Ronin, by Frank Miller, is a hard book to summarize without giving too much away. The plot begins in feudal Japan, where a heroic Ronin seeks to avenge his lord’s death at the hands of the shapeshifting demon Agat. The book then intercuts to a grim, post apocalyptic New York, where the Aquarius corporation is trying to rebuild a city overrun by cannibals, Nazis, and racial supremists. An artificial intelligence named Virgo, made out of adapting, evolving plastic, is the key to this reconstruction.

In this grim, urban environment, Agat and the Ronin are reincarnated, continuing their ancient duel, but this is a science fiction story, and things are not what they seem…

Ronin was an amazing accomplishment back in 1983, when an original graphic novel by a major american publisher was unheard of. Although post apocalyptic environments no longer have the urgent immediacy they may have had in the cold war driven 80s, Ronin has cutting edge and universal elements that still hold up today.

Miller makes interesting use of archetypes in this story. The AI character, Virgo, is an evil mother figure, a female Hal 2000, that is one of the more powerful visions of artificial intelligence I’ve seen in fiction. Then there’s the counterbalance of the very male, phallic Ronin, traditional japanese figure of masculinity, fighting the primal, animal creature Agat, while the staples of the modern world: corporate ceo’s, scientists,, investors, and security agents, are caught in the middle.

Miller is able to blend these diverse elements together into a story that makes sense and has a coherent beginning, middle and end. The art in this book is minimalistic, scratchy, and stylized, with a very limited color palette. Though at first I found it to be unimpressive, it’s stylized goodness grew on me as the story sucked me in. The art is, I supose a bit uneven. Some of the stuff focusing on the leads is brilliant, while Miller is less skilled with group or city shots.

Highly recommended.

Publisher: DC Comics
Author: Frank Miller
Self Contained Graphic Novel