(w) Greg Pak (a) Giannis Milonogiannis (c) Irma Kniivila
BOOM! Studios may be making big moves with their acquisitions of hot licenses such as Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but their commitment to original creative works has truly established them as a premiere publisher. Ronin Island from Greg Pak and Giannis Milonogiannis is such a title. After a solid first issue introduced the characters and setting for the story, Issue #2 kicks into high gear with an action-heavy piece that sets the lead characters, Hana and Kenichi, on a path of growth and self-discovery.
Despite penning some of the best Hulk stories ever and easily the best Superman of DC’s New 52 era, Greg Pak continues to be a creator that people tend to sleep on, which is unfathomable. Although he has talent in superhero storytelling, it is his original works which continue to shine brightest. Ronin Island #2 owes much to modern Eastern storytelling, be it the works of Akira Kurosawa or Stan Sakai, as well as Pak’s own heritage.
The script itself is a lesson against hubris, as the islanders find themselves in a precarious situation due to their distrust of outsiders and inflated belief in their own abilities. Due to these shortcomings, their fate is left in the hands of our young protagonists. The concerns of the island elders are not without merit, thanks to the almost jovial nature of their preparation as seen in the first issue. Without the cushioning of the elders, Hana and Kenichi are forced to grow in ways they are not prepared for. However, in doing so exposes character traits of both leads.
In the first issue, Pak set up Hana and Kenichi as archetypes which are common across literature. Hana is scrappy, hailing from a poor family, but very wise beyond her family’s means. Meanwhile, Kenichi comes from a samurai family. Though he has worked in the fields, his family’s wealth has provided him comforts that Hana’s could only dream of. This is a dichotomy which has been explored many times, which makes Pak’s flipping the script on what is expected of these characters so effective. With the Shogunite forces taking command of the island, it is Hana who is quick to align with the power structure while Kenichi shows persistent distrust. Though it is hinted that Hana’s loyalty to the Shogunite forces may be fleeting, it is one example of how Pak is a master of subverting expectations in service of the story.
Giannis Milogiannis absolutely kills it, bringing a style that appears to blend western comic and manga aesthetics. While this is most evident during the book’s first half, full of zombie-like monsters and heavy action, it continues through to the issue’s conclusion. The attention to detail he has for character expressions and body language is phenomenal, giving the book a “lived in” feel while indulging in stylized flourishes as needed. His work is enhanced by Irma Kniivila’s great colors. During the opening action sequence, her flourishes of orange hues add an otherworldly look to the scenery akin to the inhuman monsters the characters face-off against. Later, her use of blue and grey hues reflects the downtrodden and oppressive situation the islanders face following the Shogunite occupation.
Ronin Island #2 is the rare, perfect situation where a great writer finds the right art team to breathe life into his script. It was clear that Pak, Milogiannis, and Kniivila had a vision after the first issue, but upon finishing up this installment it’s evident that they’re creating something truly special. Now extended to a 12-issue maxiseries, Ronin Island is a true, all-ages adventure with elements of action, horror, and heart that should not be missed.