Tag Archives: mirage comics

Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Leonardo

IMG_1387NECA is now 3/4 of the way through the release schedule of their TMNT 1990 movie line with the release of Leonardo – the REAL leader of the group. And like Donatello and Raphael before him, he’s a pretty impressive specimen.

The original 1990 movie impossibly never had dedicated action figures. Playmates half-assed a line in recent years that didn’t seem like it committed to being a representation of either of the first two films and tried to have it both way, similar to how their own “classic” turtles were an amalgamation of the original cartoon and toy line. These giant figures from NECA have done an admirable job of filling that void, and while I do wish they came in a friendlier scale, I can’t deny how awesome these 16″ behemoths look.

Leonardo has all of the same articulation as his two brothers and that’s primarily because he’s essentially the same figure with a different head and belt. Of the three I have thus far received, I found Leo to be the easiest to pose right out of the box as his joints were pretty nimble and I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything. His ab crunch however, hidden underneath the shell, is a little loose compared with Raph and similar to my Donatello. This means he has a tendency to pitch forward slightly and it’s hard to get his head to look straight out in front of him. The rest of his joints are tight and accommodating and the paint applications are flawless on my turtle. His belt is film accurate featuring two thing strips of leather crossing his chest from his right shoulder. I have no idea if the sheaths on the back of his shell are film accurate since you never really get a good look at them onscreen, but they look fine to me.

Leonardo naturally comes equipped with his twin katana. They’re very light which kind of surprised me and I do worry some about their durability. Currently, I’m a little scared that he’s going to fall off of my shelf and snap his blades, but hopefully that does not happen. They look pretty accurate to the film, and even have the octagonal hand guards and taped hilts. The film makes them seem a bit more dingy and worn, but that could just as easily have more to do with the lighting of the picture than anything. I can’t deny they look good, and their length seems spot on. Leonardo also comes with the same set of extra hands as Raphael. I’m a little disappointed that his pointing hand isn’t the reverse of Raph’s. He also comes with the same slice of pizza as the other two, but surprisingly he also comes with a canister of that famous ooze. Unlike the canister that came with Donatello, this one does not feature the crack from which the ooze leaked out and thereby justifying its existence. This means Leonardo comes with more accessories than brothers, though not by much. I would have preferred extra pizza to complete a pie, but oh well. Maybe Mikey will comes with that, though I doubt it since his weapons are probably the most costly to produce.

Aside from that, there isn’t much more to say since he’s fundamentally the same figure as the other two I’ve already reviewed. The only real downside to that is Leo should be a little taller than his brothers, and Mikey should be noticeably shorter (we’ll see how that turns out later), but it’s not egregious. The head sculpt looks fantastic and captures that grim seriousness embodied by the character in the film. The likeness is flawless, and I’m really glad to have this version of my favorite turtle upon my shelf. I very much look forward to completing this set when Michelangelo ships later this summer.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 4

1336705It’s been hard for me to find the time to sit down at the computer and contribute to this blog since becoming a dad in the spring of 2015. It has become especially hard as my offspring has learned to crawl, and then walk. Even so, that event occurred well after I posted my review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  The Ultimate Collection Vol. 3 in January 2013. Hopefully, no one has been sitting around waiting for this post since then, but at long last, I’m finally getting around to reviewing volume 4 of The Ultimate Collection.

For the uninitiated, The Ultimate Collection is a five volume set of hardcover, oversized comic book compilations chronicling the early years for the TMNT and collecting only the works of their original creators:  Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The comics are presented in their original black and white with new cover art and liner notes by both creators. As someone who primarily experienced the Turtles as a kid via the cartoon and the films, I wanted to get this collection to experience firsthand the genesis of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

If you go back and read my review of Volume 3, you will notice I apparently took a long time in getting to that one as well. That was due to my lack of enthusiasm towards the product. For Volume 4, much is the same, unfortunately. Though I should point out right off the bat that Volume 4 is a better read than 3 as it compiles the last major arc of the original run:  City at War. Volume 3 concluded with the re-death of The Shredder and Volume 4 picks up right where that one left off with the two-part Shades of Gray plot commencing in Issue 48. This volume runs in perfect continuity as it contains issues 48-55 as it represents a point in time where Eastman and Laird both had a renewed interest in the comic and a desire to put a finishing touch, of sorts, on everything before going their separate ways.

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This encounter ends up making a large impact on Casey Jones.

Shades of Gray focuses on the Return to New York fallout and takes stock of where all of the main characters are presently at, in terms of their frame of mine. The Turtles return back to North Hampton but intend to return to New York after consulting with Splinter. Splinter is not coming with them, and Donatello wrestles with where his place is. Meanwhile, Casey is returning to his vigilante routes and accidentally takes a life in self defense, which gets the attention of Nobody, another vigilante introduced in the Tales of TMNT stories. Casey is spared, with some help from the Turtles, but is a wreck in the aftermath. April is also shown as lost and decides she needs to leave, especially with Casey being so distant. There’s some nice attention paid to Donatello as the story succeeds in giving his character a little more color than usual and he and Casey have a poignant encounter in the woods nearby.

Shades of Gray is basically a setup for City at War as it sets all of the characters out in new directions. April, searching for a fresh start, heads west to LA where her older sister Robyn resides. The Turtles head to New York, and Casey resolves to go after April after he clears his head. City at War also welcomes back Eastman and Laird to the artist’s chair for issue 1. Aside from that though, all of the pencils are handled by Jim Lawson in this collection. Eastman and Laird’s crowded, cross-hatching heavy art lends itself well to the congested city setting and their take on the Turtles is a welcomed return. Their still pretty amateurish when it comes to illustrating the human characters, in particular April, but overall I enjoy their artwork the most in this collection. It’s a shame it’s only for one issue.

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City at War Part 1 marks the return of Eastman and Laird as artists.

The City at War arc is primarily focused on the Turtles and their place in the New York community. They take on a Batman like role upon their initial return which frustrates Raph. The other brothers confide in one another that they’re unsure of what their place is and Leo has the hardest time with it and struggles with his role as leader for much of the collection. Meanwhile, the Foot Clan is in disarray and has splintered off into multiple factions. We see a rag-tag group of the ninjas mostly making trouble, but also a more sophisticated faction that targets the others financially via cyber warfare. And then there’s the Japan faction which is teased throughout the entire collection. They’re lead by Karai, who finally reaches New York by issue 55, but her presence isn’t felt until Volume 5. The Foot Elite are also around making trouble, and their allegiance is unclear. One encounter seems to place their allegiance still firmly with their deceased master making them a chaotic force simply out for revenge. It’s also unclear how large their numbers are, but considering they’re the elite force, probably few.

April’s adventures in LA are shown and they’re dull by comparison. Her scenarios often retread familiar ground as she still feels lost and without a home even with her sister and her sister’s young son. Robyn is the foil who tries to get April to loosen up, have fun, meet a guy, and so on. She humors her sister, to a point, and shows some genuine enthusiasm in the upcoming Christmas celebration she’ll be able to share with her sister, but not a lot happens.

Casey, on the other hand, gets sidetracked out in New Mexico when his truck gets stolen. He falls in with a waitress named Gabby, and the two quickly become an item. When Gabby confesses to Casey that she’s four months pregnant, he seems to find some new purpose for himself. The scenes between the two are hard to get a read on as Casey becomes consumed by this new role for himself. Does he genuinely have feelings for Gabby or is he too just looking for some new purpose for himself? Someone to take care of and protect?

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AC Fairly handles the covers and he prefers a “chunky” kind of turtle that I’m not particularly fond of.

It hurts that Eastman and Laird aren’t the most gifted storytellers or script writers. There’s a lot of groan-inducing dialogue, some intentional as Casey is basically a lunkhead, throughout the two more grounded arcs. The parts with the Turtles have minimal dialogue at times. It is frustrating to see, that after such a strong character-driven opening with Shades of Gray, that the Turtles mostly return to their personality-less roles for City at War. Only Leo and Raph are given room to show-off their personalities, which has become a reoccurring problem for the books as a whole. Mikey is the most criminally overlooked as his comic book counterpart has almost no defining characteristics beyond his weapons. Perhaps it was an unintentional reaction to his oversized personality everywhere else that Eastman and Laird chose to keep the spotlight away from him.

Not to be forgotten, is the Splinter arc which is mostly small, but contains a nice reveal at its end in this collection. Another Tales of TMNT character makes their main-line debut and one that is familiar to longtime TMNT fans. The setup is done well and I really enjoyed the brief depiction of this character. Hopefully it pays off in Volume 5.

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Lawson’s version of the Turtles is not one of my favorites.

As I mentioned before, Jim Lawson handles almost all of the pencils in this collection and it was the reason I grew so disinterested in the volume to begin with. I do not enjoy his take on the Turtles. They’re blocky and his art is sometimes sloppy. I’m mostly okay with his April, even if she seems to not have any of the physical traits of the Eastman and Laird version, and his Casey is fine. His backgrounds are a lot less crowded which works for some of the action scenes but sometimes there’s an emptiness to them. Perhaps the over-sized format draws more attention to all of the white space. He does have some awkward transitions where he tries to convey too much motion on one page, but at least he’s not beholden to the traditional panel approach. There’s also an overuse of splash pages in issues 54 and 55 that feel like filler. Even Laird admits in the liner notes he’s not sure why they went with so many. Lawson’s art does shine some in issue 54 when he gets to depict a cloaked Mikey in the snow. For some reason, the snow is abandoned in the following issue. I guess they had a heat wave.

The cover art and some of the interior art is new and handled by Eastman. It’s in line with the other collections, though not my favorite. I think the back cover would have been better off as the front as it depicts the Turtles surrounded by Foot Ninjas which is a nice representation of what’s contained inside. Otherwise though, it’s fine. The liner notes feel more substantial here as well, especially from Laid. Eastman is still too in love with everything they did while Laird is a little more critical. The quality of the set is once again very high and there’s little to complain about there. The pages are nice and thick and the whole set has a nice weight to it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to be a mostly action-oriented affair. The attempts at actual story-telling work better here than they did in some of the other issues, but a lot of it is also cliche and amateurish. No one picks up a TMNT comic expecting Shakespeare though, and there are some genuinely good bits of character development contained in these issues. I just wish they had a better artist.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 3

Wrap-around cover of Volume 3, notice the little robots holding the black space where the barcode goes.  Nice touch!

Wrap-around cover of Volume 3, notice the little robots holding the black space where the barcode goes. Nice touch!

I’ve been rather slow lately when it comes to posts, and especially so with getting to this one in particular.  I can’t even remember when volume 3 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ultimate Collection arrived at my front door but I do know it was several months ago.  I’ve put off posting on it in part because I made a couple of other Turtles related posts in the interim and just plain laziness.

I suppose it would be fair to say that had I been blown away by what I saw and read in volume 3 that I would have posted sooner.  Volume 3 is a bit of a mixed bag and not as strong as the two preceding it.  The collection contains issues 12, 14, 15, 17, and 19-21.  The first four are one-shot stories that Eastman and Laird were involved with to varying degrees while the last three cover the “Return to New York” plot jointly worked on by the two.  At this point, the TMNT franchise was much bigger elsewhere and the original comics were starting to feel like an afterthought.  Playmates and the networks that aired the cartoon probably weren’t crazy about the idea of kids (and parents) stumbling onto these more violent turtles while the creators were suffering from turtle-induced burnout.  Simply put, the money wasn’t in the comics and it was in part out of obligation that Eastman and Laird continued with them.  Their working relationship had also soured, meaning they worked on few issues together and instead relied on the talents of guys like Jim Lawson and Steve Lavigne.  If you’re wondering why there appears to be some missing issues in this collection, it’s because Eastman and Laird didn’t work on them at all.  This Ultimate Collection represents the Eastman/Laird era and is set to conclude with volume 5, which will presumably arrive in the fall (volume 4 is currently scheduled to start shipping at the end of March).

The one-shots in volume 2 really made the set.  The individual micro series issues that focused on a sole turtle were among my favorites and succeeded in distinguishing each turtle from one-another.  In this volume the opposite seems to be the case as the one shots are lacking in focus and creativity.  The first one, “Survivalists,” is a Laird story and places our heroes out in the country with Master Splinter where they encounter an outlaw group fixing to steal a nuclear bomb.  It’s rather absurd, even for a TMNT story, but does feature Splinter in some action scenes which is always nice to see.  What follows is “The Unmentionables,” an Eastman story that puts Casey Jones in detective mode as he looks to solve the mystery of a stolen landmark.  The setting takes place in a small town and it’s genuinely interesting to read the notes following the story from Eastman and Laird about the real-life connections of the fictional town to the real town (Northampton, MA), but aside from that I found the story to be poorly paced and dull.

The original cover for "Dome Doom" was made to look like an old, beat-up comic.

The original cover for “Dome Doom” was made to look like an old, beat-up comic.

Things start to get a bit more interesting with “Dome Doom,” a story inspired by silver age comics.  It’s the type of story that a lot of modern comics have utilized where the current heroes are paired up with the heroes of a prior generation.  In this one, the TMNT help the retired Justice Force take down an old foe.  The plot is ludicrously corny, but I think that was intentional, and also seems to be a response to claims that Eastman and Laird are now sell-outs for licensing the TMNT (the retired Justice Force all sold their likenesses for millions in the comic’s plot).  This is some of Laird’s best artwork and I enjoyed the design of the little dome robots.  The story is kind of a throw-away, but I had some fun with the issue.  “Distractions” seems to take place in the far east sometime in the past with a TMNT-like protagonist helping out a damsel in distress that looks a lot like April.  It contains some samurai story cliches and all seems kind of corny, at which point the story ends and we find out it’s source is Mikey as he’s trying to write his own comic.  The artwork (by Eric Talbot) saves the day here with some really cool shading and a lot of violence.  I like this feudal looking turtle and I’m surprised he wasn’t made into an action figure (or maybe he was and I just forgot).  I could have done without the dinosaur though.

Most people who pick this volume up will do so for the “Return to New York” arc which features the return of a very popular villain.  “Return to New York” captures the spirit of the first issue of TMNT with a slightly more advanced approach.  There’s actual character development this time around and we finally get some good Leo vs Raph moments, including an all out brawl in issue 19.  The fight is pretty vicious considering it pits brother vs brother and ends up being really satisfying.  Unfortunately, the black and white nature of the comic makes it really hard to distinguish between which one is Raph and which one is Leo throughout much of the fight.  The first issue ends up dealing with the notion of teamwork and captures a lot of the same messages contained in the first two Turtle films.  It’s a bit of a re-tread, but this is also the type of story the TMNT are good at telling.

Look who's back!

Look who’s back!

The rest of the story revolves around the return of the Foot clan, and of course, the Shredder.  Shredder was famously slain in the first issue by Leonardo, but he’s back from the dead through odd means.  I didn’t quite get it, he’s composed by worms or something weird, but didn’t really care.  It’s basically all action as the Turtles storm the Foot’s base (with an unlikely ally too) and the whole thing builds towards a Leonardo vs Shredder re-match.  The fight is a vicious one that goes back and forth, but I don’t think it’s spoiling much to say that the heroes prevail.  The battle serves as a bit of redemption for Leo and Raph too, as Raph was able to pull out a victory in his one-on-one battle with Leo but was unable to take down the Shredder by himself.  Laird and Eastman actually take the time to show that Raph’s headstrong mentality can work for him in certain settings, but not all.

As was the case with the previous volumes, this one contains new artwork by Kevin Eastman on the cover.  It’s a mash-up of the stories contained within.  The notes from both of the creators are quite extensive and genuinely fun to read.  The interior art is presented in its original black and white and is enlarged to fit this over-sized format.  The quality is top-notch, and this is still a nice piece for any TMNT collector out there.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection – Vol. 2

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 2

There was a time in my life when I thought I was done with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  They had dominated my childhood, but come the early 90’s I had mostly moved on.  I still had a soft spot for them, but their cartoon had become too predictable, the toy lines too ridiculous, and I was already on to my next obsession.  When the television show moved to CBS’s new Saturday morning block the studio revamped it, giving it a darker look in an attempt to mature the series to better appeal to changing tastes.  It didn’t last long in this new format, and the Turtles began to fade away from the mainstream.  In 1997 Fox and Saban Entertainment brought the four-some back for a new live action show, possibly to try to appeal to fans of the Power Rangers, but the show only lasted one season and 26 episodes before being cancelled.

The Turtles mostly vanished from television after the cancellation of The Next Mutation.  It seemed like they were now destined to become just a memory of a silly era where anthropomorphic characters were all over the place in children’s programming.  Something people in the future would look back on and say, “What were they thinking?”  Then a funny thing happened, and the Turtles were suddenly relevant again.

It all started with Fox and 4Kids Entertainment revitalizing the franchise thru a new cartoon developed in collaboration with Peter Laird’s Mirage Studios (by this point in time, co-creator Kevin Eastman wasn’t involved with the TMNT) that premiered on Fox’s Saturday morning cartoon block in early 2003.  Simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this new series adapted the original Mirage comics more faithfully then its predecessors while still keeping the show appropriate for younger viewers.  The Turtles had an edgier appearance with blank eyes and a more lean appearance.  Each one had a personality mirroring the ones from the original comic.  Really, the only holdover from the wildly popular 80’s cartoon was the unique bandana color for each turtle.  At times, the show almost directly paralleled the old books before the creators started to branch out and do their own thing, but the show worked and the Turtles were once again relevant.  This helped get a new movie green-lit that was eventually released in 2007, titled TMNT, and has helped keep the franchise alive to this day.  Now the Turtles are owned by Nickelodeon with IDW handling the new comic book line.  A new show and a bunch of new toys (including these awesome retro themed ones) are slated for release later this year in addition to the ongoing comic run now headed by Eastman.  Along the way, IDW has chosen to give the old fans some new collections to thumb thru, and my old Turtle-fandom is back in full-force!

Michaelangelo’s solo issue, featuring the debut of Klunk the cat.

I already talked about IDW’s first release of collected works, and now I’m ready to talk about Volume 2.  Volume 2 is another high-quality release and contains issues 8-11 of the original run, plus the micro issue one-shots for Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo.  The cover contains new artwork done by Eastman, though it confusingly includes the Triceratons and Fugitioid who don’t appear in this collection, but looks nice.  The interior has been enhanced to a larger size, like the first volume, and is kept in its original black and white.  Each issue is followed by reflections from both Eastman and Laird.  For this collection, Laird has contributed more thoughts and it looks like he was a more active participant.  It’s particularly interesting to read the comments for the later issues when the two discuss their fraying relationship with each other.  Neither guy takes shots at one another, and both come across as sincere when they express their disappointment for how things turned out.

The issues covered by this collection essentially wrap-up the original run of the books.  After issue #11, more people were brought on board and Eastman and Laird didn’t really work together any longer.  The Turtles were also exploding on television and the first movie was in production for a 1990 release.  The issues bring the Turtles back to earth following their exploits in space, and outside of a couple of issues, the story-lines are more reality based this time around (when one ignores the fact that the protagonists are walking, talking, fighting turtles, of course).

The first few issues have a sort of one-shot feel to them as the plot-lines do not tie in with any of the previous narratives.  Issue #8 was a collaborative with Dave Sims’ Cerebus the Aardvark, a comic at the time Eastman was said to be particularly fond of.  It’s some wacky time-travel thing that sees the Turtles accidentally warped to Cerebus’s medieval setting where the two join forces.  There’s some decent humor here, but for someone who isn’t a fan of Cerebus, the cross-over appeal was lost on me and I was interested in getting back to the New York setting.  Issue #9 is a flash-back of one of the Turtles’ earliest outings that sees Splinter switch bodies with a dying master in Japan.  While still containing a supernatural element, I enjoyed this one more than issue #8 as it felt more like a traditional TMNT adventure and it was fun seeing the younger Turtles do their thing.  Design wise, Eastman and Laird gave the Turtles full bandanas that covered their heads which was kind of a cool look.

He’s back!

The micro series for Mike, Don, and Leo are interwoven throughout the collection.  Mike and Don’s are more of the one-shot variety, while Leo’s directly ties into the next arc for the comic.  In Mike’s, we get to see the youngest of the Turtles foil a robbery on Christmas and make a new friend out of a stray cat he dubs Klunk.  It’s a fun chance to see Mike go off on his own and adds depth to the character.  The issue would eventually be used as inspiration for an episode of the 2003 cartoon titled “The Christmas Aliens.”  Donatello’s one-shot, “Kirby and the Warp Crystal,” would also be adapted for the cartoon as “The King.”  This issue was Eastman and Laird’s tribute to the legendary Jack Kirby.  Initially, the two wanted to rasie money for Kirby who was in a legal battle with Marvel Comics over licensing fees.  In the old days, writers who worked for Marvel worked under a work-for-hire agreement and anything they created was the property of Marvel and Marvel alone, meaning they saw no royalties for other works using the characters they created.  Kirby and his family refused to take Eastman and Laird’s money, but the sentiment was likely still appreciated.  The story is kind of fun, and it’s obvious the two had great affection for Kirby’s work as his influence is all over the series.

The Leonardo one-shot is probably my favorite from this collection as it kicks off the plot that re-introduces The Shredder.  This book and the following ones would be adapted in part for the first film.  In Leo’s book, he gets attacked by the returning Foot clan and eventually overwhelmed (in the film, it’s Raphael in place of Leo).  The encounter spills over into April’s apartment as the issue ends with Leo crashing thru the window and warning his brothers that The Shredder is back.  The full-page illustration is one of my favorites from the series.

From here, the Turtles are attacked by the Foot and the action takes them into April’s antique shop.  When things are looking bad, Casey Jones shows up and aids in their escape but Shredder sees to it that April’s store (and home) is destroyed in the process.  From here, the story takes us to Northampton, Massachusetts where Casey’s grandmother has an old farm house.  Issue #11 is told mostly thru the eyes of April as she writes in her journal about how the Turtles cope with defeat and how she deals with the loss of her father’s antique shop.  I’ve been critical of Eastman and Laird’s writing in the past, but here they do a nice of job of presenting their theme for the story with care and levity, making this issue (and arc) their best yet.  The overall theme of issue #11 ends up being to appreciate what is most important in life, and not to place too much importance in material things.  The issue ends with the Turtles coming together as both April and the gang arrive at that same conclusion simultaneously.

Overall, I think I enjoyed Volume 2 more than I enjoyed Volume 1.  The writing is tighter and more focused, and the micro issues really do a good job of adding depth to the characters.  Eastman and Laird are also able to bring out the individual personalities for each turtle in the other issues as well, and they’ve all finally had their traits firmly established by the end of the collection.  I’m still a bit surprised that the Leo/Raph rivalry hasn’t been hinted at yet, though perhaps I’ve been misled and that is a dynamic that was added to the group by outside sources before Eastman and Laird considered exploring it.  It’s also a lot of fun seeing the stories for the first time that ended up making it into the movie I saw so long ago as a kid.  It makes me appreciate that film even more.  And while most of the books were lifted in a more thematic sense for the film, the scene where Don and Casey work on the old truck even had some of the dialogue lifted word for word.  Only in the comic it’s Raph in place of Don and some of the insults are different.  There is a sense of finality at the end of the collection, especially in the write-ups from Eastman and Laird, but a volume 3 is on the way that will cover issues #12, 14, 15, 17, and 19-21 which contains the “Return to New York” story-line.  Following that arc, Eastman and Laird had little direct involvement with the comics so it figures that volume 3 may be the last for the The Ultimate Collection.  It is possible a fourth volume could be produced covering the massive “City at War” arc that spanned 13 issues and was co-written by the original creators.  Volume 3 is currently due out in July, though don’t be surprised if it gets delayed as both of the previous collections were.  I’ve really enjoyed the fist two volumes, and already have volume 3 pre-ordered!  For longtime fans, I suggest you do the same.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection – Volume 1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1 (IDW Publishing, 2011)

When I was a wee-lad growing up in the 1980’s I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  And I don’t mean I just liked watching them on television or playing with their toys, I was obsessed.  And I was the norm.  It seemed like every boy my age loved the Turtles, and what was there not to love?  They were ninjas, they were young, they kicked ass, ate pizza, and even cracked a few jokes along the way.  Plus, their theme song was totally tubular, dude.

As was the case for most, my interactions with this new era fab four was mostly contained to television, until the movies started coming out.  Sure I knew the Turtles existed in the print form as well, I saw them fairly frequently in the check-out aisle at the grocery store, but always thought the TV show came first.  Those were the turtles I knew best.  Then the first film came along and changed things up a bit, most notably the Raphael character.  He was a hot-head on film and kind of hard to predict.  On TV though he was the wise guy known for breaking the fourth wall.  Even though the television show never adapted the stronger personality of movie Raph, that was the persona that took over the character for me.

Little did I know that was how Raphael was always intended to be.  For as many are now aware the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually first found success in the print form through Mirage Studios.  Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the original story set the stage for all future endeavors and introduced readers to the four turtles we know best:  Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and their sensei Splinter.  It’s intended as a bit of a parody of early 80’s comics, especially Frank Miller’s Daredevil.  The concept of four anthropomorphic turtles roaming the sewers of New York City is about as far-fetched as it gets.  And Eastman and Laird didn’t stop there, for like the television show with its forays into sci-fi, Eastman and Laird take the Turtles across the galaxy and back.

As a kid, this was all I knew of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Yes, I’ve been well-aware of these Ninja Turtles for quite some time, and have even seen some of the comics long since my obsession faded away.  Never before though have I actually taken the time to read through these early works.  It hit me out of no where sometime last summer, a need to see how my beloved childhood heroes were supposed to be portrayed.  It probably started a little earlier with the 4 Kids Entertainment television movie Turtles Forever, a feature that tried to blend the cartoon from the 80’s with the cartoon from 2003.  It also included the original Mirage Comics turtles and was a really fun production, though nothing stellar.  I found that the old trade paperbacks printed off during the 90’s collecting the old works were quite hard to come by at this point.  I was pretty frustrated with the prices I was seeing on eBay and trips to my own local comic book store proved fruitless as well.  My spirits were elevated though when I came across a new TPB on amazon.com set for release in the coming months.  I pre-ordered it right away and then began to wait, and wait, and wait…

I had pretty much forgotten about that pre-order when I finally received a notification in December that my copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  The Ultimate Collection – Volume 1 had shipped, more than three months after it was supposed to ship and six months after I had ordered it.  I wasn’t mad about the delay or anything, I just had simply forgotten about the thing and actually thought it might have been cancelled.  I’m glad it wasn’t, as I quite enjoyed my foray into Classic Turtles and I’m going to tell you all about.

First of all, this collection is very well put together.  It’s hard cover and oversized when compared with a normal comic book.  The artwork inside has been enlarged over the originals to accommodate this format and is presented in its original black and white.  The cover features new artwork from Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman and both he and Laird have a brief write-up following the first comic.  Eastman breaks down each issue page by page and offers some nice insight and really does a good job of putting the reader in a frame of mind to look at the Ninja Turtles from his perspective back when this thing all got started.

The company is IDW Publishing who acquired the rights to the printed turtles in early 2011 and wasted no time in getting this out.  Mirage, now controlled by Laird, is actually not involved with this at all.  Laird’s sparse commentaries apparently were taken from his blog (with his permission) and it doesn’t look like he contributed really at all to this release.  Eastman, more or less, abandoned the TMNT in the 90’s so it’s a bit surprising to see him team-up with IDW to put out new TMNT comics.  In addition to working on this collection, he is overseeing a new line of comics that began hitting shelves sometime late last summer.  Perhaps his funds are running low and he needs to turn back to old reliable once again.

Cover for TMNT #4, though most probably know this as the cover for the NES game.

If Eastman was burnt out on the Turtles in the 90’s he no longer is, or hides it well.  As I said, he does a great job of taking the reader back to the infancy of the Turtles and shows great exuberance.  He comes across as someone who loves to talk about the Turtles and is truly excited about this project.  If I have one minor quibble with his commentary it’s that he may be a little too reverential about his own work.  He seems to love everything he and Laird did, and maybe that’s true, but I feel like most artists when looking back on their old works would notice some areas for criticism.  Maybe he just wanted to keep things positive.  Despite that he doesn’t really come across as stuck-up or anything, he just sounds like a super fan.

The actual stories should be familiar to anyone well-versed in Ninja Turtles lore.  Both the animated show and the film borrow heavily from the comics when discussing the origin of the Turtles though neither adapted it completely.  In both the cartoon and film, Hamato Yoshi’s chief rival is Oroku Saki but in the comic book it was Oroku Nagi.  Yoshi kills Nagi while defending his love and it’s Nagi’s younger brother, Saki, who seeks revenge.  From there, it’s basically the same as the film with Yoshi fleeing to New York and Saki eventually following with his own faction of the Foot Clan.  Saki kills Yoshi, but during the scrum Yoshi’s pet ret is able to escape who would go on to become Splinter.

The first comic is both an introduction to the Ninja Turtles and a revenge piece.  After their first taste of live combat, the triumphant Turtles return to their master who finally shares the tale of how they came to be.  This sets the wheels in motion for a showdown with Oroku Saki, now called The Shredder, and Splinter dispatches Raphael to send a message to Shredder to meet the Turtles for a fight to the death.  True to their word, the Turtles do battle Shredder to the death, which closes out the first issue.

The artwork is quite rough.  The style suits the Turtles but the human characters look oddly proportioned.  The scenery is sometimes too busy as well, as the background clouds the action scenes at times.  The writing is also fairly amateurish.  The ideas are there but Eastman and Laird struggle to bring them out from a literary perspective.  I do like the approach of the opening though, with Leonardo serving as narrator, and the layout and pacing of the book is anything but amateurish and easily the book’s strength.  The violence that everyone speaks of when referencing the original books is a bit exaggerated.  Yes there’s more violence here than what was present on TV, but I feel it compares to what was presented in the first film, only with blood and actual death.  There’s no gore really, and while the Turtles aren’t a bunch of wise-cracking butt kickers I wouldn’t call the mood of the book “dark.”  Gritty yes, but not dark.

Short-comings aside, the first issue is actually quite enjoyable.  The action sequences and sheer uniqueness of the characters is what sells it.  Issue 2 brings in April O’Neil and Baxter Stockman.  O’Neil is a lab assistant for Stockman, not a news reporter, and Stockman is busy perfecting his mousers.  The Turtles end up encountering O’Neil in a similar manner to how they have in every other medium and do battle with Stockman and his creations, who hold a more sinister agenda than simple rat extermination.  Stockman is fairly clever and devious, a far cry from the bumble-head shown on television, and proves a formidable foe though he too is ultimately dispatched.  Not before, however, apparently claiming the life of Master Splinter leaving the Turtles devastated and without a home.

The rest of the comics carry forward the narrative as the Turtles search for answers regarding Splinter’s disappearance.  Their story takes them into space, of all places, where they meet the benevolent Fugitoid and the nefarious Triceratons.  The more sci-fi stories are less interesting for me, but it’s enjoyable to watch Eastman and Laird’s abilities improve for each issue.  The artwork improves, and though it never rivals a Frank Miller or Allen Moore, the writing does improve as well.  Their imaginations should certainly be commended, if nothing else.

The Raphael solo issue.

The collection includes the first 7 issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and also includes the Raphael one-shot “micro” issue.  Each turtle received his own issue at one point and this collection includes Raph’s which introduces the character Casey Jones.  Jones is designed to hold up a mirror to Raphael and show him what he’d become if he gave into his rage wholly.  Jones shows no mercy when dealing with common street punks and Raph basically has to save the criminals from him.  They duke it out in a pretty brutal contest before eventually becoming pals.  Their relationship in the first film was pretty faithful to how it’s presented here.

If these issues have one major short-coming for me it’s with the actual characters of Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael.  Leonardo is given the most attention and he’s clearly the most mature and the one that takes after Splinter the most.  He’s not given the title of leader, he takes it.  Raphael is shown as a bit of a loose cannon, but not to the degree he was in the film.  He really isn’t shown to have much of a rivalry with Leo, which is something that surprised me.  Donatello is shown to be more studious than the others and does get a few chances to show off his tech-savy abilities, but nothing to the degree that the television show would adopt.  Michaelangelo ends up being the least developed character and has no real personality to call his own.  He’s shown to be a pretty talented fighter in a sparring match with Raph, and some of his care free persona shows through but only slightly.  And if anyone who’s never seen the stories is curious, no, there’s no pizza or surfer talk.  In one panel Raph actually asks April to fetch him a beer.

All in all, this compendium did meet my expectations.  I always assumed the self-professed hardcore TMNT fans oversold the original works in terms of its violence and tone and found that to be mostly the case.  While I was surprised by some developments, this was mostly how I envisioned the Turtles came across in print.  IDW exceeded my expectations with the quality of this release, and I suppose they should have since the MSRP is $50!  Amazon sells it for much cheaper for those interested and I’d say any TMNT fans looking for a collection should check this one out.  I don’t know how many of these Eastman and IDW are preparing but I have Volume 2 already pre-ordered which is currently slated for release at the end of March.  It will include the next 4 issues plus the rest of the micro books which I hope will add more depth to the individual turtle personalities.  I look forward to getting my hands on it in the coming months.