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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.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Last Ronin #3

IDW recently dropped the third issue in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mini series The Last Ronin; the flash-forward, what if, story about the last of the turtles and his quest for revenge. I have so far enjoyed this series and have shared my thoughts here. The first issue was like a big introduction as it was largely about the hero infiltrating a future New York controlled by the Foot on a suicide mission that wasn’t successful, in more ways than one. In that issue, we saw that our hero is haunted by the ghosts of his brothers, possibly literally, but likely not as he interacts with them like they’re still alive. Issue number 2 was the first issue where the story is only partially in the present, and largely took place in the past as the writers and artists on the book started to peel back the layers of what happened to get us to this point.

In that second issue, we saw the death of one of the ninja turtles, as well as the death of a major villain. When that happened, I hypothesized that this would be the format for the next few issues. Plot developments in the present would be kept to a minimum, while much of the books would be devoted to showing us the death of a turtle. Sure enough, issue three is more of the same as we see a little bit more of what happened following the death of the first turtle and how we ended up where we are.

Seeing one of my childhood favorites killed off was actually a lot harder than expected. Even though the story begins with three of the four turtles deceased (and other allies unaccounted for), I didn’t really consider how I felt about these characters being dead. Nor did I really think about what it would be like to see their last moments, and it turns out, it’s hard! As such, I had a slight feeling of dread walking into this one as I pretty much knew what was coming. In some ways, I guess I’m happy to say it wasn’t that tough a read after all, but that’s also disappointing as well.

Our hero has a new problem he needs to deal with: teenagers.

The confrontation we see this time around concerns a character’s rise to power in the Foot and how that individual orchestrated this whole thing. Much of the book is spent in the past showing what happened, but when it gets to the “hard” part, the story takes an easy way out. I was left holding the book and saying to myself, “That’s it?!” as I flipped back and forth to see if I missed something. Everything leading up to the moment was fine and compelling, but the payoff just wasn’t really there. I don’t expect to see any of the turtles brutally murdered on the page, but this death was a bit confounding and the presentation almost Saturday morning cartoon-like. Some additional mileage is spent on the present time, and the story there moves a bit further than it did in issue #2. Things are moving, but the end game isn’t in sight yet, which is fine as I like the pace this story is setting.

As was the case with the first two issues, the artwork here is great. Esau and Isaac Escorza do a fantastic job bringing this world to life. The colors are muted and dingy befitting the subterranean setting throughout. I like the look of the turtles as they’re uniquely designed for this story. The human characters are a bit ho-hum by comparison, but it all looks fine so I’m not complaining. As was the case with the previous issue, there is a layout done by Kevin Eastman. It’s another flashback presented in black and white which is just a fun throwback to the original Mirage issues. I suspect that will continue at least into the next issue when we should see how the third turtle was dispatched.

We get to check-in with another villain from the past in this issue.

The Last Ronin #3 is a minor stumble for the series. I am enjoying the overall story, I was just less satisfied with this entry and less moved by what transpired within the pages. I still have high hopes and great expectations for the fourth issue, and I’m genuinely curious to see how this is all wrapped up. That conclusion is still many months away as I’m not even sure if the goal is to finish it before 2021 ends. The fourth issue is scheduled to ship in August, and I’ve got it on my pull list at the local comic book store. With the world coming back to life, I heartily recommend you not only check this series out, but support your local comic book stores in the process!


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Last Ronin #2

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.

Much of this book is devoted to showing how we got to where we are.

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.

Pictured: not Elektra.

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.

A familiar art style for those who read the early stuff.

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.

Something about them seems familiar…

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.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Last Ronin

I don’t read a lot of comics these days. Actually, I suppose I never truly read a lot of comics even when I was very much into X-Men and Spider-Man. Back in the 90s, I received most of my comic lore from trading cards. They were cheaper and fun to collect. When it came to actual books, I was rarely allowed to get one though I certainly would try to get my mom or dad to buy me one when at the grocery store. The most comics I read probably came when I was in college and I had the money to buy trades of all of the famous stories I had heard about growing up: The Dark Phoenix Saga, Watchmen, Death in the Family, etc. I also got into modern stories and for awhile I kept up with Marvel’s Ultimate Universe until I either ran out of money or grew bored with the hobby.

One of the last comic storylines I really dove into was the inaugural Mirage Studios Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. IDW Publishing started handling the property following the sale of the franchise to Viacom and the company put out these massive, hardcover, collections of the original Eastman and Laird run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I blogged about all five volumes here, if you want to search for them, and I mostly jumped into them because I grew up a big TMNT fan and I had never really checked out the original books. I certainly knew of them, and I think I had read the inaugural issue on more than one occasion, but I had never gone deep. It was pretty fun, though when I was finished checking those out I found I had little curiosity in the other TMNT stories, be they more older ones like the Archie comics or the new ones published by IDW.

Late last year though, a lot of TMNT fans started singing the praises of a new TMNT story titled The Last Ronin. It’s basically a future “what-if?” styled story that could best be described as the TMNT version of the classic X-Men story “Days of Future Past.” I really didn’t know much about it, only that there was some really cool artwork based on the story being circulated online. I decided it was something worth checking out, though by the time I had done so the first issue had sold out. Thankfully, it was still attainable via online shops with only minimal markup. I eventually ordered a copy, and I also subscribed to the rest and even grabbed the Director’s Cut reprint of the first issue recently and I’m glad I did.

The Last Ronin tells the tale of a lone turtle in the future. He’s bundled from head to toe in robes and armor and is outfitted with the weapons longtime turtle fans know and love: katana, sai, nunchaku, bo. He sports a black mask and he’s a bit paunchy compared with other versions of the TMNT I’m used to, but that wasn’t something I read much into beforehand. Once I had the first issue in hand though, it was obvious this was an older turtle and when we meet him he’s sneaking into New York City which is now a Hell hole because this is a dystopian future story. High walls surround the city and massive skyscrapers have created a dual class system where the wealthy live above the city and the poor are left to fend for themselves at ground level, and below. The Foot run the show, though we don’t know who leads them, while our protagonist narrates to himself (and the reader) what’s about to go down.

Things get pretty heavy for our nameless friend.

It would seem this is a turtle on a suicide mission. He wants to sneak in and cause trouble in hopes of taking down whoever leads the Foot now. And as he talks to himself, he talks to the dead. It becomes obvious that this turtle is one of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the rest are dead. We don’t know which one (that’s saved for the end of the first issue), but it almost doesn’t matter as whoever this is he’s undergone a lot of trauma and has changed considerably.

And things get bloody too.

I really don’t want to say anything more about the first issue as I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s a very action-packed issue as our turtle friend encounters trouble pretty much from the onset. It’s in-line too with the Mirage comics of old as there’s a considerable amount of violence and this turtle clearly plays for keeps. He also gives as good as he receives as this isn’t a superhero type of character capable of being a true one-man army. He’s plenty capable, for sure, of causing a ruckus and fending off multiple enemies, but he’s no Superman. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable read for someone who grew up adoring TMNT as it’s really not fun to think of them as dead, but here we are.

The Director’s Cut of issue #1 shows off a lot of the original treatment for this story. This plot originates from the 1980s when TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird dreamt up a finale of sorts to what they started. It never got made until now, and a lot was changed in the interim, but it’s pretty cool to see the original vision. Some of the writing can be hard to read, as it’s just scanned notes from 30 years ago, but it’s definitely worth a look. There’s also a look at the concept art for the series with annotations from Eastman that are pretty informative. I wouldn’t call the Director’s Cut essential for those who want to experience The Last Ronin, but if you’re interested in getting a copy of issue #1 I’d recommend it over the standard release.

The story for this one is shared amongst Eastman, Laird, and Tom Waltz with Eastman and Waltz handling the actual script (Laird’s credit appears to stem from the original story and I didn’t get the impression he had much involvement with it beyond that). Layouts were done by Eastman and pencils and inks were done by Esau and Isaac Escorza and the art in general looks terrific with colors by Luis Antonio Delgado. The team does a great job of evoking some of that rough Mirage art from the 80s but with a more refined touch. The colors are mostly muted which suits the grim atmosphere of the story with some of the flashbacks featuring a soft, glow, to them. There are several variant editions out there if that’s your fancy all with different covers. The main cover is by the book artists and the Director’s Cut cover features art by Eastman. The book is printed on thick paper as this is a special release. The cover is also thick and durable and it comes with a slightly higher retail cost of $8.99 per issue with the Director’s Cut coming in at $10.99.

The Last Ronin is off to a great start. It definitely seems to hit the tone it’s going for as this is a downer of a story. There’s a lot to uncover as this five part series moves along and issue #2 is already out with #3 expected in May. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, I definitely recommend checking it out as I think it’s going to be an interesting ride. Of course, you could always wait for the inevitable TPB edition but that may not come until 2022 so why wait? And if there are any action figure makers reading, we need a Last Ronin figure!


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