and Daredevil is quickly on her trail. They meet up on a rooftop and the ninjapalooza begins.

After a rounding good fight scene, Matt goes to bed, but wakes up in Osaka, Japan, surrounded by the remaining disciples of Stick, who need his help. It seems The Hand, ninja mercenary group for higher, have been wiping out the disciples left and right. The reason isn't too clear, but it has something to do with Ancient Japanese myth, and the birth of child. Now Matt has to help his sensei's former students, if for no other reason than to end his having to put up with "all this ninja-crap."

Bendis is the king of good dialogue, and usually very creative when he writes superheroics. He knows the character well enough by now that he doesn't have to try that hard to make Matt Murdock a believable and interesting protagonist, and other than one or two extra recaps of DD's origin, the writing feels really fresh. Matt's interaction with Stone is great, and leave it to Bendis to give the funniest lines in the comic to the stoic, white-clad ninja. While a lot of the funny scenes are a fusion of site gag and verbal quip, Bendis alone can make a scene funny with a well-placed sentence.

And yet, Bendis does play this whole story with a serious undertone, mostly having to do with the destruction of the disciples' ninja clan, and Matt's feelings of loss concerning Stick. He balances the somber with the humor very well, and I found myself wishing the book was longer than only the three issues worth of comics.

What really captures the attention of the reader is the artwork by Haynes. I'm very impressed with the amount of energy in his work. I'm not sure if it's Haynes playing off of well-written fight scenes by Bendis, or if it's all him, but Haynes draws spectacular action. The martial arts movements are beautifully paced and rendered, and Haynes deserves a lot of credit for creating the "movie on paper" feel of the comic. The lead up to one of the Hand ambush scenes was great as it slowly showed the reader the danger inherent in what was going on, while keeping the characters in the dark. His line work is thin, almost wiry, and he inked it himself with a thin line pen. It gives everything a pale look, and while I miss the heavy inking that usually accompanies Daredevil, it fits the "Kung Fu Movie" tone of the book.

I would probably not like Haynes' work as much if it weren't for the coloring done by Self. He colors in mostly pastels, but uses shades and shadows well when depicting night scenes, and his color scheme stays paler, giving the characters a "weightless" quality that makes the acrobatics and martial arts action more believable than if the characters were weighted down in deep solid colors.

It is a decent story that mostly involves ninjas getting the crap beat out of them, which is always a fun time. The catch is that Marvel is charging $12.95 for three issues of comics, a cover gallery, pin-ups, and an afterword by the artist himself. This should have been priced, at the very most, at $9.95. If you can, pick it up on discount so you'll feel better about buying it, but buy it anyway. It's like watching a Jackie Chan movie that wasn't made in the last five years: you know, a good Jackie Chan movie.

Robert Sparling

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