The Ultimate Collection, Volume Two
The second collection of stories from the original Eastman and Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic encompasses some of the highs and lows of their original adventures.
I’ll start with the good, the Leonardo one-shot. It’s a near-silent piece in which Leo, on his own, is attacked by the Foot soldiers in a battle that spans roof tops and alleyways while the other turtles blithely carry-on with their Christmas preparations. The story that continues from there on through end of the book should be familiar to any who saw the first TMNT movie.
This is the battle with Shredder which results in the destruction of April’s antique shop, Casey Jones joining the group, and the heroes’ fight to North Hampton. Everything, from the art to the dialogue, seems to take a sudden leap with these issues. The first issue of TMNT was deadly serious, but lacked heart, or any characterization for that matter. After that, it got a little silly, with stories about magic and Star Wars parodies. But by the end of this volume, Eastman and Laird have finally struck a balance. The story becomes grounded in reality. It stops being Superman, and becomes Batman. The turtles are vulnerable, the danger is real, and the reader can relate to the outcome.
But before we come to that great storyline, there’s a bit more of the things I don’t like as much about the original series, like the Cerebus crossover. Cerebus is an undeniable achievement in the comic medium; a 300 issue story written, drawn, and self-published by Dave Sims. But that great achievement made Sim a little nutty. Later issues featured lengthy, small-type misogynistic manifestos about (and I’m quoting here) how the ‘Female Void devours the Male Light. ‘ Granted, this happened after the team-up with the turtles, but it still leaves a sour taste. More importantly, the story, while fine in its own right, just doesn’t feel connected to the overall turtle’s universe. It feels shoehorned in, like a poorly integrated guest star in a TV series.
The second issue I should talk about is the Donatello one-shot, ‘Kirby and the Warp Crystal,’ an homage to comic artist legend, Jack Kirby, in which an artist lurking in April basement draws fantastical creations which come to life thanks to a magic crystal on a pencil. I’ve never been a big fan of the issue, it comes-off a little childish; actually, the first version of the story I read was an adaptation into a children’s picture book. Again, like the Cerebus crossover, it’s just out-of-place, and off-tone to the rest of the series. Reading the annotations, it’s clear that Eastman and Laird did the issue out of love for Kirby, but as a reader, the result is a little (and I don’t like using this term) self indulgent.
Like the first volume, this is a beautiful package put together by IDW. An over-sized hardcover with great build quality, and lots of behind-the-scenes insights from the original creators. Despite the few missteps, the good in this volume far outweighs the bad.