Ninjas evolved with the time, but while the tools have changed, their tasks, traditions, and discipline remain the same. For their tenth anniversary in 2013, Aspen Comics released Legend of the Shadow Clan as part of their 10 for 10 series, a short-lived title that brings the spies and assassins of ancient Japan into modern America. Brad Foxhoven conceived the story written by David Wohl and brought to life by the artwork of Cory Smith and John Starr.

After being called into work late at night, Richard Himura stumbled on the dead body of his co-worker while  the assassin was still in the room. A/fter surviving the encounter, the Himura family find themselves targeted after their lineage from a ninja clan blamed for the death of Oda Nobunaga, the emperor that tried to unify Japan, was discovered. After Richard and his wife were abducted, it comes to their children and Mr. Himura’s father to find them while surviving the assassins trying to exterminate them all and discovering their lineage for themselves.

In the beginning, David establishes the role of ninjas in modern America, serving clients such as CEOs and Chairmen rather than their old masters, through the narration of ninja clan head Koji Tokurei. While Koji continues to narrate, Cory’s and John’s skills come into play showing the terrifying efficiency of Mr. Tokurei’s clan through dramatic angling, the dark colors of night over the ocean, and the use of modern guns and drones with traditional swords and shuriken. No one explains the reason for any of the clan’s missions, but the reason doesn’t matter, only their success.

David moves onto establishing the family, starting with Brayden, the oldest son, who tends to spend his free time in his own little world, which often gets him in trouble. After finally hearing the late bell to his next class, Brayden’s parkour and misdirection skills are shown as he attempts to get back into the school building while avoiding school security.

 After Brayden arrives home from detention again, you’re finally introduced to the rest of the family. Morgan, the straight-laced sister of the trio, and Pogo, the technologically adept kid brother, pick on Brayden for his repeated punishment. Constantly being in trouble, Brayden avoids returning his sibling’s barbs. Morgan and Pogo tend to pick on each other, but Brayden has no high ground to work from like his siblings do.

Richard and his wife, Evie, both seem well involved in their children’s well-being despite being busy professionals. The scene establishes Evie as a third grade teacher, having to arrive late from conferences and grading her student’s work at home. Richard is shown cooking dinner, but his wife infers that it’s a rare treat. Of course, he’s called back into work in the middle of dinner, showing just how busy his job keeps him.

When it comes time to act for the children, they display their skills in ways that surprise themselves, whether it’s Brayden’s elusiveness, Morgan’s martial arts training, or Pogo’s technical knowledge. Outside of the feats they accomplish, the children act accordingly to their character, panicking at the new obstacles presented. The story and narration want you to believe that their feats are simply ‘in their blood’.

The story arc’s ending cleans up the current story, but makes it obvious the creators wanted to do more. It leaves a number of questions to be answered, like if the Himura’s ancestors were really at fault for Oda Nobunaga’s death, and why do other clans still hold their grudge? While the story and the ad at the end promised an eventual continuation in 2014, it never happens.

Despite the generic sounding title, the cover art and the letter styling makes up for it in attracting attention. Most covers have the characters arranged and posed with traditional weapons among a modern urban setting. Even close up cover pages show the contrast of traditional weapons with modern clothing. While appealing, they do not depict the characters as where they are in the story’s development. The curved style of the title’s lettering also add to the cover’s subject matter and the comic’s theme by making the English letters appear as close as possible to Japanese calligraphy.

The realistic art style in the urban setting, often during the night, lends well to the darker tones of this series. The children’s actions keep the story feeling like a slightly mature version of the old DC Animated Universe from the 90s and 2000s. The violence is rarely censored, with only a few things such as an execution drawn ‘off screen’, showing the sword swing and the resulting blood splatter. Despite the use of blood, there is not a lot of overly gory imagery, only showing up when you, as a reader, would expect it to.

Even the style of the narration blocks add to the theme of the story. Usually, the darkened narration blocks do depict the darkened tone of the story, but the shuriken-like design of the text boxes naming the setting added a nice touch.

While Legend of the Shadow Clan focuses primarily showing off how modern ninjas evolved, it’s just as much about a family’s survival while discovering their history. Older young adults or fans of ninjas in general will enjoy this series as it rarely holds anything back as far as content and action goes. While I do not think Aspen will return to this title, it’s worth picking up and giving a read.

If you’re interested in this 6 year old series, you can find it in digital and physical formats. Purchase Legend of the Shadow Clan for Kindle or your tablet through Amazon and Comixology. The whole series is $7.99, or 99 cents for issue 1 and $1.99 for the remaining issues. Aspen Comics sells the hard copies through their website with issue 1 going for $1, and the remaining issues for $3.99.