Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. This week: Frank Miller! Today’s page is from Ronin #2, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 1983. Enjoy!
When Frank Miller moved over to DC to begin working outside the strictures of normal continuity, he didn’t take Klaus Janson with him, and as a result, Ronin doesn’t resemble his work on Daredevil all that much. The pencil and ink work is much looser, almost impressionistic in places, and this page is a pretty good example of the style Miller employs throughout. It’s a bit more concrete than some of the pages, but it’s definitely looser than his Daredevil work, and it’s interesting to see the genesis of much of his wildly abstract later work here in 1983. His lines aren’t as bold as they would be in later works, but the “Miller style” is evolving quite nicely. Miller also has started to realize that he doesn’t need to write as much when his art can tell the story, so we get only the one word on the page. Our nameless hero rises up from the sewers and into a nightmarish world, and we get all that from Miller’s artwork – the first-person perspective in the first panel gives us a sense of where he is and where he’s going, and the final panel gives us a hint of how far New York has fallen. It’s a nice progression – we always associate rising up with ascending to something better, but Miller shows us that the ronin is rising from shit into more shit.
This was Miller’s first major work with Lynn Varley (she had colored Daredevil #191), to whom he may have been married by this time (they were married at one point, but I don’t know if it came after this or not). As comic book companies allowed creators to stretch the boundaries of what a comic book looks like, colorists like Varley became more important, and we can see the impact her paints have on this page, especially in the last panel. The fire is a black and red smudge, and Varley uses simple strokes around it to make the background almost swallow it up. She uses the tried-and-true blue/orange contrast well, as the ronin stands out among the murkiness of the sewer and then, when he gains the street, he blends in to the cityscape because Varley changes his hue. It’s a good way to make decrease his significance – the city doesn’t care who he is, it will subsume him eventually. It’s a nice, subtle choice of coloring, and it’s an example of how oddly yet brilliantly Ronin is colored.
Ronin shows many of the themes, both in the writing and in the art, that Miller would refine over the next two decades. We’ll see them in the days to come! If you can’t wait, feel free to check out the archives!