When I first heard the premise of Toots Malloy: Blues Ninja, I was skeptical. A marmoset who plays saxophone, and is also a ninja. Isn’t that a bit of a hat-on-a-hat? Can you really bring all those things together into a single character without it feeling forced or unnecessary?
Apparently, you can.
By the time I finished page 1, all doubts fled my mind. The missing element that pulls it all together is the pulpy, film noir grittiness that joins the world of blues with that of ninjas seamlessly. The book’s cinematic quality hooked me, and when I arrived at the cliffhanger ending, I couldn’t believe the issue was already over. Fortunately, the bonus short story included with the first issue helped soften the blow.
The writing by Patrick Cline is quite solid. Despite relying heavily on Toots’ internal monologue, it never feels exposition-y and lends to the noir tone of the book. Toots’ voice itself is reminiscent of hard-boiled detectives, gruff and blunt. We don’t spend too much time meeting any of the other characters, but since this is the first issue, it makes sense to put Toots in the spotlight.
The story in this issue is rather uncomplicated: Toots has been tasked by his ninja sect to recover an artifact from a yakuza thug, but all is not quite what it seems. While in itself the story is nothing new, it serves well for a first issue, as it allows time to build the world, adding fun details and some great action.
Speaking of the action, artist Matt Rooke is let loose in Toots, with significantly more bloody action than his all-ages comic, Apes ‘n’ Capes. The fight scene in the middle of the issue was a delight, with cinematic framing that made it flow perfectly, and an amazing splash page to top it off. The comic is black and white, a trait that enhances the noir tone much like it did in Sin City. When colour is used, it’s just red, and it’s used sparingly and to excellent effect. For a final treat, as any who’ve read Apes know, Rooke is a master at rendering animals, and he gets to show more of his range in this story, with monkeys, rhinos, cats, and a menagerie of other animals making appearances.
Cline’s short at the back of the book, which serves as a bit of an origin story for Toots, reveals that this world has definitely been well thought-out. I also think it was clever to keep that story as a separate short instead of trying to work it into the first issue. When we meet Toots, he’s well into his double life, and we don’t really need to see his backstory.
Toots Malloy Issue #1 gets off to a great start, and I only hope the rest of the series continues to deliver. Hopefully, we’ll the rest of the characters will get fleshed out a bit more, and as long as Rooke keeps delivering on the action scenes, I’ll keep reading!
Find out more about Toots Malloy: Blues Ninja here!