Rating: 4/5 – Licensed property, all ages Lego ninja fun
Like many a young person, I enjoyed playing with Legos, heck I would still probably enjoy playing with Legos should future opportunities arise, but I don’t have much exposure to the recent multi-media expansion of the Lego brand. The video games for Lego Batman 1 and 2 are really great (other of their video game franchises less so) but had avoided any narrative exploitation and did not have overly high expectations for this foray. Hopefully “the soft bigotry of low expectations” did not color this review.
The full title for this property is the Lego Ninjago, Masters of Spinjitzu, which places Lego mini-figure characters in a martial arts setting, studying Spinjitzu, a spinning attack that resembles the Tasmanian Devil from Warner Brothers. I had not read any of the other volumes, the prose books or seen the cartoon. The various media form a shared world with each purporting to stand on their own but also to contribute to the complete world.
The book provides a quick introduction to the five main characters, four students and their master. This volume essentially tracks the story of their master, Sensei Wu. After a tough battle, Wu explains how he overcame a difficult battle from his past, when all of his enemies were freed from their prison when it was attacked. He tracks down the escapees while trying to determine who is behind the break-out. This requires a number of different tactics, including facing off against a villain that can enter your dreams. Finally he discovers it is his brother, Garmadon, behind the attacks. While Garmadon is mostly trapped in the underworld, he can cause some damage in the real world. Wu gets a glimpse of the future and sees horrific new bad guys and realizes he needs to train the next generation which leads to our four heroes.
I commend Papercutz on its decisions to release these books as graphic novels, in lieu of smaller, serialized comics. I think the additional story creates not only better value for dollar but will serve to infect young readers with an enthusiasm for comic book storytelling. Writer Greg Farshtey writes a compelling tale, using the traditional martial arts story structure of the master instructing pupils in a secret art but blunting enough of the actual nature of ninjas to allow it to be all ages. While these Ninjas do have weapons, there is no graphic violence. The choice of spinning gives them a power that allows incapacitation in lieu of decapitation. There is humor weaved into the story line but such jokes are almost always aimed squarely at the younger readers but a few gave made me smile. Still the incorporation of that humor tempers storylines that could get dark at times. My lack of experience with the matter provided no barrier to jumping in and enjoying the story.
Artist Jolyon Yates (with colors of Laurie Smith) do an admirable job at recreating the look of the Lego mini-figures. For those of you unfamiliar, they consist of a cylinder head (usually yellow) with plastic hair and/or headwear, contiguous torso and smaller arms with separate pieces for hands that look like mittens. The lower part of the body (including legs) are all one piece with holes in the back of the legs and bottom of the feet for attaching to other Lego parts. With actual Lego mini-figures, you can swap out the various parts (heads, hands, torso) to create new characters. There is not much detail on the heads to allow for expressions, and here the eyebrows and mouth mostly convey most everything that is needed. As I was drawn into the story, I rapidly became accustom to thinking of the characters as real and forgetting their plastic origins. The storytelling and action sequences are clear which is complicated by the villains that use magic and can enter dreams. The art strikes a nice balance of maintaining the required look but allowing the action to not be too stiff. At this point, I should disclose that I am no stranger to enjoying licensed property comics.
I think this is a great gift for kids that show any interest in Legos, ninjas, or martial arts in general. The storytelling moves quickly and doesn’t require any back story not provided. There is some silly humor and the violence is very mild. For myself, if I come across the next volume, I will probably read it as well as I now have some interest in this world. I may even check out the cartoon.
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