By Arpad Okay. Rick Remender and Sean Murphy are having a great time with Tokyo Ghost. It’s a ninja tale for grown-ups, an adult’s book. Adult books share Tokyo Ghost’s content: sex and slaughter and manly proclamations about responsibility. The thing is, this isn’t an adult book, it’s a book for adults, and there is a difference. When you’re an adult, the idyllic can collapse into nightmares for no reason at all, and no one but you is responsible for mending wounds and carrying on. This adult book’s tender moment between melancholy lovers is upset, not by ninjas (actually, yes, by ninjas), but by secrets. Grown-up stuff. Secrets like a past of ripping kids up for petty revenge. Rick and Sean having a great time.

Ninjas and future tech isn’t a particularly new combination in comics, though the balance Remender’s writing strikes between Bushido Blade and Mega City One is noteworthy.  It is a different kind of balance that separates Tokyo Ghost from most stories — a flawed hero and a seemingly throwaway antagonist who is actually powerful enough to topple the stars. These elements combine to create a legitimate risk that characters important to the story can be killed. Game of Thrones banks on this kind of storytelling, but imagine trying to kill off Spider-Man? Franchise characters have layers of invulnerability where, even if they die, they get better. Their deaths don’t last. Nobody can kill Superman, not really. The same might not be able to be said for creator-owned content, like our story here.


Not that Tokyo Ghost is lacking for distinct, stand out characters. My favorite part of this issue is Sean and colorist Matt Hollingsworth’s depiction of the oni gang’s costumes. Particularly striking were the demon masks worn by the more disfigured members of the crew, and their assortment of weapons. I enjoy the flashing swords of the heroes, and the sais and ninja stars and pikes and other period weapons are a real joy to see used in such a pulpy manner. Their rare authenticity adds to the mystery of the world. I also love the setting, battles beneath temples and blossoms, on the edge of a waterfall. The rich atmosphere draws back to the tight writing. The thirst for revenge that drives the gang feels at home in a tale of ancient demons, but Remender pulls it off with a casual, modern style.

The boys having such a good time here is a bit of a double-edged sword. Verbal fencing being simultaneous with physical fighting is practically a pillar of the genre, but all that talk can border on becoming a lecture on honor. These warriors clash from atop soapboxes. The actual fighting is as frantic and copious as the dialog. It can be hard to follow who is slicing up what. Remender himself seems to be aware of this (saying in the letters column that “visual whiplash is the perfect description of what we wanted to accomplish”.) The creator-controlled nature of this comic allows for Remender and Murphy to be so sure of what they’re doing that it falls upon the reader to try to keep up with them. Rick writes half a dozen comics a month, talks at length about shriveled dicks and has the utmost confidence in himself. A new Warren Ellis? Might could be.

Image Comics/$3.99

Written by Rick Remender.

Art by Sean Murphy.

Colors by Matt Hollingsworth.

Letters by Rus Wooton.

6 out of 10