Review: “Kabuki – Masks of The Noh” (Image Comics)

Throughout history, Noh masks were believed to be a way of hiding Japanese ghosts as these masks had the ability to absorb negative energy and thoughts. It came to be known that the mask that would capture the entity, and transform it into an evil spirit. If someone would carelessly wear the Noh mask, the soul of that person would be sucked from their body and they too would become that evil persona.

Kabuki is a graphic novel/comic book series created by artist and writer David Mack, released by several different publishers.  This story is about an assassin who struggles with her identity in a near-future Japan. This great comic book series was re-visited in the 2009 mini-series, Kabuki: The Alchemy Series under the vast umbrella of Marvel Comics and Icon Comics.  It was later reprinted with several different covers, but the storyline remained as dark, intense, and addictive as ever. 

There are three things that make this series so intriguing: the masks, the characters, and the artwork. 

As mentioned above, the book is set in an alternate version of Japan in the not-too-distant future. In the first volume, readers are introduced to the background of The Noh and meet some incredible characters.  The Noh is a government organization that recruits deadly assassins, each of whom bear a dragon tattoo on their backs and a bulletproof Kabuki mask covering, specially designed for them, concealing their true identity. 

One assassin named Ukkio has a tormented start in life, but becomes an important figure in The Noh organization. After being groomed to become an assassin and sent to be brought up by her father the General, she becomes a ferocious warrior. Ukkio wears a mask that is crafted in the image of her dead mother.  

Ukkio suffers a near-fatal injury in battle, but manages to escape to her mother’s grave where she prays, and is suddenly abducted by The Noh’s rival agency known as Control Corps. They hide her in an asylum for nine months before she escapes.

Since Ukkio’s abduction, The Noh organization has crumbled, leaving only seven assassins who have been dispatched to locate and kill Ukkio. This is where two agents, code names Scarab and Tiger Lily, befriend each other, causing complications with their mission. Ukkio herself manages to escape and find a new life.

Another great thing about the Kabuki series is the artwork. A completely different artist is selected to draw each assassin. This is a very inspired approach, leaving readers stimulated to read slower, enjoying the variety in each character’s weapons and clothing. However, you may not even know that there was a different artist if you’re not aware ahead of time, as the character artwork is so deftly in sync with the overall style.

I can’t wait to see the other assassins mentioned in future books. The next several volumes have some great characters like the twin siamese assassins born conjoined at the arm, and a mysterious agent called Snap Dragon.  Ice is the most dedicated Noh assassin. She wears a transparent bra and combat trousers.  She has a surgically adapted arm that contains sub-zero ice packs and her fingers are her second weapon of choice, diamond-tipped claws containing poison-tipped Shurikens. Her Noh mask, the simplest of all masks, has a curled spiral between her eyes.

What will they get into next?

It is so fun to see the different masks and how they reflect each character’s personalities.  I encourage you to check out the history behind the Noh masks of Japan, and see if you spot any that are similar to those in the pages of Kabuki: Masks of The Noh. I can’t wait to read the next volumes. 

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