This week TMNT: The Last Ronin #2, 'The First to Fall,' hits comic shelves, and the team from IDW Publishing looks to capitalize on the emotional rollercoaster and action-packed success of the limited series' debut issue. And largely, their follow-up comic proves successful even if it doesn't quite reach the same level of poignancy as before.
Spoilers ahead for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin #2
Written by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, and Tom Waltz
Art by Kevin Eastman, Esau, Isaac Escorza, Ben Bishop, Luis Antonio Delgado, and Samuel Plata
Published by IDW Publishing
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The Last Ronin #2 has a lot of lifting to do in the wake of the first issue: First, it needed to introduce the primary catalyst for the downfall of the turtles as a team in the years before Michaelangelo's becoming the last ronin, and second, Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, and Tom Waltz had to begin establishing some of the current players in the present.
To do so, they bring us back to the distant past where we see the truce that once existed between the Foot and Hamato clans has been unexpectedly broken. Once the first casualties begin to mount, the green team starts to come apart at the seams. It's not an expected response, and given what we already know has happened to the brothers, the result isn't unexpected.
We are later brought back to the present where we find out how Michaelangelo found himself in April's care and what direction he will take in the wake of his failed attempt to slay Oroku Hiroto - grandson to the Shredder.
There are elements to this issue that readers will see coming if they've spent any time with the TMNT creating a sort of predictability to the story. Each turtle has developed his own respective set responses to certain situations over time, and once Eastman, Laird, and Waltz cue up a certain 'song,' readers will immediately know how certain turtles will dance.
And given we know that The Last Ronin is the story of how all of the turtles die leaving Michaelangelo to avenge them, the predictable nature of the brothers' behaviors to certain situations proves fatal this time around.
We know Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello are dead in the present and we also recognize that we will see how they died over the course of the limited series. This creates a real challenge for The Last Ronin emotionally as the fall of the brothers is inevitable. At least the first issue held the question of which turtle lived, and now that we know this, it's simply a matter of playing out the hand to see when and how the others die.
Additionally, we don't really get to see the fallout from the first to fall as we simply jump back to the future following the death. Given that the turtles have never been dealt a loss like this before, it would have helped add more gravity to the moment and deliver a strong emotional payoff to the loss had we seen its impact on them before moving back to the present.
And to be clear, not everyone leaves The Last Ronin #2 alive. Artistically, the team does a great job moving back and forth between the timelines. In the present, we see a sharper color palette compared to the past where the backgrounds tend to be more muted - a nice technique to illustrate the shift in time.
In terms of the layouts, things are pretty straightforward and keep the reader's eye always moving forward. The only quibble I had while reading this comic - from an artistic viewpoint - is that we only see one of two kill shots clearly. While there isn't a need for excessive gore, this story is all about providing a definitive ending to the TMNT, and there shouldn't be any question about when a character dies at this point. Otherwise, it risks lessening the emotional impact of the moment.
Nonetheless, how Esau Escorza, Isaac Escorza, Ben Bishop, Luis Antonio Delgado, and Samuel Plata send these two characters off feels fitting even if it's a sad sight to behold.
Finally, we have to look at the third timeframe that follows Mikey in the wake of his brothers' and master's deaths. I found this reminiscent of the 'Gang Wars' era where we get the story told from Mikey's perspective, but we also see the art was adjusted to reflect his personality. So, too, do we see this part of the story move away from the thin line and inks from the regular team and instead, Kevin Eastman brings forward his distinct lines and heavy-duty inks to bring Mikey back to basics through rendering his new origin as the Last Ronin in the same style that first introduced him to readers back in 1984.
Overall, 'The First to Fall' doesn't quite land in the same way as the first issue does, but much of that is a function of our now knowing who died and who survived the onslaught of the Foot Clan. But that doesn't mean the creative team behind The Last Ronin is without a few tricks up their sleeve. Not everyone's whereabouts are known, and as we see on the last page, there's still more to come before we reach the series finale.
At the end of the day, readers who tuned in for the first issue will not want to miss the follow-up, nor will anyone walk away from this issue asking anything but "When's the next issue out?"
TMNT: The Last Ronin #3 (of 5) goes on sale May 12. For that and All the other Turtles comics on the horizon, check out Newsarama's constantly-updated list of new TMNT comics, graphic novels, and collections in 2021 and beyond.