As covered here about a month ago, The Last Ronin is a lost Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story from the late 80s/early 90s that has just now been finally realized in the pages of IDW’s ongoing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. Conceived originally by TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, The Last Ronin tells the story of the last ninja turtle and, as a bit of a callback to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, his quest for revenge. The fully realized story is not shaping up to be some sort of Kill Bill clone, but as a referendum on vengeance and its fleeting nature. The story is one I compared with the classic X-Men plot Days of Future Past as it does contain a dystopian future where hope is either lost or nearly gone and most of the characters we know and love are either dead or in a position to envy the dead.
It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, that if you have any interest in the The Last Ronin then you should definitely read the first issue before even sniffing the second. I will not spoil anything in this mini review, but it would be easy to be spoiled even with just glancing at this book or by reading other reviews as I’m sure many are only concerned with spoiling the contents of this book, and not the preceding one.
And the main thing that can be spoiled is what was revealed on the final page of issue #1: the identity of the last turtle. In that first issue, we saw our hero infiltrate New York and have a tough go of it. Along the way we realized he’s possibly just clinging to sanity as he constantly talks with the spirits of his dead brothers. In this issue, he’ll even argue with them and debate strategy going forward. He is aware that this behavior may be off-putting to others, as he tries to hide it from his allies. And who might those allies be? Well, that’s kind of a spoiler too, but let’s just say some are familiar, and some are not.
The main purpose for this book is to advance the story of our hero ahead just a little, while also fleshing out what brought him here. In what is likely to be a theme going forward, this issue primarily tells the story of the death of one of the ninja turtles via flashback. In doing so, we learn the catalyst for what created this current reality while also seeing what the hero has been doing ever since. As someone who grew up watching the cartoon and movies, seeing the death of one of my childhood heroes is definitely upsetting. It’s not gratuitous, but it is visceral. When I was a kid, I so much as never even saw the turtles bleed and thus I never could comprehend them befalling a gruesome injury or death. I’ve been exposed to the more violent side of the Mirage books since, but it’s still quite a thing to bare witness to.
As I said before, the main plot for the last turtle does not advance much in this book. The time spent with him is more quiet. It’s a time to reflect, recuperate, and ultimately regroup. I’m curious how the next book balances the flashbacks with the current period arc. The flashback is so full that nothing feels like padding. Even though the story doesn’t advance much, I don’t get a sense that the writers and artists are stalling because they want this to hit a specific amount of issues. It’s just a story that has taken 30 years to tell so it’s not going to rush anything.
As was the case with issue #1, the artwork in this book is fantastic. The Escorza brothers are on top of their game and the fight scenes are drawn really well. They don’t hold back, but they also do not do a disservice to the quiet scenes or the more distressing scenes. Kevin Eastman breaks out his pencil to illustrate the flashback sequence of the last ronin character and his original escape from New York. It’s a fun touch to see Eastman’s rougher art juxtaposed with the super slick work of the Escorzas and it’s an appropriate part of the story for Eastman to add a personal touch. I’m curious if we’ll see more from him in issue #3.
The third issue should be arriving around the end of the month, and based on the cover, it looks like we’re going to learn the fates of a few more important characters. I think that is going to be the formula for at leas the next pair of issues before we get a big blow-off in issue #5. It’s been an interesting, if a bit uncomfortable, ride through these first two issues so I am looking forward to the next, and yet dreading it at the same time. I also appreciate though that I’ve been made to care about these characters enough over the decades that a story like this both entertains and upsets me. If you’ve ever loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you owe it to yourself to hop aboard this runaway train.