Ningen’s Nightmares by J.P. Kalonji – Dark Horse – $12.99
Sometimes sequels can take an already good property and raise it to new heights. The Empire Strikes back and Aliens immediately come to mind. Both took a successful and well-received property and fleshed them out, creating new avenues for storytelling and character development. Even Terminator 2 pushed the story forward built up the mythos. And the crowning achievement may be Evil Dead 2 which re-wrote the original and took the story beyond what anyone could have imagined.
Then there are other sequels. Raiders of the Lost Ark was followed by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The Matrix gave us Matrix Reloaded. And Pitch Black gave birth to the Chronicles of Riddick. In each of these cases, the original property was cheapened because of the additional baggage which were heaped on by these poorly conceived sequels.
Unfortunately, Ningen’s Nightmares, the sequel to the highly acclaimed 365 Samurai and a Few Bowls of Rice, falls into the latter category. What had been an elegantly told story was turned into a plodding book which heaped on the supernatural, ramped up the exposition, and deviated tremendously from the artistic style of the original. It is safe to say that Ningen’s Nightmares was a little disappointing.
Ningen’s Nightmares was a comic I was REALLY looking forward to reading. I had enjoyed the original tremendously, so when I heard that another book was being produced, I was thrilled. But the experience of reading the sequel is best compared to the difference between Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick.
It is not that Chronicles of Riddick was bad. Standing on its own it was a fairly decent movie filled with some great costumes, some neat fight scenes, and a couple of cool moments. The problem is mostly that it was not closer to Pitch Black. It should have been its own movie. Its own mythos. But, by using the Riddick name as a base, it pissed all over the original. Now everything about Pitch Black is tainted because of the layers of mythology, supernatural, and CGI which were heaped upon its sequel.
The same can be said about what has happened to the character of Ningen and the story of 365 Samurai. Ningen’s Nightmares took the main character from the previous story and expanded him and made him into a mythical being. It radically changed everything we did (or did not) know about the character and turned him into something completely different. Instead of being a wandering monk on a mission, now Ningen is much more. He is a being capable of regenerating as well as being the key to multiple possibilities in the cosmos. It is akin to the difference between the Riddick we saw in Pitch Black (a criminal who was tough as nails and had the grit and determination to survive) and the Riddick we see in Chronicles (a demi-god).
Ningen’s Nightmares also radically changed the method of storytelling. The first book was 400 pages. Each page was a single, simple panel and most of the book was silent. Each panel was a work of art, reminiscent of the best of Jeff Smith. There was an elegance in its simplicity, making the reader appreciate each line. Ningen’s Nightmares is 120 pages, with each page boasting no less than four panels. It is not that the art is poor. Far from it! J.P. Kalonji is a great artist! But the clarity of storytelling suffers as he tries to cram so much into each page. There were several sequences in the book which were unclear because of panel progression, word balloon placement, and the assumption that the surrounding panels would be able to clarify what was happening. With 365 Samurai, there were non of those crutches. Each panel had to stand alone. As a result, the storytelling in 365 Samurai was significantly stronger than in Ningen’s Nightmares.
Pitch Black was pretty straight forward and required little explanation. However Riddick required a whole voice over introduction and a lot of exposition by the characters. Riddick stands on its own as a movie, but it does not stand out. It is pretty basic sci-fi/action fare. The Chronicles of Riddick could have stood on its own. All that would be needed was a new character name, and Pitch Black could have been left untouched. But because it was made, anyone who watches it first cannot go back and enjoy the original Pitch Black without thinking about all those god-like powers Riddick possesses. It becomes an either/or. Either you watch both movies and accept that Riddick is really a demi-god, or you choose one movie to watch and skip the others.
Unfortunately the same applies to the character of Ningen. Either you read Ningen’s Nightmares and accept that this humble monk is actually an immortal who wields powers immeasurable. Or you choose one book to read and do not read the other. For my money, I would choose to read 365 Samurai and a Few Bowls of Rice, and leave Ningen’s Nightmares for someone else to discover. Hopefully J.P. Kalonji will leave Ningen alone and begin a new story. He is a talented writer and a great artist, and i look forward to reading more from him in the future. I will just skip the sequels.
Ningen’s Nightmares is available today from Dark Horse. You can check out an 8 page preview here. If you are a fan of Chronicles of Riddick and think this new twist on the story of Ningen sounds intriguing, you can order your own copy of Ningen’s Nightmares. But, if you were more a fan of Pitch Black and are looking for an elegantly told story of a humble warrior monk, then I suggest you check out 365 Samurai and a Few Bowls of Rice.