The “5 Ronin” mini-series, purportedly a story of five Ronin (Wolverine, The Hulk, Punisher, Psylocke, and Deadpool) on quests of revenge, is a bit of a mystery to me, even after reading the first issue. It’s unclear if these are stand alone books each featuring separate characters that will tie together into a complete narrative, or if the only tie is that they’re all seeking vengeance as the preview seems to suggest. This in and of itself is a problem, though depending on what the answer is, it may be less of a problem next week when “5 Ronin” #2 shows up.
On its own, this is a strange and unfortunately unsatisfying tale. Though it has some mystery and intrigue to it, the plot twist is too obvious and there are no emotional touchstones to deliver any punch. As part of a series, however -- a series about this “Wolverine” -- it probably wouldn’t be a bad start.
The story is essentially the tale of a Ronin in 1600 Feudal Japan as he searches for revenge after the death of his master, while another of his brothers has left the path and is searching for something else (perhaps honor, it’s hard to say). Early on it’s suggested that brother number one is “a Ronin who cannot die” and when we meet his brothers --who look exactly like him -- we understand why that myth has such power. The brothers fight and kill each other, but it’s hard to care much about who lives or dies because we don’t have a connection to any of them. In fact, we don’t know any of these men except for through the most tenuous of ties to a character named Wolverine that we maybe know in another world, another time. All of this makes it impossible to connect with the story, leaving us only with “boy that’s cool” as our barometer, which would maybe be okay, but nothing is really THAT cool to make up for the other failings.
The writing is occasionally lovely, though the traditional Wolverine voice that pops out (“ain’t”!?) feels out of synch with the rest of the piece. While the art is quite beautiful and effective for the tone Milligan seems to be going for, the storytelling overall is a bit convoluted and in places legitimately difficult to follow. The palette is dark and broody, bathed in sepias mixed with pungent reds and soft greens, but on the whole it’s frequently far too dark and confusing. It certainly doesn’t help the confusing aspect that there are three characters that look exactly the same.
While there are definitely things to appreciate in this first issue of “5 Ronin,” from evocative art to Milligan’s sometimes beautiful writing, in the end it feels a bit soulless. An emotional connection of some kind could have made something as blasé as revenge a bit more engaging.