KILLERS #1 & #2 / Writer: B. Clay Moore / Artist: Fernando Dagnino / Colorist: José Villarrubia / Letterer: Jeff Powell / Publisher: Valiant / Release dates: July 31 & August 28, 2019
The Valiant universe scratches a certain itch for high-concept spy games, and British secret agent mercenary spy Ninjak (Ninja-K) is often at the heart of those stories. With the new miniseries Killers, some of the earlier initiates in MI6’s program get the spotlight, including Ninjas F, G, I, and J. Based on the first two issues, the most satisfying aspect of this miniseries is probably how friendly it is for new readers. Aside from a minor amount of lore about MI6’s Ninja program in general, these characters are new to everyone. Would you like to follow the twisty motives and adventures of several disavowed, superpowered, geriatric spies who are magically in peak condition? Let this advance review be your guide!
The opening narration of the first issue describes how people’s expectations of love always lead to someone getting burnt. The Jonin, master instructor of the Ninja program, needs help recovering lost artifacts. Who does he bring in to help? His old students, and he promises to the reward of their hearts’ desires. His lessons enable his students to harness their ki to perform superhuman feats, including elongated life, stealth, and bulletproof skin, depending on the individual. While there are several ninjas in the first two issues, the main protagonists appear to be Desdemona Rush, aka Ninja-G, and Roger Thorpe, aka Ninja-J. Agent letter designations indicate their order of training.
Desdemona is the sort of negotiator who makes her point by holding a sword to your throat and a gun to your head at the same time. Anyone already mourning the end of The Walking Dead for meaning no more badass, katana-wielding black women should meet Desdemona. When her lesbian partner is slain in Aspen, Colorado, she vows revenge, but then Jonin’s adventurous offer piques her interest after an investigation in London, England.
After Desdemona, the scene shifts to Roger, who must deal with an attempt on his life in Burano, Italy. Further scenes include Jakarta, Indonesia and Shanghai, China. Each locale shows off features unique to those areas, like the paper lanterns in Shanghai and waterside marketplaces of Burano. Superhuman spies don’t all retire to the same neighborhood, it seems.
Totally Spies, Not Heroes
The only slip-up I see, which throws me for a loop, is during a moment in Roger’s fight in Burano. Gunfire rings out around Roger until someone has him at nearly point-blank range. He jumps out of the way, and the gunman kills an innocent bystander. More gunmen close in on Roger when he shows off that his skin, and seemingly his tailored suit, are unbreakable. He skillfully deflects bullets from one shooter to hit another.
On the run, Roger warns an alley full of passersby to get out of the way of danger. Here’s what I don’t get: if Roger’s concerned with keeping the body count low, why did he let someone eat lead at the beginning of the fight? He already knows of the gun play, and he’s skilled at countering armed opponents. So, what gives? He expresses annoyance about his broken vape pen, though. Thank goodness Desdemona is so much cooler than him.
“The one thing I have going for me is that Shanghai prisons are rarely raided by ninjas.”
Desdemona spends much of the first issue looking stylish in an outfit including shades, gloves, boots, wide-brim hat, and a trenchcoat, digging for leads. Don’t sleep on the second issue, where she really lets loose and all the variant covers featuring her brandishing a sword pay off. Her action scenes create plenty of bloodshed, too, but at least her scenario is more clean-cut (pun intended) about her goals. Without saying too much about Ninjas I and F, suffice it to say that writer B. Clay Moore and artist Fernando Dagnino complement their unique character designs with distinct power sets that make each of them interesting and set up tense interactions between each of them.
Colors of Espionage
It’s time to talk about another skilled teammate: colorist José Villarrubia. He colors Italy in friendly tones of blue, green, and yellow, contrasting against the street violence taking place there. London’s dreary rainfall makes for an ideal space for a den of secrets while Desdemona’s amber glasses pop among the grays and shadows. He brilliantly shades and colors a couple of moonlit moments, portraying the pale glow that reveals things in the darkness. Full disclosure: the second issue’s review PDF was in grayscale, so I can’t comment on the color work there. Otherwise, the visual quality, including excellent lettering and ballooning from Jeff Powell, remains at a high level. The creative team frames characters with wide shots when the action calls for it (e.g. falling out a window, throwing a blade), as well as according to smaller details (e.g. quietly sipping a cup of coffee, tying a shoe).
Here’s a factor you don’t see in many reviews: what the critic read before the subject – in this case, the 1993 Marvel event Maximum Carnage. I only read a couple of random issues of the event as a child. Back then, I had little idea who anyone was or why they were important. All I understood was that heroes and villains were teaming up, and they looked cool doing it! Several of them had to choose between self-interest and moral obligation, an angle that I don’t think ever gets old.
Killers has all of the aforementioned strengths with none of the legacy baggage. The spies are immediately compelling. They each have their own reaction to the call to adventure, which compounds with how they treat one another. As with any spy game, I bet there are many more reveals and blockbuster panels to come over the next three issues.
Verdict: 4 out of 5.