Review by Cory Thrall
WRITTEN BY: Mike Whittenberger
ARTWORK BY: Delia Gable
COLOR ARTWORK BY: Delia Gable
LETTERING BY: Mike Whittenberger
I’ve been reading a ton of very creative and unique comics as of late, and almost all of this has come straight out of publishers like Arcana – projects with all the heart and talent the creators can muster, creating millions of titles that not only tell interesting tales in an interesting way, but also comics that are so fun you lose time while reading. “A Ninja Named Stan”, which I had previously read only the first issue of until this collection, is one of those books. It’s special in ways you wouldn’t guess at the premise, and reaches into areas of storytelling that crept up on me in a very surprising and touching way.
The Stan in the title is an actual Private Investigator – with a license and everything! – who wholeheartedly thinks he is also a ninja. Now, this being something he decided he was instead of trained for is a sign of how enjoyable this title can be at the very base of its premise. But, it goes deeper than that, as we learn the sad line of rejection Stan had to walk down before becoming the ‘hero’ – the Ninja Private Investigator. This leaves the innocent and a bit naive Stan at a loss on what his life means, and where he should take it from there. His origin behind the Ninja P.I. gig is great, and one of my favorite aspects of this collection. I would go into details of this, but the way the story takes you to this flashback is so brilliantly cool and fun that I’d feel horrible for ruining the pay-off. Let me just say it’s perfect for the one side of this book – the silly, the funny.
Bringing a bit of the more ‘serious’ side of things is NYPD officer Andrea who, in another great scene, first meets Stan, gets his number, and eventually finds herself along for the ride. She’s a strong character, and the far reaches of her life are explored wonderfully and in a well rounded way, for the most part. She’s quick witted, smart, and obviously has a great heart. Her falling into Stan’s world is a little shaky, but the truth of her character shines through, until she is helping Stan with his work more than Stan is helping himself. Stan’s the aloof ‘Inspector Gadget’, while Andrea is easily the ‘Penny’ of this story.
When I say that the ‘crazy’ is one side of this tale, it’s due to something I did not expect from this book, and something that really endeared me to it as it progressed. This comic, with its silly premise and classic humor is, almost to the core, a tale of redemption and one of the greatest love stories I have read in some time. The depth of emotion this covers is astounding, given the cartoon-like universe this all takes place in. In a comic where you might expect a silly fight scene or quirky antics on nearly every page, we are given a beautifully paced romance, leading up to an eventual climax that really touched me in a lot of ways. It’s sweet, and actually makes perfect sense in this book. I can’t really explain it, and maybe that’s one of its best points, but it works. You can feel the emotions rise between the two, and it really hits you once it goes further.
Mike Whittenberger is a very talented and multifaceted writer, and his range is used to great effect in this book. As said before, both sides of this book work so perfectly in unison it’s scary. It would be so easy for one side of the book to overshadow the other – way more craziness, or no love story at all – but Whittenberger walks the line between the near polar opposite sides of this story so well that it’s seamless. I can not stress this enough, this is some high quality scripting in a sea of similar titles that take on the funny but leave most of the heart on the wayside. I am really looking forward to more work from him, as this title really struck me. There were a few snags, however, and the main one that bothered me was the overuse of Andreas status in the NYPD, and the abusive bosses she’s endured in her career. This is plainly and perfectly laid out right from the get-go, and by the time it’s brought up again it’s rather tired and even distracting.
The artwork and color work of Delia Gable is also a perfect fit, with its cartoon-y style keeping a light tone throughout, but knowing when to use different approaches depending on the situation. Her color work is a nice touch, and really enhances some scenes. One complaint I have is the use of backgrounds and settings, which consist of a lot of blank walls, empty room, and – in the worst cases – oddly laid out panels where the figures are barely represented, filling the rest of the panel with color. This is a bit jarring and doesn’t really work, in my opinion, in particular a certain panel in Stan’s origin where he is hit in the face by some random thug. The panel that is to show the punch merely suggests that this has happened, and the way the Stan’s face is in comparison to the front of the fist is awkward and a bit confusing to the eye. This panel did not work, and was a tad bit clumsy. Gable’s work here is top-notch, don’t get me wrong, it’s just some of the panel layouts and designs can use a bit more work. As with Whittenberger, I look forward to watching her work continue to grow and flourish, as her work here is well done, and with the few areas it could use a bit of work on being fixed up I can definitely see her becoming a big player in comics.
This is not the comic I had expected, and I am very excited that this is the case. The way this title brings the two protagonists together is so well done, and the theme that both Stan and Andrea are using this experience to free themselves from their rejection fueled self pity is a spectacle all on its own. All I can really say is that I loved this comic. It was a great read that covered considerably more ground than your average title, ‘Big Two’ or otherwise, and that there is its major selling point. It is a multi-layered tale hidden within a humorous and insane front, and one of the best experiences I’ve had reading a book in some time. Get this collection. This is a sure-fire classic and you will *not* be unhappy you did one bit.
Follow Cory Thrall on Twitter: @FeralFang27