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Comic Book / Ronin (1983)
aka: Ronin

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Ronin is a comic book limited series published by DC Comics. The series was written and drawn by Frank Miller with water colors by Lynn Varley. The series publication ran between 1983 and 1984 with a total of six volumes.

The story begins with a samurai who is charged with defending his master, Ozaki. However, Ozaki is assassinated in the night by a demon in revenge for stealing the sword of the demon's master, Agat. Ozaki's spirit grants the now-ronin the sword, the only tool capable of slaying the demon lord it had been stolen from. The ronin then goes on a journey to slay the demon, who on his dying breath curses him to the same eternal prison as itself, within the sword.

The story then cuts to a near-future dystopic New York City, a lawless wasteland. What is left of civilized New York lives inside a massive complex called Aquarius, which is owned by the ominous Aquarius Corporation and run by three people: Peter McKenna, a scientist who invented biocircuitry; Casey McKenna, the head of security who is also Peter's wife; and Mr. Taggart, the corporate head of Aquarius. The city is powered by Virgo, a sentient computer who is gaining more and more control over Aquarius. Finally, we are introduced to young Billy Chalis, an autistic man with no limbs who seems to have telekinetic powers. Unlocking the key to his powers may provide a brighter future for Aquarius and civilization as a whole, according to Peter and Virgo.


Meanwhile, by unknown means, the ancient Japanese sword is discovered, releasing Agat and the ronin. They continue their blood feud throughout Aquarius and across the wastelands of New York. Casey looks into the matter, eventually discovering the truth behind it all.

The series takes many influences from Manga, and is stated to have been inspired partly by Lone Wolf and Cub. Ronin also holds the distinction of having been printed on Baxter paper stock similar to Camelot 3000, as well as having no advertisements.

Not to be confused with the 1998 film Rōnin.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Can't be a samurai story without one.
  • After the End: New York is a wasteland. While businessmen from Japan are able to fly over, it's likely the rest of the world isn't better off.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: What's left of civilized New York is run by an AI computer. It doesn't turn out well.
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  • Author Appeal: This is basically Frank Miller's love letter to manga/anime both past and (at the time) present. We see elements of everything from Lone Wolf and Cub to AKIRA.
  • Biker Babe: A Nazi biker babe at that. "Babe" might be a stretch, though.
  • Badass Back: Instead of the standard sword-under-shoulder move, Ronin actually does the Deliberate Injury Gambit move by stabbing himself; something that is normally relegated to characters with a Healing Factor. He takes it damn well, though.
  • Badass Biker: Since it's post-apocalyptic, the typical biker gangs are out in full force.
  • Badass Normal: Casey.
  • Body Horror: Peter after being turned into a half-man, half-machine by Virgo.
  • Cyborg: Ronin is part machine, as evident by the cover.
  • Cyberpunk: One of the first comic examples in mainstream comics.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The story plays with it a bit as Billy seemingly dies towards the end and Casey is essentially the hero of the story anyway.
  • Disability Superpower: Billy, in a way. He has no arms and legs and seems vaguely autistic, but has strong mental powers.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: It's apparent fairly early on that Agat isn't going to be the main villain of the story and that Virgo is the Big Bad. One could even argue that Billy was the final villain.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Agat is an ancient demon, apparently from another world.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Averted with the biker gangs who are separated by race.
  • Eternal English: Averted. Ronin is an ancient Japanese samurai in a futuristic America. He doesn't speak a word of English.
  • Everything's Better with Samurai: The Cyberpunk setting is made more interesting by including a samurai into the mix.
  • Fan Disservice: When Casey and her security team get blindsided in the sewers by the cannibals, they all get stripped naked. The sight of her being overpowered and manhandled by a bunch of warty flesh-eating troglodytes is in no way arousing.
  • Fat Bastard: Jagger and Silk, the respective leaders of the white supremacist and black supremacist gangs.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: An ancient samurai stuck in an apocalyptic future? He should fit right in.
  • Foreshadowing: The Japanese businessmen give clues to the reveal in their brief appearance.
  • From Bad to Worse: It says something when the main characters start off in an apocalyptic setting... and it gets worse from there.
  • Gainax Ending: Virgo is destroyed, possibly damning the entire human race. Casey certainly has little to no protection in the harsh New York environment and then Ronin comes marching through the flames. Not only is the Ronin identity supposed to be dead but Billy's fate certainly seemed sealed as well since he committed seppuku and was left in an exploding building. Not only that, with Virgo gone, who is controlling him? His blank stare at Casey doesn't make things seem any better. The end.
  • Genre-Busting: Is it a period piece martial arts epic? Fantasy? Cyberpunk? ...What?
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Let's start putting what little human civilization has left in the hands of AI computers who have the ability to practically create life. Sounds great!
  • Heroic Bystander: Billy is ultimately just a minor character who is trying to be a hero.
  • I See Them, Too In the beginning Ronin and his master have this exchange in regards to the attacking demons.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifter: Billy is turned into Ronin by Virgo.
  • Love Hurts: Billy's feelings for Casey.
  • Mega-Corp: The Aquarius Corporation controls what's left of the country.
  • Mind Screw: The ending and The Reveal. See Gainax Ending above.
  • Mutant: It wouldn't be a good After the End story without a few.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Casey, Peter, and Taggart get this way at various times over the creation of Virgo.
  • Nanomachines: Virgo is powered by them.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Head, the Ronin's "creative management."
  • No Name Given: Although the reader doesn't know he's actually Billy Challas until towards the end, the Ronin "character" is never given a name.
  • Old Master: Ozaki, the Ronin's master.
  • Organic Technology: Peter and Virgo's subject of choice.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The gangs are separated by race and use racial slurs against one another. Not surprisingly, Ronin gets a few thrown his way when he shows up.
  • Pillars of Moral Character: Ronin seems to live by this.
  • Reality Warper: For all intents and purposes, Billy is one.
  • The Reveal: Ronin, Agat, Ozaki, and the sword don't actually exist. It was all a part of the TV show Billy watched in his free time. Virgo used Billy's powers and mental state to make him turn his fantasy into a reality, essentially turning himself into a hero and creating his own villain using his powers and Virgo's biotech. That way, she could easily manipulate him into doing her bidding. This would eventually lead to the destruction of mankind and the emergence of biotechnology as the dominant lifeform.
  • Rōnin: Obviously.
  • Seppuku: One of the more accurate depictions in Western media.
  • Shapeshifting: Agat.
  • Show Within a Show: Or in this case, a show within a comic. Billy likes to watch TV a lot.
  • Single Tear: A punk tricks Ronin into fighting a rival gang. When Ronin realizes his mistake, he tries his best to apologize and avoid further conflict. At this point, the gang wants to continue the fight, so Ronin kills them while shedding one of these.
  • Supporting Protagonist: One could easily argue that Casey fits this trope. Much of the action revolves around her. Billy too, considering he's little more than a background character until the revelation at the end that he was the main character the whole time.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: It is Frank Miller, after all.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: In the beginning, the Ronin throws his sword into the chest of a demon. His master berates him but Ronin quickly points out that he (the master) still has his.
  • Translation Convention: Ronin and Ozaki speak English during the scenes in ancient Japan. Although since they are TV characters, the reader might just be reading the English-dubbed voices.
  • Unwilling Roboticisation: Peter and Billy.
  • Wretched Hive: Basically, anything outside of Aquarius.

Alternative Title(s): Ronin