Ronin (DC Comics)
Ronin Book One
|Publication date||July 1983 – August 1984|
|Number of issues||6|
|Absolute Ronin||ISBN 1-4012-1908-X|
Ronin (formally written as Rōnin) is a comic book limited series published between 1983 and 1984, by DC Comics. The series was written and drawn by Frank Miller with artwork painted by Lynn Varley. It takes place in a dystopic near-future New York in which a ronin is reincarnated. The six-issue work shows some of the strongest influences of manga and bande dessinée on Miller's style, both in the artwork and narrative style.
Publication history 
Miller was in part inspired to do Ronin by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's manga series Lone Wolf and Cub. According to former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, Ronin was originally slated to be released as part of Marvel's Marvel Graphic Novel series. Ultimately, however, Miller was wooed by DC by publisher Jenette Kahn, and the first issue of Ronin was published by that company in 1983.
Like an earlier DC maxi-series Camelot 3000, Ronin was printed on a higher quality paper stock. Each issue contained 48 pages of story and no advertisements.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (May 2009)|
In feudal Japan, a young, nameless samurai has sworn to protect his master, Lord Ozaki, from assassins. But despite his dedication, Ozaki is assassinated at night by a demon called Agat in the guise of a geisha, in an act of revenge for Ozaki stealing his sword. The sword is powered by blood - if it can be fueled by the blood of an innocent, the sword will become powerful enough to destroy Agat himself. Agat wants it back. Ozaki has hidden the sword, so Agat cannot find it. After Ozaki's murder, the young samurai prepares to perform seppuku at his master's graveside, to honorably follow his lord into the afterlife. Instead, the spirit of Ozaki appears before the young samurai and demands that he find the sword and keep it from Agat until his skills are great enough to destroy the demon lord. The young samurai becomes a ronin, a samurai without a master, wandering the countryside for many years. At last, he comes to Agat's castle, and fights his way inside. But when he confronts Agat, he has a dilemma: since the sword has never killed an innocent, it is not powerful enough to destroy the demon. The ronin has a grim but effective solution to this problem: when Agat approaches him from behind, the ronin thrusts the sword through his own abdomen, impaling Agat. Powered by the ronin's own innocent blood, the sword mortally wounds Agat and the ronin at the same time, and the ronin achieves revenge and the honorable death by seppuku that he desires at the same moment. But just before Agat dies, he curses the ronin, and both their souls are trapped inside the sword until someone releases them.
Here the story abruptly cuts eight centuries forward: to New York City in the very near future. Some unspecific but catastrophic social and economic collapse has left New York a lawless wasteland, populated by squatters, factions, and mutants. In the heart of the city is the Aquarius Complex, the giant, sprawling headquarters of the Aquarius Corporation. The Aquarius Corporation is an idealistic company founded by three people: Peter McKenna, inventor of biocircuitry, his wife, Casey McKenna, who becomes Aquarius' head of security, and Mr. Taggart, who funded and controls Aquarius.
The development of biocircuitry is Aquarius's chief accomplishment, and the company is successful developing and marketing the technology as a means of saving a world on the brink of war from itself. Biocircuitry is a new model of plastics-based electronics, capable of self-organization and self-repair under the direction of Virgo, the artificial intelligence at the heart of the Aquarius Complex.
Aquarius has an unusual ward: Billy Challas, born without any limbs due to a genetic defect. Billy seems to have telekinetic powers. Virgo works with him to develop his psionic abilities and Billy tests cutting-edge prosthetic limbs for Aquarius. It seems that Billy has been having vivid dreams of the story of Ozaki, the ronin, and Agat.
Billy and Virgo are confused by the detail and historical accuracy of the dream since his education had never covered feudal Japan, and their confusion only grows when Virgo checks the media for references to a sword and finds a news video of a bloodsword, sold at auction, rumored to have mystic properties. The news reports that when the sword was tested by striking it with a laser, there was an explosion that destroyed the test site and everyone in it.
We can assume that this test and explosion freed Agat and the ronin from the sword into this dystopic New York world, because as Billy and Virgo probe further, a security alarm goes off - Agat is breaking into the Aquarius Complex, apparently impervious to all of the fantastic technology therein. As Agat makes his way toward the core, Billy begins to transform: he absorbs, and is absorbed by, the persona of the ronin; using his telekinetic powers, Billy/ronin builds himself arms and legs from the raw biocircuitry around him. In a last-ditch defense attempt, Virgo ejects Billy into the sewers and triggers an explosion in her inner core that blasts Agat out of the complex and into the city.
The ronin wakes up in the sewers and makes his way into the city. Looking for a sword, he wanders into a club where a gang attacks him. A junk collector named Packrat takes the unconscious ronin home to cut off his arms, which look technologically advanced, and add them to his 'spaceship'. After Packrat cuts one off with a laser, the dismembered arm chokes Packrat to death through Billy's telekinetic powers, then reattaches itself to his body. The ronin frees himself, and finds a sword among Packrat's possessions. He then returns to the club and kills every one of his attackers.
Back at Aquarius, Virgo explains what has occurred to Casey McKenna, the security chief, who reasonably assumes Virgo's logic units have been affected, and that the AI is getting daffy. But Casey begins an investigation anyway.
Meanwhile, Agat, also having survived the blast, infiltrates the complex, where he murders Taggart and assumes his form. In this guise, Agat begins negotiating a weapons deal with the Japan-based Sawa Corporation. Peter McKenna is outraged; he had created the technology under the agreement that it would be for non-violent purposes only. He immediately confronts Taggart and realizes that he is an impostor. He informs Virgo, who is not only unshaken by this revelation, but immediately informs Taggart, forming a pact with him, stating strangely, "I'm here to help you, Mr. Taggart. And, in a way you'll never understand, you're here to help me." Peter infiltrates Virgo's memory bank and forces her to show him what happened to Taggart. Even with the video replay, Peter refuses to believe the story and accuses Virgo of killing Taggart. He is then kidnapped and held prisoner by Agat (still in the form of Taggart).
By this point, the ronin has formed a tentative alliance with Head, an aging hippie who realizes that the ronin is his ticket to security. He tells the ronin that he'll 'manage' him and take care of him; the ronin passively acquiesces. Head plans to sell the ronin as "The Elvis Of Violence", and makes deals with the heads of both the Nazi and Black factions to kill the other faction's leader in exchange for rice, beer, sterno, and a place to sleep.
Meanwhile, Casey McKenna gets authorization to pursue and retrieve the ronin, understanding from Virgo that Billy Challas has somehow been transformed into a killer, and that the absence of effective law enforcement in the city means that capturing him is Aquarius' responsibility. The three man team who find the ronin, however, is killed without hesitation.
Having been convinced of Virgo's story, Casey seeks permission to kill the ronin. Taggart allows this but then rescinds when Virgo informs him that the ronin is, in fact, Billy, complete with telekinetic power and, as such, might be useful in cybernetics. Casey finds the ronin dealing with the Nazi and Black factions and, despite her orders, attempts to kill him. Casey is knocked unconscious by the two factions before she can accomplish this and is thrown into a pit to, "make our friends downstairs real happy. …" The ronin kills both faction leaders, discards Head and goes to rescue Casey.
Both Casey and the ronin slowly come to the realization that the pit leads into sewers infested with cannibals, who subsequently swarm and kidnap both of them. The ronin breaks free and slaughters the cannibals and Casey is surprised to find herself falling in love with the ronin. Her surprise mounts when it snows shortly thereafter, for the first time in five years, and the ronin speaks English out of the blue. Casey and the ronin sleep together in the snow, just as it slowly stops falling.
Meanwhile, Peter, bound and gagged, is met by therapist Sandy. Peter convinces Sandy to free him and together they try to make sense of all that has occurred. Through deductive reasoning, Peter concludes that, with the exception of Virgo, Billy's powers are stronger than anyone's. Virgo kept this a secret in order to exploit his talents for unknown reasons while Billy shut down part of his power when he repressed a traumatic memory from his past. Peter then realizes that the ronin is a fantasy of Billy's, brought to life. People hadn't realized how powerful Billy was. Because he had lived unhappily without legs or arms, he had created an entity based around the television programs (revealed to be a Japanese serial) he loved so much as a kid. With his powers, he had arms and legs built for himself by Virgo, and acquired a sword, which allowed him to cut off the things he had never had. It was a "sick joke," as Peter refers to as the plan. Billy had also been controlling people, especially Casey—whom he had given extraordinary handle with the sword, and had manipulated into sleeping with him. This was done without Casey noticing. Sandy, hearing this, thinks Peter is insane, and leaves him alone in the room. With Virgo.
The ronin and Casey seem to have been sent back to ancient Japan, where they encounter slaves of Agat. In the ensuing battle, the ronin's mechanical arms and legs are removed and ancient Japan is exposed as an illusion, the slaves of Agat actually robots sent by Taggart to retrieve the ronin and demonstrate for Sawa the effectiveness of the weapons. Virgo, controlling the robots, starts a mental attack on the defenseless ronin, bringing forward Billy's repressed memory, one where he murdered a local bully earning him his mother's revulsion. Billy, enraged, regains his limbs and destroys his enemies, restoring the illusion of ancient Japan, until a horde of flying demons/robots subdue him and blast the subway tunnel where Casey had been trying to make her escape.
Trapped, the ronin mentally reaches out to Casey, who regains consciousness within the rubble and kills a marauding demon. The demon, really a Virgo Robot disguised by Billy's illusion, tries to convince Casey that Virgo is not the real enemy because, "If I were -- and please keep in mind that I'm not saying I am -- but if I were your enemy... Well, darling, you wouldn't stand a chance against me."
Undeterred, Casey breaks into Aquarius, which, by this point, has engulfed the entire city. Meanwhile, Learnid, a weak-willed underling of Taggart, is slowly wondering what to do about the prospect that Aquarius might bring about the Apocalypse.
The ronin, continuing to help Casey, causes a blackout that allows her to escape the guards and find Peter. Agat, enraged at the ronin spitting at him, is amazed when Virgo forces him to restrain himself, and address the workers about the blackout. Virgo, distraught by ronin's helping Casey, confronts Billy mentally. At this point, Billy mistakes Virgo for his mother. When he corrects himself, Virgo states, "You can call me Momma if you want." Taking on the comforting but stern attitude of a mother, Virgo soothes Billy and convinces him to stop helping Casey so long as Virgo doesn't hurt her.
Meanwhile, Casey, with the help of Learnid and Sandy, whom Learnid convinces of Peter's sanity, finds Peter. A physical wreck, Peter informs Casey that Billy is being manipulated by Virgo into turning fantasy into reality. He also notes that the only way to save Billy is by, "Breaking down Fantasy... Making Fantasy fail..." Before he can say much more, a Virgo robot attacks and kills Peter. Reinvigorated by Casey's sadness, Billy begins questioning Virgo, who stresses that Casey's been naughty and that she isn't hurting her. When Casey is attacked by another robot, Billy is enraged and lashes out, destroying it. Virgo then verbally castigates Billy, accusing him of liking violence and threatening to send him away (as his mother did after she saw him murder the bully) if he doesn't stop. Billy backs down.
Meanwhile, Taggart, trying to calm the workers in the blackout, is confronted by Learnid who accuses him of having been corrupted. Before Taggart can attack, Virgo orders him away, stating a life-threatening hazard has occurred. Learnid notes that regulations give him authority in such situations to evacuate non-essential personnel and forces Virgo to carry out the order.
Casey runs into Peter, now a deformed half-man/half-machine, who attacks her. Peter then explains that Virgo's biocircuitry is alive in a way, but not enough. Billy's powers gave her a consciousness and Virgo wanted more. So in order to increase his power, while keeping him under control, she manipulated him into creating the ronin, thereby releasing his power, but trapping him in fantasy. "She wants to make biocircuitry the new dominant life form on Earth," notes Peter, "It only sounds ludicrous." Casey kills Peter and tells Virgo to take her to the ronin. Once near him, she is immediately transported back into fantasy where, as with the truth, she keeps playing along. Kissing the ronin, they are confronted by Agat. Casey turns to confront him but rather than taking out her sword, she shoots him in the head. Agat's wiring explodes, revealing him to be a robot.
It is at this moment that Casey realizes what she must do. Sensing danger, Virgo tries in vain to talk Casey out of acting, noting that, "You know whose cells Peter used to build my personality. Why, we're practically sisters. It's safe to say that if you were in my shoes, you'd do just what I'm doing." Virgo's pleas, however, were to no avail. Casey frees the ronin, then humiliates him, as a woman had avenged his master where he had failed. Casey then gives him a sword to commit seppuku while acting as his second. As the ronin guts himself, Billy cries in agony. Virgo tries to scold him to take control but Billy can't control himself, blaming Virgo for making him feel worthless. Finally, with one unimaginable burst, the ronin shoves the sword into his heart, Casey decapitates him, and Billy unleashes a telekinetic blast so strong it destroys Aquarius, and by extension, New York. The only ones left standing are Casey... and the ronin.
Collected editions 
The series has been collected into a single volume:
- Ronin (302 pages, DC Comics, September 1987, ISBN 0-446-38674-X, March 1995,ISBN 0-930289-21-8)
- Absolute Ronin (328 pages, DC Comics, October 2008, ISBN 1-4012-1908-X, Titan Books, November 2008, ISBN 1-84576-959-7)
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Film adaptation 
In 1998 Darren Aronofsky inked a deal with New Line Cinema for a film adaptation of the graphic novel. In 2007 Gianni Nunnari, producer of 300, announced he would be producing and Sylvain White, director of Stomp The Yard, directing the Ronin film adaptation.
- Manning, Matthew K.; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1980s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. "A cinematic blending of words and pictures, the science fiction epic was written and drawn by Frank Miller." "The comic was an unusual blend of the influences on Miller by French cartoonist Moebius and Japanese Manga comic books."
- Frank Miller interviewed by Joel Meadows, Studio Space: The World's Greatest Comic Illustrators At Work (Image Comics, 2008), p. 189. ISBN 978-1-58240-908-5.
- Contino, Jennifer. "A Chat with Kahn," Sequential Tart vol. 4, issue #5 (May 2001).
- Thomas, Michael. "CBR News: Jim Shooter Interview: Part 1," Comic Book Resources (October 6, 2000).
- Carver, Benedict; Dan Cox (1998-07-21). "Aronofsky draws on comic". Variety. Retrieved 2007-02-12.
- Morales, Wilson (2007-02-11). "An Interview with Director Sylvain White". BlackFilm.com. Retrieved 2007-02-12.