'K.I.A.' pride
Posted 09:21pm (Mla time) May 01, 2005 By Ruel S. de Vera / Inquirer News Service Editor's
Note: Published on page D2 of the May 2, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

"K.I.A. Vol. I, Kai: Indomitable Assassin"
Created by Marco Dimaano 2005, 160 pages

EVEN when Marco Dimaano introduced her as the preeminent rival to the titular begoggled super-heroine in his "Angel Ace" comic book, the raven-haired, flinty-eyed assassin Kai Mishima (a.k.a. Agent K) always stood out from her introduction very early in the series.

Unlike the cookie-cutter, super-powered protagonist, Kai had a darker, edgier side to her, as Agent K had lost her memory and was all business all the time. Dimaano portrayed her as a rather thoughtful, intelligent and ultimately tragic figure, one that seemingly met her doom near the end of the last arc, "Angel Ace Next."

Now Agent K steps into the limelight, obviously alive and very much kicking (and stabbing and chopping, among other deadly movements). The self-published "K.I.A. Vol. I, Kai: Indomitable Assassin" features 13 short stories plus pinups in an affordable, black-and-white manga-sized anthology.

Dimaano writes most of the stories and illustrates three of them. Meanwhile, he has assembled a talented roster of other writers and artists to join in what is effectively an assassin's jam: Gerry Alanguilan, Dean Alfar, Nikki Alfar, Jeremy Arambulo, Arnold Arre, Michael Banting, Chad Cabrera, Karen Cheung, Joel Chua, Andrew Drilon, Honoel Ibardolaza, Jon Mallari, Marvin del Mundo, Elbert Or, Jennyson Rosero, Michael Seludo, Edgar Tadeo, Taga-ilog, Wilson Tortosa and Anthony Yap, indeed a murderer's row of Filipino comic talent.

"K.I.A." effectively provides not only the further adventures of Agent K and a satisfying explanation of her otherwise surprising survival following her apparent death. In "K.I.A.," we see Agent K at her busiest, doing the one thing she knows: killing.

From ingenious new ways of getting to the target to having to dispose of entire gangs of opponents, "K.I.A." gives what amounts to a workaday view of Kai as the consummate professional. We will doubtlessly see more of these elements in the anthology's future installments as Dimaano uncovers more of Kai's back story.

Strong art

Dimaano's clean, strong art combines western comic book influences and a more obvious manga effect: the resulting product really is something else altogether. It is funny and sardonic at times, and grimly action-oriented at other times. Indeed, "K.I.A." is a survey of the hitperson at work, so it is fiercely, unapologetically violent with much bloodshed and graphic blade work.

It's always something else when Dimaano gets to write and illustrate the adventures of his darker creation. There is a fluidity, a focused intensity, even delight to Dimaano's handling of Kai's stories in "The New Girl," "Mouse Trap" and the essential "A Shock To The System," all welcome departures from the cheerful escapism of "Angel Ace."

There's the tragic anime-flavored "Dreamkiller" and the cartoon-laced "Battery Included." The edgiest story is "Zindernuef," which refers to both Kai's inner fears and some of the unseen dynamics of the K.A.L.I. organization.

The book's depth is also derived from the fact that Kai herself is a compassionate lady liquidator-a contradiction she lives with constantly, particularly when it comes to the up-and-comers who seek her place as the top assassin. And the book's energy comes from Kai's acrobatic dance of death as her killer moves fly across the page like spinning shurikens.

Similarly, "K.I.A." also shines with the combined diversity of its cast of capable contributors, be they writers or artists. The varying styles and interpretations of Agent K maximize the power of this particular format, with something for everyone.

The revelation of "K.I.A" is artist Jennyson Rosero, whose story, "Intercept," vibrates with dynamism and elegance. A tale of Kai's escape with a purloined item from a well-guarded building, "Intercept" is the story that skews most closely to Japanese manga conventions as well as a taste of the evolution of a beloved character as portrayed by others, done to great effect.

With a few witty light moments thrown into the mix and Dimaano confidently leading the cast behind a fabulous character now deservedly on her own, "K.I.A. Vol. I" deploys solid, unabashed butt-kicking action in a world where the killer ladies have killer bodies, the battles are furious and all the roads available are forked.

Dimaano ties all the disparate stories together, weaving the tangents and the mythology into a very efficient book with different looks, much like Agent K herself, a hitwoman with all the right moves.

Available from all Comic Quest branches.