5 Ronin

5 Days of 5 Ronin: Wolverine

Go behind the scenes with Peter Milligan and Sebastian Girner

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By Ben Morse

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the 5 RONIN series—go out and buy the book before you read it!

5 RONIN #1 cover by John Cassaday

For the past five weeks, we’ve been witness to a unique and remarkable new take on familiar Marvel icons in 5 RONIN, conceived and executed by writer Peter Milligan, editor Sebastian Girner and a quintet of tremendously talented artists.

With the release of the fifth and final issue this Wednesday, March 30, as well as the coming hardcover collection on May 25, we spoke at length with Milligan and Girner about each installment of this epic tale and will be presenting these exclusive commentaries all week long. Additionally, each artist to work on 5 RONIN has provided a wealth of sketch materials to illustrate how they created this vivid world set in 17th century Japan.

We begin with Wolverine, a lost samurai in search of purpose who instead finds violence and tests for his unique skills.

Marvel.com: Why was Wolverine the right character to start off with and introduce readers to the world of 5 RONIN? 

Peter Milligan: With his self-reliance [and] his intuitive way of dealing with the world [Wolverine] seems to embody something about the spirit of the Ronin. But he also seems to be a bit more thoughtful and perhaps analytical than, say, The Punisher, who also seems to neatly encompass an idea of the Ronin. Therefore in Logan we have someone who is both a loner and also thoughtful about his position in a changing world. From a plot point of view, Wolverine returns in the Psylocke episode which means starting with him makes good sense. Also this Wolverine is one that the reader will quickly recognize and understand. 

Sebastian Girner: Wolverine is an instantly recognizable and iconic character. He has strong ties to Japan, he’s wandered the world extensively and he lives by a strong personal moral code. There’s something very Ronin-ish about Wolverine any way you cut it. It seamed natural to introduce readers to the world of feudal Japan with a familiar face.

5 Ronin Wolverine concept art by Tomm Coker

Marvel.com: How does this incarnation of Wolverine differ from the traditional one? What similarities were always going to be inherent?

Peter Milligan: I think in spirit and over-all mood this Wolverine is very recognizable. The differences are ones that come from making our characters’ “powers” more naturalistic and not reliant on a mutant gene; at the core of the character that same thing, flaw or whatever that makes the Marvel character tick remains the same.

Sebastian Girner: Wolverine’s main traits are his claws and that he is unkillable. We’ve retained both of these traits 5 RONIN but not how readers might expect. five pages into the first issue the rules of this world are clear: Dead means dead. So how can Wolverine be unkillable? It was a lot of fun coming up with “super powers” in a realistic, historical setting.

Marvel.com: How does Wolverine embody the idea of the Ronin?

Peter Milligan: I think with Wolverine it is something deep inside. He doesn’t obey some exterior code but you feel that he does adhere to some deeper or natural set of laws. And, of course, he’s a bloody good and totally fearless fighter!

Sebastian Girner: Traditionally a Ronin is a masterless Samurai and 5 RONIN Wolverine is very much that. But the word also has modern applications. In Japan, students who don’t pass their University entrance exams—which are famously difficult to pass—right out of High School and decide to spend an extra year preparing to retake them, are called Ronin as well. So there’s this notion of being lost between two things, of being in flux. This is the meaning of Ronin that most fits the characters of 5 RONIN. Each one of them is at a point where an old, familiar road is ending and they are forced to move forward into the unknown.

5 Ronin Wolverine pin-up art by Tomm Coker

Marvel.com: How did you come up with the twist on Wolverine's "healing factor" and thus the central mystery and driving force behind this story?

Peter Milligan: It’s not so much a twist but the natural solution, considering none of our characters have “super powers” and are reliant on more natural or realistic ways of being who and what they are.

Sebastian Girner: One of my favorite stories is the tale of the 47 Ronin. It’s the story of a group of Samurai who seek revenge for their master, whose unjust death makes them all Ronin. I wondered what would happen if the 47 Ronin had all pretended to be a single man and thus gave birth to something that was more than any of them: an unkillable legend that would spread across the land and strike fear into their enemies before their swords ever crossed.

Marvel.com: What did artist Tomm Coker bring to the table?

Peter Milligan: Each artist brought their own personal genius to the issues they worked on. For a start Tomm’s ability to capture an alien culture, the battle, the shrines, and then Wolverine himself instantly drags you into this strange world.  As a reader you just say, “Yeah, all right. We’re in 17th century Japan. I accept that. Now where’s the story leading?”

Tomorrow, we’re back with Peter and Sebastian to take a look at the second Ronin: The Hulk!

Remember to get 5 RONIN #5 this Wednesday, March 30, and get your retailer to pre-order the hardcover collection!

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