Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics round up

With a number of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics available right now, Matt delves in to find out whether they’re worth your attention...

In August last year, comic publisher IDW kicked off a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Bringing together original co-creator Kevin Eastman with writer Tom Waltz and artist Dan Duncan, this effort launched a new continuity for the Turtles, effectively starting again after more than 20 years of the original Mirage series. Sort of.

Continuity in the TMNT series had become somewhat confused. The first issues were handled by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, who not only created the books but also set up a company to publish them. However, as the series drew on, other creators were invited to contribute issues, and they strayed from continuity on many occasions. The series was pulled back on track by Eastman and Laird for the final 15 issues or so of the first volume. A 13 issue second volume also managed to stay on track.

Things started to get tricky with volume three, which was released by publisher Image. Left unfinished, an in-continuity volume four (produced again by Mirage) didn’t acknowledge the third volume, instead carrying on from the second. To make things extra fun, this volume also remains unfinished.

There are also more than 70 issues of Tales Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spread over two volumes, which are in-continuity. Add to that the Adventures Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series that was based, at least originally, on the 80s cartoon series which also had a run of more than 70 comics, but is considered its own continuity. Then there’s the previously attempted reboot by publisher Dreamwave, which lasted for just seven issues before being halted by the company’s demise (perhaps mercifully for Turtles fans, as the series was poor), not to mention more spin-offs and guest appearances than you could shake a bo staff at.

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Simply worded, things had become muddled and inaccessible for new readers. A fresh starting point was necessary and, at a time that will see a new TMNT television series and, eventually, film come to be, very welcome.

Unfortunately, thanks to the ghosts of Turtles past, getting hold of the new TMNT comics in the UK has not been as simple as I might have hoped. International distribution rights have previously prevented IDW from releasing the new issues on our comic shops’ shelves. But with those problems now resolved, the issues have finally come out, with the first four rounded up in a trade collection.

Volume 1 – Change Is Constant

How do you start a reboot of a series when everybody already knows the origin story?

Look, I don’t read a lot of comics, and so I can’t comment on whether this is normal or not, but the new TMNT comic decides to put the origin to one side, at least for the first eight pages, to instead show us a massive fight in an alleyway. Simply put, the people behind this reboot get me.

These four issues have been made up from various story strands, with a segment of each leading into the next. This allows the origin story to be teased out, in flashback form, without burdening the issues and preventing them from getting on with the series. Although some fans have criticised the pacing of the new issues, I’ve not had a problem with it. If you’re going to run simultaneous story threads, it does no harm to take your time with them. There’s still plenty happening and foundations are being laid to build future stories on. It suggests that the series is intended to run for a while, which is reassuring.

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Reading the issues together, without the one month wait between releases, is particularly rewarding, as the story threads flow nicely into one another.

As far as the characters go, there are so many to introduce that we’re only getting a little bit of each one. That’s fine for now, and it’s clear that the team behind the books are aware that they need to be expanded (particularly Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo) as it’s addressed to some extent in the issues and micro series comics that have followed these first four comics. So far there aren’t too many surprises, with everyone falling into familiar roles (although there are some fun twists on character dynamics even this early on, like the tension between Leonardo and Donatello).

The most interesting addition to the cast of characters is a mutant alley cat gang leader called Old Hob. I was sceptical when I first heard about him because, well, it sounded like a terrible idea. But he’s a wild, menacing presence in a series where the villains have been more of the ‘evil schemer’ variety.

There have also been some great surprises in the form of characters from the old cartoon series appearing. The tone of that show has always suggested that the characters wouldn’t fit into more serious fare, but the way they’re used here suggests that the writing team are quite capable of integrating them into this series.

I’m a big fan of the artwork, too. It’s a little rough, well coloured and appropriate for the overall tone. I’d also like to mention the cover art (which, I’ve read on the IDW forum, will be included in a ‘covers gallery’ in the trade release), which has been really terrific. There have also been some great alternate covers, particularly those by Kevin Eastman.

So the new Ninja Turtles series, then, is something I’m rather excited about. They’re playing with all sorts of existing things (Raphael is missing!) so there’s lots to entertain old fans. They aren’t just pissing about and being clever, though. The IDW team are telling an interesting story here. Granted, it’s moving at a slower pace than then original comics were (15 issues into volume one, we’d already seen the Turtles travel back in time, tangle with superheroes and taken prisoner by Triceratons as part of an intergalactic dispute), but with a legacy to consider, the measured start to this series is great. I’d urge old fans to give these new issues a try.

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That said, if you’d rather a dose of nostalgia…

Ultimate Collection Volume 1

When I first got my hands on this book (a near 300 page monster that brings together eight issues of the original series) I came over all stereotypically ‘blokey’. “Phwoar!”, “Look at the cover on that! Get in!” and, most depressingly, “Get your Turtles out!”

I don’t know what got into me and I hope to never do it again.

Still, if you had the book sitting in front of you now and coupled it with my enthusiasm for not only the subject matter but for these particular issues, I think you’d understand.

This set features some of the best TMNT comics there are. The first issue of the comic is a real stand-out. It’s a violent, action packed and fast paced. Most importantly, though, it’s great fun. The follow on issues tell some stories that more casual fans will be familiar with (the Baxter Stockman mouser run has been adapted for both cartoon series’ to date) and the Raphael micro series issue recounts the tale of Raphael meeting Casey Jones (which inspired a section of the first live action film), while including some that will be a little alien to them (such as the Utrom intergalactic transportation story). They’re all sharply written and inventive.

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Aside from making these issues easily available again, the major selling point of this book is the over-sized art. This was my first time reading these issues in their original black and white form (I previously had the coloured graphic novels that were popular when the cartoon was big in the late 80s and early 90s) and I was thoroughly impressed. I have seen some complaints online that the images are quite ‘pixelly’. While I did spot it when it was pointed out, it’s not hugely noticeable, and I can’t say I was bothered by it. However, those of you with a keener eye for such things may want to investigate before you consider buying.

There’s not a great deal of extra content in the book. Each issue has its cover included, along with some annotations from creators Eastman and Laird. The back of the book also contains a couple of sketches.

So, to conclude, there are lots of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics out at the moment, and I think they’re all brilliant and exciting. Is that helpful?