It seems that it’s been a thousand years since pirates and ninjas first took to bickering, so it was only a matter of time before someone decided to make a comic book out of it. But don’t expect any solid answers regarding which side is superior from Pirates vs. Ninjas – much like the Freddy vs. Jason film, to draw such a conclusion would not only end the series, but certainly alienate half the audience (assuming ninjas made up anything close to half the audience, which naturally they don’t but we’ll be diplomatic.)
So no, there is no resolution in this series, but resolution isn’t the point really. I had the opportunity to read a large chunk of the series, beginning with the collected graphic novel, “Pirates vs. Ninjas”, in which we follow the exploits of a crew of diverse pirates as they bump heads with hoards of identical ninjas (fitting, eh?). Actually, not all the ninjas are identical – they of course have a leader. Master Ninja Ryusei believes himself to be the reincarnation of Raiga, the original ninja, and mortal enemy of Shadow Beard, himself the original pirate. It was their initial feud that sparked the eternal struggle – each wielding a divine weapon, and neither able to truly defeat the other. Their story is told in parts as our narrator, the historian and scholar Kineas Montague, learns the fates of these seminal characters while in captivity of present day (well, present day Golden Age of Piracy) pirates who are seeking to reclaim the lost treasure of Shadow Beard himself.
The story is a good one, and entertainingly told. The art, being black and white, is good but some of the action scenes do blur together just a bit. The pirates – who, let’s face it, we’re all routing for – are a fun bunch of scallywags, and surprisingly resilient (it seems it takes more than a half dozen throwing knives in the back to bring down a pirate of this fine stock). The ninjas are themselves quite amusing, as they speak almost entirely in fortune cookie-like parables.
This first edition of the Pirates vs. Ninja stories is a fine start. Playing well off the stereotypes of each, fans of pirates and ninjas alike will have much to entertain them, and find many times to smile gleefully as their own chosen heroes “stick it” to the opposition. However, the homogeneous nature of the ninjas does lead them to come across a little bit as mere story fodder, while the more colorful pirates bring a bit more personality to the equation. This, however, is handily remedied in the second installment.
“Pirates vs. Ninjas II: Up the Ante!” is a marked improvement over its predecessor in every respect. Not only is this graphic novel rendered in glorious color, but the pirates and ninjas alike feature new and interesting characters. While most all the ninja characters are entirely new, the pirates feature a mix of the swabs from the first story, as well as several new faces. And each side features a pair of truly noteworthy additions, being of the animal and feminine varieties. Yes, we have a pirate parrot and a ninja monkey who battle to the death as their human counterparts do the same. And because no pirate or ninja story is complete without a healthy dose of cleavage, we now have a quite fetching pirate and ninja chick on each side as well.
The story is a continuation of the first as we’re treated to further background of Raiga and Shadow Beard, and more details as to the fates of their sacred weapons. But this time a twist is in store as the pirates and ninjas must join forces to face a common enemy – the vikings. And while this might sound like a “they just through vikings in for the hell of it” sort of plot twist, the story is actually remarkably cohesive, and upon further exploration it’s soon discovered that the facing off of these two parties against the vikings is not only appropriate, but was quite likely inevitable from the very beginning.
Pirates vs. Ninjas 1 and 2 combined form a collection of several comics telling one long story. I would highly recommend them to any fans of the pirate genre. But as an added bonus we also have two more comics to explore at this time, those being “Ghost Pirates vs. Ghost Ninjas” and “Pirates vs. Ninjas: Debate in 08.” But where the first two books continued as a series with returning characters and plotlines, these next two comics are one shots in every respect – new characters, new art style, new everything except the basic concept of pirates vs. ninjas.
“Ghost Pirates vs. Ghost Ninjas” marks a definite shift in tone and style from the original storyline. The art is much more “cutesy,” as is the general temperament of the story. We’ve a crew of dead pirates, it seems, in an eternal struggle with a clan of dead ninja. Add to this a lost ship of mortals in the Dead Sea (complete with a young maiden) and a prophecy that whoever takes the maiden’s hand in marriage will rule the Dead Sea for a thousand years and you can pretty much guess where the story goes from there. Being only a single comic as opposed to a graphic novel, the story is brief compared to the previous tales, and lacks much of what made the primary Pirates vs. Ninjas plot such a gripping one. It remains cute and enjoyable, but not quite a “must have” comic.
“Pirates vs. Ninjas: Debate in 08” explores the concept of pirates and ninjas battling in perhaps the bloodiest arena of all – politics. Several brief segments – each with its own humor and own artistic style – delve into the political landscape as viewed through pirate and ninja prisms. While genuine political issues are mentioned, the comic remains remarkably non-partisan, opting for humor over grand-standing. While amusing, Debate in 08 is the weakest of the Pirates vs. Ninjas comics I was able to review here. Some of the art was competent, as was much of the humor, but some of the stories were rather weak on both, thus dragging down the overall quality of the comic.
All told, I would seriously advise scoring yourself copies of Pirates vs. Ninjas 1 and 2. If you have the opportunity to pick up the ghost or debate comics in addition, go for it. But it’s in the primary storyline novels that the pirate versus ninja concept is truly explored and fully executed, and these are therefore the meat and potatoes of the series.