Lego Ninjago: Garmadon Volume 1 – Comics Review

Lego Ninjago: Garmadon Volume 1

  • Writer: Tri Vuong
  • Illustrator: Tri Vuong
  • Publisher: Image
  • Collects issues #1-5

Grade: B+

One of the great things about comics, especially comics about long-standing characters, is seeing how individual talents can bring their own individual voice to territory that’s familiar to all. Publishers like DC and Marvel have so many long-standing characters, but they regularly invite artists to create their own arcs, regardless of how it upends the canon. Lego and Ninjago may not have as much of a cultural footprint as Superman or Iron Man, but they’ve had enough output across TV and movies (lest you forgot, The Lego Ninjago Movie only came out five years ago) to have a solid reputation and established characters.

Enter writer and artist Tri Vuong’s Lego Ninjago: Garmadon, a collection of five issues that tell less of an origin story for the titular anti-hero and more a stop along the road to redemption. An encyclopedic knowledge of Ninjago isn’t necessary to enjoy Garmadon, but it’s probably best to at least have a passing familiarity with the characters. Nevertheless, Vuong uses the first handful of pages as a primer on Garmadon’s backstory and how he fits within the world. 

Vuong’s best touches are in Garmadon’s inner turmoil as he struggles with his true nature: how much of his evil side can he hold back, and how much is he willing to embrace it? This manifests several times throughout the volume as dream sequences where Garmadon is literally fighting with himself. Sure, it’s not the most original conceit, but it’s effective character work. And while he deals with the internal struggle, he’s wrestling with how much he should or should not help a small village as they crawl out from underneath the thumb of a demeaning biker gang. 

The story at large isn’t anything that hasn’t already been seen in a dozen samurai or Kurosawa or John Ford films, but it retains the Lego penchant for irreverent humor every now and again. I went into this suspicious that Lego’s signature comedic tendencies – which were crystalized by Lord and Miller in The Lego Movie – would almost be overwhelming, but I’m happy to report that it only comes up in fits and starts. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to say that Garmadon is bright and poppy (thanks to colorist Annalisa Leoni), but Vuong brings a nice sketchbook flair to it all. Cover art is meant to be flashy and draw attention to itself, but each of the five issues (courtesy of Vuong & Leoni, Tom Whalen, and more) are some of the highlights of my collection this year – my personal favorite is issue 4’s variant cover. Splash pages are few and far between, and they make an impact by highlighting the epic clash between Garmadon and his newfound rival with vibrant colors and dynamic action.

The anti-hero story felt like it was played out when it was the basis for nearly every prestige TV show or Oscar bait film. Thankfully Vuong dedicates less to whether Garmadon will do the right thing, and more to whether he believes he’s worthy of redemption or not. I haven’t convinced my seven-year old to read the series yet, but I’m sure it’s one that he could find enjoyment in, a rare feat for comics to appeal to young and old alike. This is a solid foundation to what will hopefully be a long-running series. Other creatives will likely be brought on to write future installments, but it will be hard to top what Vuong has started here.

Lego Ninjago: Garmadon volume 1 is available now at bookstores and online wherever books are sold. The collected volume will be available November 16.

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