Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Comics Review: "RONIN Book II #1" is a Shadow of the Original


STORY: Frank Miller
LAYOUTS: Frank Miller
ART: Philip Tan and Daniel Henriques
LETTERS: John Workman
BOSSES: Frank Miller, Dan DiDio, and Silenn Thomas
COVER: Philip Tan and Daniel Henriques
56pp, B&W, 7.99 U.S. (November 2022)

Ronin created by Frank Miller

Ronin is a six-issue comic book miniseries published between 1983 and 1984 by DC Comics.  The series was written and drawn by Frank Miller, with Miller's artwork painted by Lynn Varley.  Ronin takes place in a near-future New York City, a dystopia in which an unnamed ronin (in Japan, a samurai without a master) and his mortal enemy, the demon “Agat,” are reincarnated.  The series also features a security officer, Casey McKenna, “The Aquarius Corporation” and its artificial intelligence, “Virgo,” which may hold the true secrets of the ronin and Agat.

Late last year, Frank Miller's new publishing concern, Frank Miller Presents, launched a sequel to Ronin.  Entitled Ronin Book II, the series is written by Miller; drawn by Philip Tan (pencils), Daniel Henriques (inks), and Miller (layouts); and lettered by John Workman.  The new series follows Casey McKenna and her infant son, Billy, as they travel across a ravaged America.

Ronin Book II #1 finds Casey dreaming of her trials and tribulations.  The world is a vampire (so to speak), and the artificial intelligence, Virgo, still haunts Casey's life.  Now, she has a baby boy, and they must traverse the ravaged landscape of America.  However, sinister evils and the old ghosts still abound, one in the form of the infamous Agat.

THE LOWDOWN:  When the launch of Frank Miller Presents was announced to much fanfare in the spring of 2022, I was interested.  After all, Frank Miller was one of the first comic book creators whose name I learned when I started reading comic books in high school.  I found Daredevil #189 (cover dated: December 1982) in one of those comic book three-packs, I fell in love with Miller and his collaborator, Klaus Janson.  Their union would be made rock-solid (solid as a rock!) when the duo collaborated on the 1986 miniseries, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Between Daredevil and Batman, Frank Miller unleashed his landmark six-issue miniseries, Ronin.  It blended the Japanese comics (manga) with the French comics (bande dessinĂ©e) that influenced Frank Miller.  I would say that the work of French comic book creator, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, had the biggest influence on Ronin's artwork and narrative style.  Ronin was essentially Miller's Moebius comic book slash graphic novel.

In its press offerings, Frank Miller Presents has stated that Ronin Book II “captures all the energy and excitement of the original series, taking the characters and world into a direction all its own.”  I can accept that, but after reading Ronin Book II #1, I believe that a sequel to Ronin is at least 30 years too late.  Why?

Well, Ronin Book II #1 looks and reads like a comic book drawn by either Todd McFarlane or Jim Lee in the early 1990s.  That would include McFarlane's 1990-launched Spider-Man series and his Image Comics' title, Spawn (1992), and Lee's 1991-launched X-Men series and his Image title, WildC.A.T.S: Cover Action Teams (1992).

Ronin Book II #1 reads like McFarlane's “BOOM BOOM BOOM” script for Spider-Man #1 (cover dated: August 1990), and Philip Tan and Daniel Henriques' art could be a catalog of Jim Lee's pencil art inked by Scott Williams, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio, and just about every art assistant in the former Homage Studios gang.  There is indeed some beautiful panoramic black and white art, especially towards the end of the story, but...

What's it like to read this first issue.  Well, the guy who wrote powerfully in the 1980s is not as powerful now.  I wouldn't call Ronin Book II #1 incomprehensible, but I would say that it is incomprehensible that Miller thinks he can get away with a new series that seems like nothing more than a shoddy riff on the legendary manga, Lone Wolf and Cub.  So Miller may be taking Ronin Book II in “a direction all its own,” but I hope that the rest of the series does not read like old Todd McFarland and Jim Lee comics.

I don't know if I will buy any more issues of this series.  I may be too curious – because its Miller and Ronin – to just ignore Ronin Book II.  Also, I'm being generous with the grade I'm giving it.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans of Frank Miller and of his Ronin comic book will want to at least sample Ronin Book II.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

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