Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ninja High School in Color #6

Ninja High School in Color #6, May 1993, Eternity Comics
creator/artist: Ben Dunn
writer: James Hanrahan
letterer: Craig Miller
colorists: Diane Botta, Jennel Cruz, Malibu Packrats
editor: Hank Kanalz

When I first started collecting comics, I was intrigued by Ninja High School. I never read an issue, but I loved the title. I imagined high school halls full of kung fu adventure, Saved by the Bell meets Bruce Lee, something like that. At the time, I think I was intimidated by the manga style, and the potential continuity I would have to decipher to really enjoy an issue. The black and white format may have dissuaded my young eyes, as well, as I was rapidly accustomed to the bright primary colors of superheroes and adolescent mutant amphibians and the like. Needless to say, I wasn’t as open-minded as I am now. Kids, right?

Well, I was excited to pick up this issue of Ninja High School, in color, no less. I was eager to see if the material met my expectations . . . and like my real first day of high school, I was blind-sided, confused, and ultimately disappointed. Even with the color, Ninja High School made no sense to me whatsoever.

First of all, this issue doesn’t take place anywhere near a high school. Jeremy and his little brother Rick travel to Sapporo to visit the grandfather they’ve apparently never met, and during their first few days in his expansive mansion, they care for a wounded snow crane that eventually takes flight again. When a blizzard strikes, a beautiful naked girl stumbles to their doorstep and Jeremy quickly falls in love with her. In fact, after just a day of wintertime frivolity, Jeremy resolves, “I’m in love. We were meant for each other! Tomorrow I ask her to marry me!” While such impetuous infatuation is perhaps the only real remnant of high school that rings true in this issue, Grandpa discovers that the girl is really some sort of witch, and when Jeremy also learns her true nature, she flees into the night, seemingly remorseful that his love would only come from her manipulating magic. I think we’re supposed to believe that she was that crane from the first act of this issue, but the connection of any act in throughout this book frankly completely eludes me.

Secondly, while Grandpa dons ninja gear, this issue offers very little ninja action. The real momentum behind this story is the characters’ reactions to their circumstances. When Jeremy and Rick arrive in Sapporo, Grandpa’s chauffer is more than he seems, a subplot for a later time, I assume. When the mystery girl is more than she seems, Grandpa’s housekeeper is more than suspicious. Everyone seems to have some secret connected to Jeremy’s journey, and while this issue is an effective standalone, these dangling threats are almost enough to pull me in for more, if I wasn’t afraid of the raw torrent of adolescent emotion the next chapter might bring. Here, Jeremy’s ready to get married – in the next issue, will he father quintuplets for a few pages or what? Who needs ninjas when the teenage mind is enough of a kick in the head?

Visually, series creator Ben Dunn captures his characters and the overall mood effectively, but his manga style isn’t as solid as I’ve seen from the genuine overseas article, almost as if Dunn were merely imitating those old favorite masters. I wonder how critical Ninja High School was a decade or two ago in ushering those eastern comics into our mainstream – manga volumes are as synonymous to comic book collecting now as trade paperbacks or graphic novels. Did this series school us in the influence of this genre? I don’t know . . .

. . . and I don’t think I’ll find out anytime soon. I’m transferring out of Ninja High School. The curriculum just doesn’t appeal to my developed learning technique. Like geometry class, I’m asking myself, “When will I ever need this in real life?” The likelihood of my needing to calculate the speed of two trains barreling toward potential collision is as possible as a beautiful nude women stumbling to my doorstep during a snowstorm. Ninja High School still intrigues me, but not as it did before. Now I’m just wondering what folks saw in it in the first place.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After also being intrigued by the title for years, I picked up the first two TPBs secondhand recently, and I read the story you're talking about. It's not really something you can judge the entire series by. Overall, I liked what I read, although the first book had Ninja High School #0 in the beginning, with its gorgeous retcon artwork, and it almost felt like a bait-and-switch when the art went back to Dunn's 80's skill level afterward.