Frank Miller is considered to have helped change the face of comics with his ground-breaking Batman story The Dark Knight Returns. However, this would never been possible had he not been provided with the opportunity to hone much of the style so evident in the Dark Knight before embarking on it. And the stomping ground he used to try out his ideas was Ronin.
Set in a bleak future, Ronin brings together many common aspects of dark science fiction, from the giant untouchable corporation to the artificial intelligence with an agenda of its own. Interspersed with this is a traditional Japanese story of a fallen Samurai looking to restore his honour by avenging the death of his master, clearly inspired by Koike and Kojima‘s Lone Wolf and Cub.
The weight of its influences are many, which can lead to an almost clichéd feel to some of the plot developments, though it’s easy to let these float past as you’re whisked away by the beautiful artwork. Miller uses as much space as he needs to tell the story, whether it’s a dramatic full spread showing off a simple image of a vast cityscape, a fast-paced samurai combat scene with manga’s characteristic speed lines, or a single panel crammed with essential dialogue. There’s plenty of room for all of these to live and breathe, yet barely an inch of space is wasted.
Next to The Dark Knight Returns, this isn’t as tightly plotted, though the artwork more than stands up on its own. Science fiction fanatics are likely to get more out of this than those more interested in the samurai side of things, but it’s the Frank Miller fan who’s going to get the biggest thrill of all. Ronin is a groundbreaking piece of graphic literature, bringing together a wide variety of influences and gelling ancient heroes with futuristic technology. But by paving the way for The Dark Knight Returns, all graphic novel fans owe its existence a debt of gratitude.