Whenever we're talking about Marvel's various re-imaginings – whether Noir, Mangaverse, Pulp, or Fairy Tale - one question springs to mind: what, precisely, is the point of this exercise? The question hangs over "5 Ronin," which so far has re-cast Marvel characters in the role of samurai folk heroes, or zen parables, without any real indication of why that seemed like a good idea.
The validity of the exercise is particularly stretched by this issue, which places a version of Frank Castle in the title role. The Punisher's "revenge story" origin is already rooted in a distinctly Japanese storytelling tradition, so retelling it under that umbrella is a bit like DC releasing a "Batman: Noir" series.
Nonetheless, Milligan gives it a go. In this story, the Punisher is a samurai who returns from a war to find his family and home have been razed by a local crime boss. When he learns the truth behind his family's death and disappearance, he transforms himself into an instrument of revenge -- and you can pretty much guess where it goes from there.
Generally speaking, Peter Milligan is the kind of writer whose work is always interesting, even if unsuccessfully so, but I'm not sure that can be said about this issue. It's straightforward, generic, and predictable. It's well-told, that much is true – Milligan sets in the emotional crest of the story in motion then rides it to its conclusion – but there's no twist in the story's plot, and it needs that give you a visceral reaction to the emotional core Milligan has established.
At the same time, Laurence Campbell's work doesn't seem like the right fit for this kind of story. The heavy blacks and shadows too often obscure details that the story needs you to see, and at the same time, it robs characters of their distinguishing features. It's not such a problem in a book like "Punishermax," when the lead can be running around with a skull on his chest, but here? It's just not working.
More than halfway through the "5 Ronin" miniseries, there's yet to be an issue which works on every level. Hopefully, the starring roles for Psylocke and Deadpool might do something to change that, but I have low expectations for what's coming. It's a rare misfire for Milligan, but a misfire nonetheless. Shame