Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Ultimate Collection
The Ninja Turtles have a rather storied past. Created in 1984 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a black and white indie comic, the series went on to spawn three television series and four movies. Like all comics of the time, the transition to other mediums didn’t come without a cost. In the case of the turtles, that cost was a severe dumbing-down of the characters; turning the once serious (and occasionally murderous) turtles into surfer-slang spewing, pizza-loving doofuses.
This collection, from IDW, reprints the first seven issues and the Raphael one-shot, as written and drawn by Eastman and Laird themselves. Those only familiar with the cartoon will find a familiar, and yet different story, one that’s far better than you’d expect.
When we first meet the Ninja Turtles, they are essentially faceless assassins. The first issue contains a lengthy origin story as told by Splinter, the turtles’ rat master, after which he sends them off to avenge his own master by killing the Shredder. Taken on its own, it’s a nice little ninja action story, but the turtles don’t display any personality, they’re just stereotypical kung fu movie heroes, strong and silent. It’s not until issue two, the introduction of April O’Neil and Baxter Stockman, that we see the turtles relaxed and acting human. They are shown to have individual personalities, Raphael is aggressive; Leonardo is the older, more mature one; and Donatello is the scientist. The characterizations become clearer as the series goes on.
It should be noted that Eastman and Laird are very upfront about their influences, and how they incorporated them into the book, which becomes even more apparent later in this volume when the turtles have their Star Wars-like space adventure. The story doesn’t come off as rip-off though. It’s more like Quentin Tarantino, a mix of an homage with the critical eye of a fan; it’s writing the story that you would want to read.
The art, like the writing, gets better as the book progresses. Both Laird and Eastman wrote and drew the book together, and there are slight inconsistencies; sometimes the turtles are smaller and rounder, sometimes taller and more angular. Even though the artistic influences they list are all from mainstream superhero comics, the book ends up looking more like an underground comic from the ’70s, not unlike R. Crumb, especially with the shading, and mild cartooniness in the cityscape. The action scenes flow very well, you can follow the fights move by move. Action poses and large establishing shots look great, but then there will be one panel with a guy standing still and he’ll be just a little out of proportion. It’s nothing that detracts from the reading, but these are still artists learning their craft.
The stories presented in this volume are solid action-adventures certain to be a revelation to those whose only experience with the turtles is the original cartoon. While the various elements and plot turns are not original in themselves, the pastiche assembled here is none-the-less unique and engaging.
IDW did a fantastic job with this book. First, the book is big, 8.5 by 12.25 inches. Interior paper is matte, which reproduces the ink and rub-on shading used in the book accurately. Each issue is followed by annotations from Eastman, occasionally joined by Laird. These include a few paragraphs giving an overview of what was happening while they were making the issue in question, followed by notes pointing out specific pages in the issue.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fun, entertaining comic that worth reading whether you have nostalgia for the property or not. Adding that to the great presentation from IDW makes this book an easy recommendation.