Ronin Island is an ongoing historical fantasy comics series from writer Greg Pak (Planet Hulk, Star Wars) and artist Giannis Milogiannis (Prophet, Old City Blues). Eight issues have been published as of this writing, but those who haven't been reading it already might be interested in checking out the first trade paperback volume, which collects the first four issues.
The series takes place in the mid-19th century, 31 years after a Great Wind ravaged Japan, China and Korea. Refugees from the three nations have put aside their xenophobia and are now living together in relative peace on Ronin Island. Prejudices haven't completely vanished, as demonstrated by the rivalry between the two main characters, samurai son Kenichi and Korean farm girl Hana. Even so, the different people on this island have managed to get along. The Shogun is presumed to be long dead... until an envoy from the Shogunate arrives ready to conquer the island.
One of the narrative strengths of this first volume is that the reader is placed in the isolated mindset of the islanders, so you don't know exactly what's going on in the world outside. When the Shogunate invades and assumptions about the state of the world are challenged, you don't know what information to trust. Amid this uncertainty, the story drops its most fantastical element: zombies.
The monsters are never called zombies; instead they're referred to as "byonin." Their appearance -- colorful and with horns -- resembles that of oni demons from Japanese folklore. Even so, they're an army of the mindless undead, transformed from their once-human state by infection, and they're most effectively killed by attacking their brains, so functionally, they're zombies.
The presence of the zombies makes for some exciting and violent fight scenes and adds an extra layer of conflict on top of the already compelling human drama. The monsters are just different enough from traditional zombies to feel relatively fresh and to avoid zombie fatigue. As far as genre goes, Ronin Island is more a "samurai story with zombies" as opposed to a "zombie story with samurai." Action takes precedence over horror.
The story is told with relatively minimal dialogue. Take a look at any page of the comic and you'll notice the panels tend to be big while the speech bubbles tend to be small. There's a cinematic nature to the way Milogiannis draws the vast landscapes of the island and a strong manga influence in the impactful action scenes. Irma Kniivila's colors complement the art well.
The first volume of Ronin Island is a quick and entertaining read that will definitely grab your interest and make you want to discover where this story will go. Bring on Volume Two!
Ronin Island Vol. 1 hits comic stores on Dec. 4 and will be available everywhere on Dec. 10.