Frank Miller, writer/artist
If The Dark Knight Strikes Again is Frank Miller’s brain on SPX, I suppose Ronin is Frank Miller’s brain on Shogun Assassin. I’d say Lone Wolf and Cub proper or some other manga touchstone, but the thing is that my own comparative ignorance of Japanese comics and Miller’s enormous influence on Western ones make it hard for me to see evaluate this formally as anything but a Frank Miller Comic that happens to use samurai and Akira-style science fiction.
It’s a very good Frank Miller Comic in fact. Back then his art had this doodly/sketchy quality—lots of little loops and bubbles and curlicues—that had yet to solidify into the hyperrealist noir of the first Sin City chapters in Dark Horse Presents and thence to recede to the chunky bigfoot self-satire of DKSA or the later Sin City books. It’s a bold style, perfect for conveying enormity by expanding the blobby details to the edge of the page or isolating action by stripping them away and letting the remaining figures slash through them. It’s also beautifully colored by Miller’s now ex-collaborator Lynn Varley; no one has used greens this effectively before or since.
Storywise it combines the familiar Japanese pulp tropes mentioned above with the uniquely Millerian idiom of topless black bondage Nazi gangs (cf. The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City), evil corporations painted with an hilariously broad satirical brush (cf. Hard Boiled), and sinister omnipotent female computer programs (cf. Martha Washington–man, if in some future FM Batman comic the Batcomputer ever gets referred to as “she,” watch out). But moreso than in any Miller comics save perhaps his collaborations with David Mazzuchelli, there’s a refreshing space left for the human element. While there’s obviously a lot of “he is the Hero, he is everything” to be found here, much of the plot is driven by the comparatively quotidian doings of the Aquarius Complex’s worker bees: middle management, staff psychiatrists, laborers pissed off at the treatment of the fellow workers, an idealistic scientist and his security-guard girlfriend whose story of success-driven estrangement would fit nicely into a late-’90s period piece about a dot-com startup. So it’s easy to forgive some narrative lapses, like a jarring bit of told-not-shown infodumping about how the ronin entered the modern world whose raison d’etre only becomes apparent at the end of the story, and simply focus on the pleasures of the art and the tempered-gonzo writing. Capping it all off is a brancinglysudden ending and final image of triumph-through-simply-existing that I really wish more genre comics would ape. I will enjoy rereading this comic every four years or so until I die.