Comics Ate My Brain

April 20, 2008

Brief thoughts after re-reading Ronin

Filed under: questions, ronin — Tom Bondurant @ 1:16 am
(By the way, I’m writing this while listening to “Night On Disco Mountain” from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Wasn’t intentional; just worked out that way. Seems eerily appropriate.)

Since DC’s doing an Absolute Edition of Ronin, I thought it appropriate to re-read the thing for the first time in … well, several years. Maybe even ten years. Heck, maybe closer to fifteen.

For those who don’t know, Ronin was six issues, 48 pages each, of Frank Miller sci-fi samurai action. It came out in 1983, which I think was around the end of his first stint on Daredevil. (Not being a DD scholar I can’t say for sure.) Anyway, it came out before The Dark Knight, and was collected in 1987 in order to capitalize on Dark Knight‘s success.

The plot concerns a few major characters. The title character (never named) is a warrior whose master was killed by a demon, Agat, in feudal Japan. Naturally, both the ronin and Agat show up in a dystopian future New York, which has at its center the bio-mechanical Aquarius complex. Aquarius is controlled by the supercomputer Virgo, but its human master is a man named Taggart, and its chief security officer is a woman named Casey McKenna. There’s also Casey’s husband, who created Virgo. Basically, the ronin takes over a limbless telekinetic boy, gets a set of artificial limbs, and tries once again to stop Agat (who’s taken over Taggart).

There’s more, of course, but I don’t want to get too far into it. Wikipedia says Ronin is Miller’s most manga-influenced work, but I’m tempted to describe it (glibly) as “Samurai Jack” meets Heavy Metal via Akira. It also seems to have been Miller’s first “mature readers” book, although there’s no such advisory on my paperback and none on the Absolute’s solicitation. There are a lot of racial slurs and a decent amount of nudity to go along with all the hacking and slashing.

But I digress. If you’ve read it, you know how it ends, so my question is …

(SPOILERS)

3

2

1

… what the heck does it mean?

I read Ronin the first few times mostly for the superficial elements: violence, robots, nudity, etc. If I’m going to even entertain the thought of an Absolute edition, I’ll need something a little more thematically coherent. Miller spends a lot of the climax selling the reader on the idea that Billy is (re)creating the ronin and Agat in the context of Aquarius — but the ending suggests both that the ronin is dead and that Billy has recreated himself as the ronin.

So, is that it? The book just stops cold at that point.

I guess I’m asking whether we like Ronin 25 years later; and/or whether we consider it an example of the style-over-substance, pants-seat-plotting Miller of, say, The Dark Knight Strikes Back.

Mostly I guess I’m asking whether we like the ending. I didn’t a few days ago, but I’m starting to warm up to it the more I think about it.

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