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.
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.
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.
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.