No matter what country a story originates from, the best stories should be universally acceptable to everyone. Often the best stories have a simple through-line that can be translated from one continent to another. Wthout Japanese samurai films, we wouldn’t have the American Western films. In fact, both those genres influenced George Lucas to create a certain popular space opera, which inspired generations of storytellers who put their own spin of those aforementioned genres. As simple a tale as BOOM! Studios’ Ronin Island is, that simplicity ends up being a huge benefit for readers of all ages.
31 years have passed since the Great Wind devastated 19th century China, Korea and Japan. Too young to remember this catastrophic event, Hana — the orphaned daughter of Korean farmers — and Kenichi — son of a great samurai leader — were raised in the aftermath on Ronin Island, where survivors found refuge in a place where difference is forgotten and a unified society is formed. Having nothing in common and constantly butting heads, Hana and Kenichi have to get over their differences when the Shogun returns to claim the island in order to prepare for future attacks of a greater threat than the Great Wind.
Known primarily for his work on Marvel, particularly his extensive Hulk run where he got to showcase Amadeus Cho as The Totally Awesome Hulk, writer Greg Pak has always pushed Asian representation in comics. Having previously written for BOOM! with Mech Cadet Yu, Pak’s latest title for the publisher treats that representation with great respect. Very similar to the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, there may be a fantasy element and although the story takes place during a morally gray period in Asian history, Pak writes these characters in a contemporary manner so that you can understand the many conflicts that are set up over the course of four issues.
At the center of Ronin Island is the relationship of Hana and Kenichi. Both come together as the idealistic coming-of-age story. These two young protagonists have their own issues to face, from the competent Hana who feels like an outsider, especially outside of the island, to the cocky Kenichi who struggles to live up to his father’s legacy. The two may not see eye-to-eye, but as witnessed by their master Ito and Elder Jin, they see the potential of how strong Hana and Kenichi can be together. There is a constant theme of war versus peace that is not only reflective on the two leads, but also the adults that surround them as that sense of mistrust during an alliance leads to the questioning of who the real invaders are.
When it comes to American comics that focus on samurai, the first that comes to mind is Frank Miller’s Ronin, which was in part inspired by the classic manga series Lone Wolf and Cub. Whilst this isn’t as artistically groundbreaking as Miller’s comic, Greek artist Giannis Milonogiannis respects the artistic tropes in this type of story, from the aesthetic of the time period to the hack-and-slash action. Along with Irma Kniivila’s coloring, Milonogiannis’ art is simple yet quirky — he illustrates the characters in a way that incorporates subtle humor.
Simple but effective storytelling, including compelling characterization and relevant themes that apply well to its historic Asian setting.