Tag Archives: IDW

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Last Ronin #4

“Blood in Snow”

The wait was a bit longer than originally anticipated, but the fourth issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flash-forward story The Last Ronin has arrived. If you are not familiar with this story, The Last Ronin was a concept first kicked around by TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird back in the late 80s/early 90s about a final story for the turtles. One, last, ronin, makes a final stand against the Foot with the memory of his family burning in his heart. It’s in some ways a parallel to the original story where the turtles set out to kill the Shredder to avenge their master, only their master was still alive. With the success of films like Logan and their comic counterparts, it made sense for the creative team to adapt this story now especially after Waltz and Eastman concluded their run on the main comic.

The first issue of The Last Ronin told the story of the last ninja turtle. The unnamed ronin infiltrated New York City, now under the control of the Foot Clan, on a suicide mission to avenge his family. The final panel reveals who the identity of this character is, and in my reviews of each so far I’ve not revealed that spoiler so I don’t plan to now. We’ll just call him Ronin. It almost doesn’t matter anyway as this turtle is like an amalgamation of all four as he wields all of their weapons (and then some) and has become consumed by his quest for vengeance. All trace of his normal personality is basically gone. Since that issue though, the following two took place in both the present (which is the future) and the past and showed how one of the turtles met his end. As a result, not a whole lot of plot has moved forward in the present timeline.

Issue #4, subtitled titled “Blood in Snow,” has what feels like a shorter flashback to reveal the fate of the final turtle and moves things forward in the present timeline far more than the others. When I read issue #2, I actually found it a bit challenging because it basically bothered me to see one of my childhood heroes fall. Issue #3 surprised me in that I didn’t get the same feeling, and as a result, it disappointed me a bit. Issue #4 is more of the same. It’s not that I expect these to be gratuitous in their depiction of death and violence, it just doesn’t do much to tug on the heart strings. There was a lot of room especially in this issue for some tragic drama, but the writers and artists chose not to lean into it giving the flashback more of a procedural feeling than an emotional arc.

Let’s not do this.

The plot that takes place in the present is, unfortunately, no better. It’s very cliché with its plotting. One moment had me rolling my eyes as our Ronin has taken on a protégé. In this issue, the characters are assaulting a fortress that is a key to breaking into the main Foot headquarters and Ronin goes ahead telling his pupil not to follow. Of course, he gets into some trouble and his protégé does indeed make the save leading to this exchange:

Ronin: I thought I told you to stay put!

Protégé: You did. I didn’t.

Ronin: Terrible discipline, excellent initiative. DON’T do it again!

How many times has such an exchange taken place in movies and comics? The characters also just march along with not much of a climax. There’s a villain from the past at the end, but the villain receives no development and is entirely dependent on the reader just being familiar with them. And the showdown really doesn’t land. I get the sense that more energy has been put into telling the story of how the turtles were defeated with little regard for this current timeline. We don’t even know how New York ended up in such a state, you would think the US government would have some issues with it, but I can at least understand the creative team not wanting to tell that story. What is unfortunate is that their main story just lacks drama and excitement. I fully expect the next issue will just feature Ronin leading a last ditch attack on the tower where the leader of the Foot waits. All or most of his allies will fall, but it will end with the two facing off at the top of the tower with likely both falling. And I’m not saying that can’t work as an outline, but they really need to land on some of the bigger moments to make it work.

The future stuff looks good, but I found myself really enjoying the setting of the flashback portion.

What hasn’t been a letdown though is the artwork. The Escorza brothers handle the majority of the work and they continue to do a good job. There’s plenty of good action panels and they really do a terrific job with the flashback sequence which features some characters in rather resplendent armor. Eastman does contribute 4 pages as well and continues to handle the portions where the Ronin character narrates his own flashback. His pages are done in black and white and feature his own, unique, artwork. For fans of the original Mirage line, these panels are a delightful throwback. A novelty, but a fun one. Newer readers might see them as weaker since Eastman’s art is not and has never been as polished as many of his professional peers, but that was part of the TMNT charm back in the day. And it was good enough to make him quite wealthy.

I’m guessing we’re not quite done with flashbacks as we need some Eastman art in Issue #5.

The trajectory for The Last Ronin appears clear with issue #4 concluded. With only one issue left in the mini series, and the flashbacks seemingly complete, we’re ready to see this revenge story come to its conclusion. I do feel like The Last Ronin began with tremendous momentum and spark, but each issue to follow has been weaker than the one preceding it. I’m hopeful they’ll rebound and stick the landing. It’s possible the story just wasn’t necessarily big enough for five issues and maybe that’s the problem, but we’ll see. I don’t expect Alan Moore writing or anything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it could definitely be better. As such, I began this series giving it a strong recommend, but at this point I might suggest to newcomers to wait for the trade paperback edition at this point. We’re also in for a bit of a wait, it would seem. Issue #4 was delayed about a month and the fifth and final issue has yet to be solicited by the publisher. That means it’s probably slipped to 2022 at this point. This year has been one of delays so I’m not surprised by any at this point. Hopefully the extra time allows the team to do something special. I want this story to succeed, and I am eager to see how it concludes.

Ranking the Many Versions of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtles in TimeWith Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting the airwaves, it felt like a good time to sit down and take a look at the various incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As you are likely aware, the TMNT got started back in 1984 when writer/artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created their debut comic. Since then the four have become international superstars and seen their likeness adapted for television, film, a stage tour, and other comics over the years. Across these many mediums we’ve seen the four brothers sport many different looks, display different personality traits, while mostly adhering to the core of being mutated turtles that practice ninjitsu taught to them by their surrogate father – a rat named Splinter.

Whenever a new show based on an old property is unveiled, there’s almost always an immediate backlash by a certain portion of the fan base. It doesn’t even matter if the fanbase is inconsequential or even non-existent, as was seen recently with the She-Ra images unveiled, there will always be those who hate the new and prefer the old. And who am I to say they’re wrong? Hate it all you want, but you’ll always have what came before. I draw the line when folks say “they’re ruining my childhood” because that’s preposterous. Your childhood came and went, it’s history, there’s nothing to ruin. I’d encourage everyone to be open-minded and don’t be a slave to nostalgia because you’ll ultimately find more things in life to enjoy with such a mindset, but to each their own.

For this ranking, I am weighing the general design heavily above all others. This ranking is subjective and largely about how appealing I find the design of the four turtles to be. I am also giving a little added weight to the quality of the medium as well – does it hold up? Is it entertaining for children? All ages? And so on. I’m also just sticking to the comics, television, film, and stage show and not video games or toys. Most of the video games were based on one of those other things or strongly resemble another and the same is true for the toys. I don’t want things to get too unmanageable, so some of this may feel a little condensed, but you’ll see what I mean when we get to each one as I’ll note if there are any deviations. With that said, most of these all have some aesthetic charm to them, with only the very back-end of this ranking being particularly poor. Let’s get to it then, shall we?


What have we unleashed upon the world?

13. Coming Out of Their Shells Turtles

I ended up with 13 distinct flavors of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and by far the most dreadful would be the stage show Turtles from the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour. If you weren’t alive in 1990, basically the brand was on fire. No one could really explain it, and still can’t since the premise is so preposterous, but everyone was pretty sure it wouldn’t last much longer. Anyone with a financial interest in the TMNT was rushing product to shelves to capitalize as quickly as possible and someone thought a live show was a worthwhile endeavor. Utilizing two sets of costumes, the Turtles would appear on stage in some radical threads and would sing, dance, and mime fights with the bad guys from the cartoon. There were also backstage segments that were pre-taped featuring more conventional play style sequences for plot points. These costumes weren’t really meant to be seen up close since they were for the stage, and it shows. There’s no nuance to their mechanical mouths which just flap around. They have these crazy wide-eyed expressions and the added clothing items just look dorky, to put it simply. What was crazy though, is that these costumes weren’t confined to a live show. They had them appear on Oprah and in home videos so you could see just how terrible they looked. The home video and Christmas Special probably came out after the money had been made on the actual tour, but the Oprah thing still blows my mind.


These guys smell.

12. The Michael Bay Turtles (2014 Film)

I know I look like some old curmudgeon for sticking one of the most recent incarnations in the 12th spot, but I can’t help it – I really hate these guys. It wasn’t a surprise to see the newest films opt for CG over costumes, even if it was still disappointing, nor was it a surprise to see a new look for the gang green. However, could they have made these guys look any uglier? They’re a monstrous mess, just a pile of weapons, belts, and clothing. They embody the same personalities we’ve known for years and yet feel so lifeless. Even only four years after the first film, and a mere two after its sequel, these guys already feel forgotten and that doesn’t bother me one bit. I really have nothing nice to say about them. I guess Bebop and Rocksteady were cool?


Talk about a downgrade.

11. All Effects Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III)

The third film in four years for TMNT was the abysmal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. I liked it well enough as a kid I suppose, though it definitely was my least favorite of the trilogy. As an adult I find it mostly unwatchable. I suppose it can be laughed at in a manner befitting only bad movies, but my word do those costumes look awful. The first two films featured costumes designed by the Jim Henson Company and were remarkable for the time. For the third film, Golden Harvest and New Line Cinema contracted All Effects and the results were less than spectacular. The main bodies of each turtle looks fairly similar, but with less texture. They clearly looked like rubber suits. The heads though were awful. The dynamic expressions of the earlier costumes were gone replaced with something more static and soulless. I am not certain, but my guess is All Effects just went with one head design for its costumes as opposed to Henson’s multi-head approach. These ones are a bit more frog-like and just off-putting. Making these worse, the personalities of the Turtles were also less defined. Corey Feldman reprised his role as Donatello from the first film and apparently was considered the star as his character had way more lines. Everyone was kind of jokey and just along for the ride with only Mikey displaying much range. A very unsatisfying end to the trilogy. The feudal costumes at least looked kind of neat.

next mutation

They kind of look like they’re melting.

10. The Saban Turtles (The Next Mutation)

It feels like I’m picking on the live-action costumes in the early going, but I guess it’s to be expected with such outlandish characters that originated in print. And it also has to do with money. The third Turtles film was produced on the cheap, and the stage show certainly was as well relative to a film budget, and if you know much about TV cartoon development in the 90s then you know Saban is notorious for being cheap. Saban is most famous for bringing us Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which took film from the Japanese show Super Sentai and dubbed it for American audiences as something different. That’s about as cheap as it gets for show creation. It’s actually a surprise that the company even wanted to do a live-action series of TMNT in 1997 well after the franchise’s peak years. Titled Ninja Turtles:  The Next Mutation, it required all new costumes and sets and must have been rather expensive relative to other Saban entertainment. Even so, there was no way it was going to match the costumes from the film series, and while you could argue these are worse than what All Effects gave us, at least they tried to change things up. This show also famously added a fifth turtle, Venus de Milo, and it sort of followed the continuity of the other live-action heroes. It was pretty hokey and more than a bit cheesy, but I suppose it has its fans.

TMNT 2007

Passable, but also forgettable.

9. Imagi Turtles (TMNT 2007 film)

In what was a bit of a surprise, Warner Bros. tried bringing back the Turtles with a CG sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III 14 years after that film had been released. In truth, audiences didn’t need to know much about those previous movies to see this, just a general knowledge of who the Turtles were since a lot of time had passed in universe as well. The movie was okay, not bad but not exactly good either, and the CG was befitting that of a major studio. The characters mostly embodied the archetypes established in the first film, but the visual style was very different. The Turtles were more rounded with squished faces. Their skin was smooth and mostly free of any texture. They looked slippery and ever more frog-like than what we saw in the third film. It animated well, but the stills are some-what lackluster. It’s not the design I would have picked, but it was fine and not really noteworthy as this film is easily the most forgettable of the first four.


I don’t hate this.

8. The Flying Bark Turtles (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

It seems premature to even include the newest version in these rankings, but here we are. I said a lot about them in my write-up for the first episode, but as designs go I don’t hate these. I appreciate the willingness of the producers and the animators at Flying Bark to try something pretty new. There are elements of the older designs in the new ones, but with this show the brothers are, for the first time, different subspecies of turtles. Even though I didn’t much care for the show, I can at least appreciate what it’s trying to do. And if we’re just going by looks, it’s definitely got more personality than what was ranked behind it.

4Kids TMNT

A lot more menacing than that old cartoon.

7. The 4Kids Turtles (2003 Cartoon)

We have arrived at what is perhaps our first controversial ranking. The 2003 series produced by 4Kids Entertainment is well-regarded. It came at a time when the kids who had grown up on the TMNT were willing to embrace something that had grown up with them while a new generation was also willing to dive into a show about mutated ninja turtles. The show was a back to basics, taking a lot of the material from the original Mirage Comics run and adapting it for television in a kid-friendly manner without pandering. The old chunky designs were replaced with sleek, muscular, frames and the skin tones of the old Playmates toy line was essentially made canon as each turtle was a slightly different shade of green. The personalities were a bit of an amalgamation of the old cartoon and comic, with Raph, Leo, and Donatello being pretty close to the source while Mikey was a bit more like the old cartoon character. Where this one sort of stumbles for me is with the decision to go with the blank eyed look from the comics and toys. It makes the characters look pretty cool in a still frame, but when they had to emote it looks awkward. A future series would integrate this better. Don’t mistake this ranking as an endorsement of the 87 cartoon over this one as I’d much prefer to watch this series over that one any day.

TMNT 1987

Regardless of your feelings on this show, you can’t deny this is still what most folks picture when you say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

6. The Fred Wolf Turtles (1987 Cartoon Series)

Here is where we get to the big one, the most recognizable brand of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the one most responsible for the popularity of the franchise. These turtles actually had four some-what distinct looks, but we’ll get to that. In general though, the makers of the cartoon took the designs from Mirage and mostly added color and personality. The Mirage TMNT looked cool, but aside from Raph they didn’t offer much personality. They also looked the same and had those blank eyes which wouldn’t play well on television. To make up for that, the cartoon introduced the colored bandanas and pads unique to each turtle while also giving them actual eyes. Raph was toned down from a hot-tempered malcontent to a sarcastic prankster while Leo mostly retained his super serious persona. Donatello was made a genius, and Mikey a surfer dude. Oh, and they all loved pizza. Like, really loved pizza. It’s stuff you know all about now, and even though the cartoon basically existed to sell toys it at least looked pretty good. The first season, at least. In that one, the Turtles were a more muted shade of green with more musculature and a hint of a beak. Come the second season they were a bit brighter and more rounded. Weapons were de-emphasized and animators saw little need in actually showing their weapons holstered and so forth. By the final season though, they received a fairly radical redesign that introduced more blacks and a more angular shape. It was trying too hard to make the Turtles seem “dark” and “cool” and didn’t really play well. In Japan, a pair of OVAs were released that mostly featured the standard look of this serious, but gave the Turtles crazy transformation powers. You may remember seeing the toys for these on store shelves and wondered where they came from, well there’s your answer. I didn’t think either was really worth devoting a separate ranking to, but felt they were worth mentioning.

TMNT Archie

The storylines in the pages of Archie’s TMNT weren’t much better than the cartoon, but the artwork was a ton of fun.

5. The Archie Turtles (Archie Comics)

Alongside the original cartoon series was the Archie Comics series. This series basically captured the look and feel of the cartoon, but did at least experiment with making things a little more mature. I basically only decided to give the Archie Turtles their own entry because of what they did with Raph. Still keeping him mostly in-line with his cartoon counterpart, he was also made the loner or black sheep of the family and he wore all black for a while. It was confusing for me as a kid and I probably didn’t care for it, but now I look back and give Archie credit for not just adapting episodes of the cartoon into printed form.

Mirage TMNT

I’m guessing you’ve seen this image before, and probably not on the cover of a comic book.

4. Mirage Comics

All style, no substance. That’s pretty much the Mirage Turtles in a nut-shell, or should I say half-shell? While they did get better, initially the four characters were interchangeable. Chunky, but muscular, they were depicted in black and white and were only distinguishable by their weapons. Eventually, the personality of Raphael would be added and he was given a foil in Leonardo and a kindred spirit in Casey Jones. Leonardo would be made the stoic leader, while Donatello the introverted tech-nerd. Mikey never really morphed into the character we’ve seen elsewhere and he’s kind of hard to get a read on. Eastman and Laird’s artwork also improved along the way and their version of the Turtles from say issue 4 on is pretty damn good. Eventually, other artists were brought in to work on the books and you could do a separate listing on the various different takes they had on the characters, but for the purpose of this ranking I’m basically just going with the Eastman/Laird take. The peak of their art is probably best reflected, and most can recall it from the cover art to the first NES game. It confused the Hell out of me to see all four of the Turtles wearing red, but I sure thought it looked pretty bad ass.


The show that made April and Casey adolescents and made it work.

3. The Nick Turtles (2012 TV series)

It took some time, but the 2012 version of the characters seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did eventually grow on me. As far as personality and so forth was concerned, I was pretty much hooked from the start. The same archetypes were followed that we’re used to, but they felt more malleable and sincere. Leonardo wasn’t just some goody-two-shoes, he often struggled with being a surrogate Splinter when out on the town. Raph was a bit of a hot-head, but he didn’t strike me as being confrontational just for the sake of it. Donatello was a brain, but an insecure one. Mikey was still juvenile and mostly care free, but without being too over-exposed. This show pretty much nailed it as far as that goes. From a looks perspective, they basically went with the first movie, but with colored masks. The Turtles also featured three toes for the first time, an odd choice, but largely inconsequential. They wore wraps on their feet too which was different, but it made sense (those other turtles must have had some serious blisters) and added a little personality. About the only thing I didn’t like was the sometimes boxy-looking anatomy. Their shoulder muscles looked practically square, but it became less noticeable the more I was exposed to it. I loved that each turtle had his own body type and you could tell them apart by that alone. I also liked the little touch of making their eyes go blank when in combat. Definitely a move that’s all style and has no practical explanation in-universe, but it’s a cartoon so who cares? Have fun with it! This television series should be the new measuring stick for any future incarnation of the TMNT. That doesn’t mean they all should take the same approach, but strive for the same level of quality.


Maybe the coolest looking version of the TMNT yet.

2. The IDW Turtles (IDW Comics)

Alongside the 2012 reboot came a reboot in printed form. Kevin Eastman returned to the franchise alongside IDW Comics and presented a new version of the TMNT. It basically takes the tone of the original Mirage Comics, while also adding in the more developed personalities that would follow. The artwork is largely great, and the Turtles are back to wearing all red (they would eventually gain some color). If you’re an adult fan still mad about the new cartoon, well just head to a comic shop and read this series. This is the version of the TMNT made for those who out-grew the franchise, and from that perspective it’s pretty good. The Turtles will never be high art, and there’s tons of fan-service plots in this series, but in general it’s what most TMNT fans over 30 probably want.

Henson TMNT

I love these guys.

1.The Henson Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Secret of the Ooze)

Could there be anything else? The 1990 movie is still the best adaption of any kind of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Taking the Mirage look, adding in the colored masks from the cartoon, and also its own creative liberties resulted in a near perfect take on this green team. The four brothers all look different, all act different, and all go through their own ups and downs along the way. They have distinct personalities and challenges to face, and most of all the costumes created for these two movies are fantastic. I prefer the more realistic approach of the first film. That one was less intimidated by showing these characters for what they are, while the second one brightened things up and made them a little more appealing to look at from a practical sense. In other words, the Turtles of the first film looked like they lived in a sewer, while the ones in the second looked like they lived in an upscale apartment in Manhattan (which they did for a time). The first film is also very different in terms of style and tone, but the Jim Henson Company worked on both. The costumes received mostly minor tweaks between films, though Donatello looks almost completely different (he also had the biggest personality change as well, I guess because Feldman left the franchise). Both films entertained me a lot as a kid, but of the two, only the first one actually holds up. The second is basically a live-action version of the cartoon, though Raph still gets to inject a bit of conflict into the group dynamics. That first film is the best though. It hits the sweet spot between the gritty violence of the Mirage source material and the playful banter of the cartoon. It’s unlikely we’ll ever receive a better version of these characters, but maybe someone out there is just waiting to prove me wrong. I hope they’re successful.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection – Volume 1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1 (IDW Publishing, 2011)

When I was a wee-lad growing up in the 1980’s I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  And I don’t mean I just liked watching them on television or playing with their toys, I was obsessed.  And I was the norm.  It seemed like every boy my age loved the Turtles, and what was there not to love?  They were ninjas, they were young, they kicked ass, ate pizza, and even cracked a few jokes along the way.  Plus, their theme song was totally tubular, dude.

As was the case for most, my interactions with this new era fab four was mostly contained to television, until the movies started coming out.  Sure I knew the Turtles existed in the print form as well, I saw them fairly frequently in the check-out aisle at the grocery store, but always thought the TV show came first.  Those were the turtles I knew best.  Then the first film came along and changed things up a bit, most notably the Raphael character.  He was a hot-head on film and kind of hard to predict.  On TV though he was the wise guy known for breaking the fourth wall.  Even though the television show never adapted the stronger personality of movie Raph, that was the persona that took over the character for me.

Little did I know that was how Raphael was always intended to be.  For as many are now aware the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually first found success in the print form through Mirage Studios.  Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the original story set the stage for all future endeavors and introduced readers to the four turtles we know best:  Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and their sensei Splinter.  It’s intended as a bit of a parody of early 80’s comics, especially Frank Miller’s Daredevil.  The concept of four anthropomorphic turtles roaming the sewers of New York City is about as far-fetched as it gets.  And Eastman and Laird didn’t stop there, for like the television show with its forays into sci-fi, Eastman and Laird take the Turtles across the galaxy and back.

As a kid, this was all I knew of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Yes, I’ve been well-aware of these Ninja Turtles for quite some time, and have even seen some of the comics long since my obsession faded away.  Never before though have I actually taken the time to read through these early works.  It hit me out of no where sometime last summer, a need to see how my beloved childhood heroes were supposed to be portrayed.  It probably started a little earlier with the 4 Kids Entertainment television movie Turtles Forever, a feature that tried to blend the cartoon from the 80’s with the cartoon from 2003.  It also included the original Mirage Comics turtles and was a really fun production, though nothing stellar.  I found that the old trade paperbacks printed off during the 90’s collecting the old works were quite hard to come by at this point.  I was pretty frustrated with the prices I was seeing on eBay and trips to my own local comic book store proved fruitless as well.  My spirits were elevated though when I came across a new TPB on amazon.com set for release in the coming months.  I pre-ordered it right away and then began to wait, and wait, and wait…

I had pretty much forgotten about that pre-order when I finally received a notification in December that my copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  The Ultimate Collection – Volume 1 had shipped, more than three months after it was supposed to ship and six months after I had ordered it.  I wasn’t mad about the delay or anything, I just had simply forgotten about the thing and actually thought it might have been cancelled.  I’m glad it wasn’t, as I quite enjoyed my foray into Classic Turtles and I’m going to tell you all about.

First of all, this collection is very well put together.  It’s hard cover and oversized when compared with a normal comic book.  The artwork inside has been enlarged over the originals to accommodate this format and is presented in its original black and white.  The cover features new artwork from Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman and both he and Laird have a brief write-up following the first comic.  Eastman breaks down each issue page by page and offers some nice insight and really does a good job of putting the reader in a frame of mind to look at the Ninja Turtles from his perspective back when this thing all got started.

The company is IDW Publishing who acquired the rights to the printed turtles in early 2011 and wasted no time in getting this out.  Mirage, now controlled by Laird, is actually not involved with this at all.  Laird’s sparse commentaries apparently were taken from his blog (with his permission) and it doesn’t look like he contributed really at all to this release.  Eastman, more or less, abandoned the TMNT in the 90’s so it’s a bit surprising to see him team-up with IDW to put out new TMNT comics.  In addition to working on this collection, he is overseeing a new line of comics that began hitting shelves sometime late last summer.  Perhaps his funds are running low and he needs to turn back to old reliable once again.

Cover for TMNT #4, though most probably know this as the cover for the NES game.

If Eastman was burnt out on the Turtles in the 90’s he no longer is, or hides it well.  As I said, he does a great job of taking the reader back to the infancy of the Turtles and shows great exuberance.  He comes across as someone who loves to talk about the Turtles and is truly excited about this project.  If I have one minor quibble with his commentary it’s that he may be a little too reverential about his own work.  He seems to love everything he and Laird did, and maybe that’s true, but I feel like most artists when looking back on their old works would notice some areas for criticism.  Maybe he just wanted to keep things positive.  Despite that he doesn’t really come across as stuck-up or anything, he just sounds like a super fan.

The actual stories should be familiar to anyone well-versed in Ninja Turtles lore.  Both the animated show and the film borrow heavily from the comics when discussing the origin of the Turtles though neither adapted it completely.  In both the cartoon and film, Hamato Yoshi’s chief rival is Oroku Saki but in the comic book it was Oroku Nagi.  Yoshi kills Nagi while defending his love and it’s Nagi’s younger brother, Saki, who seeks revenge.  From there, it’s basically the same as the film with Yoshi fleeing to New York and Saki eventually following with his own faction of the Foot Clan.  Saki kills Yoshi, but during the scrum Yoshi’s pet ret is able to escape who would go on to become Splinter.

The first comic is both an introduction to the Ninja Turtles and a revenge piece.  After their first taste of live combat, the triumphant Turtles return to their master who finally shares the tale of how they came to be.  This sets the wheels in motion for a showdown with Oroku Saki, now called The Shredder, and Splinter dispatches Raphael to send a message to Shredder to meet the Turtles for a fight to the death.  True to their word, the Turtles do battle Shredder to the death, which closes out the first issue.

The artwork is quite rough.  The style suits the Turtles but the human characters look oddly proportioned.  The scenery is sometimes too busy as well, as the background clouds the action scenes at times.  The writing is also fairly amateurish.  The ideas are there but Eastman and Laird struggle to bring them out from a literary perspective.  I do like the approach of the opening though, with Leonardo serving as narrator, and the layout and pacing of the book is anything but amateurish and easily the book’s strength.  The violence that everyone speaks of when referencing the original books is a bit exaggerated.  Yes there’s more violence here than what was present on TV, but I feel it compares to what was presented in the first film, only with blood and actual death.  There’s no gore really, and while the Turtles aren’t a bunch of wise-cracking butt kickers I wouldn’t call the mood of the book “dark.”  Gritty yes, but not dark.

Short-comings aside, the first issue is actually quite enjoyable.  The action sequences and sheer uniqueness of the characters is what sells it.  Issue 2 brings in April O’Neil and Baxter Stockman.  O’Neil is a lab assistant for Stockman, not a news reporter, and Stockman is busy perfecting his mousers.  The Turtles end up encountering O’Neil in a similar manner to how they have in every other medium and do battle with Stockman and his creations, who hold a more sinister agenda than simple rat extermination.  Stockman is fairly clever and devious, a far cry from the bumble-head shown on television, and proves a formidable foe though he too is ultimately dispatched.  Not before, however, apparently claiming the life of Master Splinter leaving the Turtles devastated and without a home.

The rest of the comics carry forward the narrative as the Turtles search for answers regarding Splinter’s disappearance.  Their story takes them into space, of all places, where they meet the benevolent Fugitoid and the nefarious Triceratons.  The more sci-fi stories are less interesting for me, but it’s enjoyable to watch Eastman and Laird’s abilities improve for each issue.  The artwork improves, and though it never rivals a Frank Miller or Allen Moore, the writing does improve as well.  Their imaginations should certainly be commended, if nothing else.

The Raphael solo issue.

The collection includes the first 7 issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and also includes the Raphael one-shot “micro” issue.  Each turtle received his own issue at one point and this collection includes Raph’s which introduces the character Casey Jones.  Jones is designed to hold up a mirror to Raphael and show him what he’d become if he gave into his rage wholly.  Jones shows no mercy when dealing with common street punks and Raph basically has to save the criminals from him.  They duke it out in a pretty brutal contest before eventually becoming pals.  Their relationship in the first film was pretty faithful to how it’s presented here.

If these issues have one major short-coming for me it’s with the actual characters of Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael.  Leonardo is given the most attention and he’s clearly the most mature and the one that takes after Splinter the most.  He’s not given the title of leader, he takes it.  Raphael is shown as a bit of a loose cannon, but not to the degree he was in the film.  He really isn’t shown to have much of a rivalry with Leo, which is something that surprised me.  Donatello is shown to be more studious than the others and does get a few chances to show off his tech-savy abilities, but nothing to the degree that the television show would adopt.  Michaelangelo ends up being the least developed character and has no real personality to call his own.  He’s shown to be a pretty talented fighter in a sparring match with Raph, and some of his care free persona shows through but only slightly.  And if anyone who’s never seen the stories is curious, no, there’s no pizza or surfer talk.  In one panel Raph actually asks April to fetch him a beer.

All in all, this compendium did meet my expectations.  I always assumed the self-professed hardcore TMNT fans oversold the original works in terms of its violence and tone and found that to be mostly the case.  While I was surprised by some developments, this was mostly how I envisioned the Turtles came across in print.  IDW exceeded my expectations with the quality of this release, and I suppose they should have since the MSRP is $50!  Amazon sells it for much cheaper for those interested and I’d say any TMNT fans looking for a collection should check this one out.  I don’t know how many of these Eastman and IDW are preparing but I have Volume 2 already pre-ordered which is currently slated for release at the end of March.  It will include the next 4 issues plus the rest of the micro books which I hope will add more depth to the individual turtle personalities.  I look forward to getting my hands on it in the coming months.

%d bloggers like this: