Oh, lord, it's Ninjak.
No, wait… "Enter: NINJAK!"
This was the make or break moment of the current X-O Manowar revival. I never read the original series, nor did I ever read anything about Ninjak aside from his name. Which is Ninjak. That name is so gut-crunchingly lame that I've often used it in my head as a term to signify everything that was wrong with comic books in the 1990s. Ninjak! It sounds like some god-awful Rob Liefeld detritus.
My reluctant research shows that Ninjak was actually hugely popular in that decade, wherein you could get away with having a ninja named Ninjak be a ninja at people and everyone would love it – see also, Liefeld becoming famous in that era for things like Shatterstar. But he was created by Mark Moretti and, ta-da, Joe Quesada in a book called Bloodshot, which is a name also in the running for "nomenclature equating to '90s fail." But yet, his name is Ninjak, which sounds like a long-forgotten breakfast cereal that probably had marshmallows shaped like throwing stars. Nin Jacks! For your least nutritious breakfast! Not to be confused with Anaïs Nin Jacks, which would be an entirely different thing that you absolutely wouldn't want as the prize in the box.
Anyway, Ninjak shows up in X-O Manowar #5, and to be fair, X-O Manowar is a pretty awful name in and of itself. It's starting to become clear to me why I didn't ever read Valiant Comics in the 1990s. X-O Manowar. That's not a superhero – that's a turgid self-painted miniatures game that requires an entire dormitory lounge to be transformed into a faraway battleground with the cunning use of masking tape and wasted imagination.
Once again, I digress. So far, this series has been interesting enough to keep up with – Visigoth gets captured by aliens, leads slave revolt, becomes chosen one for kickass battlesuit, flees with it, finds 1600 years have passed on Earth and everything he knows is dead and everything that ain't dead sucks. However, aliens want kickass battlesuit back, so they use their disguised minions in the world's governments to hire NINJAK, COMPLETE WITH GIANT DAY-GLO BACKPACK THAT FIRES VITAMIN C – er, just Ninjak, although they wisely refer to him as The Specialist. Because even evil bug-faced aliens realize that Ninjak is not a name that strikes fear into the hearts of men.
AHEM. FOCUS. The issue at hand – writer Robert Venditti wisely makes Ninj- er, The Specialist somewhat fun in his ridiculous perfection and renowned reputation of understood unstoppability. He's a bit of a cocky prat, which comes with being assumed to be the best there is at what he does and all that. He gets enough decent lines that I didn't hate him out of hand, which I had every fear I would – hence the make-or-break bit earlier. I'm resigned to groan at every use of his name, but I won't be too put out if he teams up with X-O Mano- hell, just Aric – to fight space jerks. The art from Lee Garbett has that sort of indistinct style to it that's adequate but never knocks my socks off. It all makes for a solid batch of sci-fi super-guy enjoyment.
X-O MANOWAR #5
The other Valiant book that arrived last week was Harbinger #4, which is a series I haven't really discussed at any length yet because I wasn't sure how I felt about it. That's because the first issue opened with our ostensible hero Peter Stanchek telepathically forcing a woman to love him and then having sex with her. True, it's said the boy's been raised in a mental institution all his life and has no concept of how relationships work and this woman was the only female he'd ever known from when they were children, but I'm not at all comfortable with being asked to invest in a rapist's story.
The only thing that's kept me reading is the notion I have that writer Joshua Dysart isn't going to just let him get away with that. I got the sense that, even though Stanchek had the "goodness" in him to regret what he'd done and make sure to telepathically command her to fall OUT of love with him as well, she's going to come back into his life and make him pay, and that's a supervillain I'm going to root for.
I might be wrong, since Stanchek seems well on the way to supervillainy himself – he's an insufferable douchebag, but at least the people around him seem to call him out on it. Now, he's just found out the Harada Foundation – the school for gifted telepaths that's taken him in – killed his old institution friend Joe, and he's all fiery pissed about it now.
It's probably not the best idea of me to keep plugging along with this book just to see the main character get what's coming to him – and no, it doesn't really feel like his completely isolated and friendless life is it. But he's hit a turning point where he's about to go apeshit with his power that everybody's afraid of (ain't that always the way – the uber-power that makes this white boy so special, while the overweight woman excited at her chance to be special fails in a grisly manner). I guess I'm curious to see where it goes, although the art team of Khari Evans, Matt Clark and Lewis Larosa have an unfortunate habit of making everybody have scrunchy-smooshed faces. While it's not all bad, it's not all that pleasant to look upon, either.
Huh, go figure. I began this wanting to explain why this issue gave me some hope for it, but now that I'm thinking about it, all I can really see is every reason I hadn't really been able to like Harbinger. I may have just talked myself out of buying #5. Sometimes, reviewing something will end up a lot differently than it started.