5 Ronin is an unusual approach to telling a story of vengeance in feudal Japan. While it could have easily been told using a collection of generic, disenfranchised characters, Marvel decided to inject the “spirits” of five of their popular properties into this era. Thus, for the purposes of this story, the characters of Wolverine, The Hulk, Psylocke, The Punisher, and Deadpool are all somehow native to feudal Japan. Marvel doesn’t really delineate if these five stories are in canon with the Marvel Universe and these characters are spiritual (and visual) predecessors to the modern heroes or if this is an actually alternate universe tale or if this is an elaborate “What If?” story. Either way, the use of these five heroes seems unnecessary in the larger picture, as this is an interesting story regardless of these modern, fantastic associations.
Using a different artist for each issue, and thus each character, of this five-part story, Peter Milligan describes how five different spirits seek vengeance upon a warlord who has decimated their lives in one way or another: taking their land, murdering their family, or otherwise disgracing them. Wolverine’s character bears little similarity to Wolverine aside from a pointy haircut, a gruff attitude and some claw-like weapons, and The Hulk is simply a peaceful monk who happens to be a very good fighter when forced into battle. Inasmuch, 5 Ronin is a story completely without superpowers and only the most superficial resemblance to a modern superhero tale. This is not a bad thing at all, but it’s a little like calling Spider-Man “a really busy guy” instead of paying due respect to his agility, webshooters, spider-sense, photographic skills, and quick wit. What we may see as essential aspects of these characters is redefined by Milligan, and the connections aren’t always apparent.
Marvel might do better by divorcing these characters from their counterparts to avoid these expectations. Each character still maintains their uniqueness, emphasized by their respective artwork. The delicate-but-deadly Psylocke’s story is told in clean, traditional lines, while The Punisher’s angry story is told with scratchy, splotchy lines, and Wolverine’s story is bathed in angular shadows. The artists are all very well suited to their segment of the story, which is an interesting testament to how important style is to telling a graphic story. Deadpool, who has been Marvel’s latest ubiquitous character, has the most interesting story, found at the conclusion of the book. There’s a satisfying conclusion that ties everything together comfortably, and everyone walks off into the distance.
Marvel has placed a “parental advisory” warning on this due to the frequency of bloody eviscerations and the fact that Psylocke’s entire story entails her life as a prostitute and the suggestion, both verbal and visual, of the unsavory details therein. If you don’t mind lots of blood, or nudity covered by clever shadows and draped blankets, 5 Ronin is a fairly fun, slightly mystifying story.
Reviewed by Collin David on July 2, 2012
- Publication Date: June 8, 2011
- Genres: Graphic Novel
- Hardcover: 136 pages
- Publisher: Marvel
- ISBN-10: 0785156321
- ISBN-13: 9780785156321