I don’t think I had heard of this one before, but I was in my local comic shop and I saw this one on the used shelf. I was immediately interested as I am a sucker of Samurai as you know. Then I read the think I skimmed the description on the back and my eyes saw future, samurai, and demon. I was sold. Honestly I thought I knew more or less what this one was about, but I was way off.
Frank Miller is probably the most famous name in comic books other than Stan Lee. He has created and written some of the most famous comics out there. Two of my favorites are The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One, both are superb. Perhaps his most famous is the stent he wrote for Daredevil for Marvel. I have not read it but I have not heard a single person say a bad thing about it. He also wrote the 300 and is credited with creating the character Elektra, which I did not know. I have only read a hand full of his works but everything I have read is really great. He is one of the most creative minds in comics and that is saying something.
The story is about a post-apocalyptic society in New York where a new technology, cybergenics, is just coming online. There is a major corporation working in a facility called Aquarius where this new technology is taking off. At the center of all this is a quadriplegic boy named Billy who has some telekinetic powers to help advance the technology and uses his powers to transport a Ronin though time along with the demon Agat. There is also an advance A.I. called Virgo who runs and maintains the facility and as the story goes on has a sinister plot of her own. As the story develops Billy begins to learn more about his powers and the rest of the characters begin to uncover Virgo’s plot.
I think this could very well be the most creative and bizarre comic that I have ever read, and that is saying something. As I mentioned above I love the samurai and reading about them, but this story really has almost nothing to do with the samurai at least how I thought it might. Don’t get me wrong there is a Ronin in the story, but it is the weirdest strange plot that involves a Ronin from feudal Japan.
Regardless of the name I felt the story had next to nothing to do with the Ronin, but instead was more about technology and the future, and honestly the title is very misleading. The Ronin was just a device to advance, or give it a starting point. I honestly cannot describe how Miller starts in one point and does a complete 180 and ends in some other crazy point that is the most extreme and opposite from where he started. How does someone take a Ronin from feudel Japan and end up weaving a story about a future society where a powerful telekinetic is taking over. The scary thing about all that is that it actually works, for the most part. That is the thing I am struggling with is how extreme the story is from start to finish and the whole sifi aspect that the story brings to the table. At times it was reminiscent of something Neil Gaiman would write, but still flows quite nicely.
Despite the story totally switching gears and still being able to generate and keep the readers interest it is not without its faults. I felt the story was way too wordy. I think Miller tried to shove as many small scenes as he could on one page and squeeze the maximum amount of dialogue into those tiny scenes. Thorough the majority of the book I was mostly annoyed by this aspect and I felt made the story longer than it needed to be. I know I am usually on the other side of the fence about the length of comics, but this one was too long with too much dialogue and a lot of it was mostly useless I felt. There were a lot of wasted scenes in my opinion filled with useless dialogue that did not necessarily do much for the story. Things that could have been summed up in a scene or two seemed to be dragged out for entire pages. As I have said this was very annoying for me as the story seemed to stall at certain points and just sit in limbo for pages at a time. I know that stories that move too fast are just as bad but this extreme is no better, somewhere in the middle is best but that is very hard to achieve.
The artwork in this on is very strange. Miller drew it himself which I think is somewhat subpar if I am being harsh. He drew a very similar style in The Dark Knight Returns, but for some reason in that book the similar style was more refined. In Ronin it was rougher and not as pleasing to the eye. Personally it was not one of my favorites but I also have to keep in mind of the time frame when this was released, which was before I was born. So I will say that Miller at the time when most artwork was pretty much all the same dared to do something different so kudos for that. As far as the colors go I again felt that they were faded and not as sharp as they could have been. Despite there being a ton of bright colors on the pages they failed to really pop off the page like so many other books with similar color schemes. In typical Miller fashion there were some different page layouts, but as I mentioned above most of the time they were quite annoying as he tried to fit as many words as he could in each scene. But when there was minimal dialogue and the page was laid out differently it did make for a better finished product. So while visually the page layouts were something new and different, the fact that he cluttered them up with dialogue seemed counterproductive, but it was cool to almost always be surprised when I turned the page. I will also say that there were some cool full page splashes with some brighter colors that were a nice added bonus, and at the end there is an actual fold out page with some cool visual effects. Taking the time this was published into account I think these foldout type pages were the first of their kind, I could be wrong on that, either way it is a really cool a different aspect.
All in all this one was not bad, and certainly has stood the test of time. I will say that it is mostly under the radar but not a bad one. However it does have its flaws, mainly in the dialogue heavy pages, but the artwork could also be a drawback to some. I will also say that I think many of the ideas presented in this story were well ahead of their time in the sifi realm, which was something I was not expecting. I also found the plot to this very similar to the cartoon Samuari Jack, which is awesome!, you should check it out if you have a chance. The writer for that cartoon said he was influenced by this book, and you can see the similarities for sure. For nostalgic purposes this is probably one you need to check out, if you call yourself a true comic fan, but if you don’t I won’t hold it against you as there are definitely better stories out there. I think it is important to read older comics and understand the evolution of where we are now, so for those aspects I recommend this one.