The Original Samurai Jack (Ronin by Frank Miller)
In Feudal Japan, a young nameless samurai protects his master from assassins, but after the demon Agat takes the form of a geisha and kills the Lord, the samurai now shamed, becomes a Ronin. Before he commits ritual suicide, he is visited by the spirit of his lord, telling him to avenge him. In his final act, with Agat’s own blade that must spill innocent blood to fell the demon, the Ronin takes himself and Agat down with the same stab at once. Both perishing, Agat curses the Ronin to be bound to him even in death. Eight millennium later, in a war torn and decrepit New York full of cannibals, mutants, and freaks, there lies the Aquarius Complex, the headquarters of the Aquarius Corporation. Billy Challas, born without any limbs due to a genetic defect and has telekinetic powers, works with A.I. Virgo to develop his psionic abilities and Billy tests cutting-edge prosthetic limbs. Billy has been having vivid dreams of the story of Ozaki, the ronin, and Agat. Through a series of events, the Ronin’s spirit possess Billy’s body as Agat resurfaces to take control of Aquarius.
This was a weird trip of a read for something that did not have the name Grant Morrison on it. Frank Miller is a name nearly every comic fan knows, since he is immortalized for his work on Dark Knight, Batman Year one, and Daredevil. Miller is also notoriously controversial, not everything he has written has been well revered. As time has moved on, he has seemed to get worse, but in the 80’s, too many he could do no wrong. Miller wrote this six issue miniseries in 1983 for DC, as it was published in premium format for singles. A lot of what would be put into Ronin came when he was doing research for Daredevil, like watching kung-fu movies, martial arts, or old samurai media.
I was curious to read this after coming across it on the shelf of my local shop a few months back, wondering why I had never heard of it. I love samurai media, and Miller was close to a sure bet for the time, but it was not what I was expecting. Mostly cyberpunk with Japanese influences, it was a bizarre and often hard to understand read. Miller’s art has never been to my liking, looking very crude and ugly, but that somewhat fit the story he tried to tell. Playing with themes of man vs machine, part 2001 A Space Odyssey, and part traditional samurai tales, it’s a mixed bag of quality that wears its identity on its sleeve.
It’s impossible to deny the influence this series had on what came after, as nearly every piece Miller did during this time was. Look at something like Samurai Jack that takes a lot from this story, like the setting and premise of a samurai in the future. While this influence cannot be dismissed, it did not hold up as story to me.
Ambitious, bold, pop cultured influenced, a bit shallow, a tad derivative, self-righteous, but completely Miller. This series might have been historically significant when it was released, but it is not the masterpiece it was made out to be over the passage of time.
6 Bloodeater swords out of 10