REVIEW: The Ninjettes #1

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Or – “Which One Is Joanie And Which Is Chachi?”

Spin-offs are always unpredictable, in any medium, but in comics they’re doubly erratic.  A different writer or artist may lose some of the nuances that you loved about the character while she was guest-starring with Turnip-Man.  Or, even worse, they may take your fave-rave background player and stick them in a story you just don’t care about.  The sad truth is, not every spinoff can be Hellblazer.  So, is this John Constantine (300 issues and counting) or poor Doctor Voodoo limping to the barn on the TPB minimum six-issue arc?

THE NINJETTES #1
Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Eman Casallos
Colorist: Insight Studio
Letters: Rob Steen
Editor: Joseph Rybandt
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, in The Ninjettes:  We first met the Ninjettes in Jennifer Blood, a story wherein the protagonist is a housewife with a secret double-life as high-paid and highly sought after assassin.  The Ninjettes confrontations with her were pretty light-hearted affairs, and there hasn’t been much development of the main characters other than “girls who dress up in vaguely sexualized schoolgirl outfits with ninja masks and martial arts weapons.”  That’s a wide-open premise in a lot of ways, and it’ll be interesting to see where we go from here…

A GARTH ENNIS JOINT…  SORT OF.

Both the cover and the indicia (that publisher information at the bottom of the first page, latin for, I believe “the fine print”) identify this book just as “The Ninjettes,” but all the solicits and previews clearly identify is as “GARTH ENNIS’ The Ninjettes.”  That differentiation actually worries me, as leaning that hard on the reputation of a creator not involved in the book may betray a lack of confidence about the actual product.  We open with a spot-on panel parodying kids cartoons in general and Transformers specifically, and then transition to a simply horrifying sequence involving a child molester.  I’m not sure if the scene is designed to be written for laughs, but there are several flat-out jokes amid the unsavory implications, and when the tableau is shattered by the arrival of a murderous woman with a sword, I find myself relieved in more ways than one.  The murderer is actually kind of cool, in a sociopathic and calculating kind of way, and her blase explanation to the woman who hired her of what has and is about to happen is fun, in a Wolverine-best-there-is-at-what-I-do sort of way.

WHOSE COMIC IS THIS AGAIN?

The problem is, I don’t know if Varla, the hired gun, is actually meant to be one of our main characters or the villain of the piece at this point.  Things get very twisted, in a vaguely Freudian way, as the story forks to follow both Varla (at a bar with her two partners, ridiculously wearing her katana and weapons openly) and a young woman named Kelly Hara (daughter of the bad man murdered on page three) weighs her options vis a vis entering the world of adulthood.  I’ll say this for Al Ewing, he has nailed that razor-edge meanness that Garth Ennis so effortlessly brings to his characters, but the depth of emotion that makes that cruelty tolerable isn’t yet on display here, making Varla’s tough-girl machismo (feminismo?) come across as a little two-dimensional.  There’s also a very familiar feeling plot element as the good girl is introduced to a bad world by the bad girl (who may have a heart of gold, the jury is still out) and the issue ends with a moment that feels like shock for the sake of shock, and a couple of moments throughout that are obviously designed to be funny, but fall somewhat flat amidst the old ultra-violence.

THE VERDICT:  CONFUSED…

The central image of this book is right there on the cover: hot females who mix the iconic image of ninja and naughty schoolgirl, and aren’t afraid to mix it up with bad guys.  Once you get into the story, though, there’s none of that here, as we’re faced with blood, guts, tough-girl dialogue and a shiny leather catsuit.  Varla herself may have potential, but this issue portrays her as a broad composite of the hyper-competent assassin, and Kelly isn’t given much character other than “rebelling against a rich, controlling mom” which doesn’t necessarily do her any favors when she decides to try and become an assassin.  There are several moments wherein the female characters are clearly displayed in a way that is meant to feel sexy, but comes across as pandering, especially a close-up of a girl’s behind in jeans that are drawn neither as particularly tight nor anatomically correct enough to evoke the reaction that the  characters have in-universe.  I’m interested in seeing the “hero’s journey” that Kelly is undoubtedly about to take, but I’m worried about how adept the art and writing is going to be in making her journey to Ninjette (and we’re not talking about a female Juggalo, nor the martial art that the Power Rangers learned in their movie) but I seem to recall also that the Ninjettes as seen in Jennifer Blood died horribly at the hands of the main character, which makes me worry that the gore and exploitation are the point.  The Ninjettes #1 doesn’t quite stick the landing, but has a lot of potentially interesting things going on, earning a cautious 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’ll be interesting to see whether this story can justify it’s sexy sexy violence with enough character and plot to keep me reading…

Rating: ★★½☆☆