Since their creation in 1987, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been mostly, well, teenage. That will change October 28 with IDW Publishing's TMNT: The Last Ronin.
Written by TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman with editor Tom Waltz and drawn by the duo of Esau and Isaac Escorza, the five-issue series TMNT: The Last Ronin is a Batman: The Dark Knight Returns-esque adventure with one mystery turtle battling for survival in a dark, technologically-advanced future.
The idea for The Last Ronin was developed by Eastman and TMNT co-creator Peter Laird way back in the early days of the franchise, but they have held off until now at bringing it to life.
Newsarama spoke with Eastman about this dark, twisted take on his Turtles, what it means for the future of TMNT comics, and more.
Newsarama: Kevin, you recently rediscovered TMNT: The Last Ronin after initially developing it with Peter Laird in 1987. What was going through your head when you rediscovered the concept?
Kevin Eastman: I stored this particular set of notes in an old brown elastic-bound folder with a bunch of other TMNT ideas for 20 years before rediscovering it about 10 years ago in a massive file reorganization. It did not have a final title, none that I could find or remember, but I was thrilled to read through what we were thinking about the future of our characters all those years ago. It brought back a lot of great memories before I put it into storage again, I couldn't imagine how it could ever be realized in the current IDW TMNT universe, it just didn't fit into any of the continuity.
When I re-re-discovered the files in late 2018, the ongoing IDW TMNT series was racing towards issue 100, which, after nine years of work it would wrap up a massive storyline... that's when I thought of this story again, but it struck me in a completely different way this time.
This 31-year old outline was conceived while Peter and I were writing and drawing TMNT issue #11, the final issue of a long-running story arc back in 1987, and we weren't really sure where we'd take the series next when this idea of a 'semi-final' TMNT graphic novel set in the future evolved, 30 years to be exact, to the year 2017. We eventually shelved it due to, well, a lot of other TMNT things heating up in the late '80s, but after all this time here we were, TMNT IDW having some of those same intense discussions... where do we go after issue 100?
That's when it all clicked, it's time to dig this idea out of storage and see if there was a place for it post-issue 100. After I played with it for a few months, I showed it to Tom Waltz and that's when things got really exciting.
Nrama: What do you think are the biggest differences between the comic as it will be published and that original idea?
Eastman: It is hard not to dig into those details and not give to much away, but Tom and I wanted it to fully and completely respect, and use, as many of the structures and concepts as possible, building off from everything in the original outline, the setting, themes, motivations, and overall character direction - yet adapt and update it in a way where it isn't set in any specific TMNT universe.
It, without a doubt, leans really heavily towards the Mirage TMNT Universe and the all the ideas Peter and I imagined back in 1987, but we also wanted to explore the core concepts used in nearly every version of the TMNTs, all the various universes over the years, family and vengeance, and take to a very serious and intense conclusion.
Nrama: Your original concept was set in 2017, 30 years ahead of 1987. Did it get any predictions correct? If so, what were they, and will we see them in the published version?
Eastman: Yes, we will need to publish all those original notes in the final collection, but until then I'll tell you; some of Peter's notes and sketches are mind-blowing and visionary - especially regarding the evolution of technology. He is the original Donatello in real life, as far as I'm concerned.
The rest of the ideas and predictions are really built around the chain reaction of what would happen to all of the related family of main characters if the situation played out the way Peter and I staged it then - and that's where Tom and I picked it up and took it to what we felt was one possible solid eventuality. Obviously, the complete story wouldn't exist without the other. It was a challenging and exciting process to blend the two.
Nrama: Can you tell us about the world in which TMNT: The Last Ronin will be set? What's that future like for humanity? What's it like for Mutant Ninja Turtles?
Eastman: When Peter and I looked down the road to where the world could be headed if things continued down the path they were on, without any course-correction where they would end up in 30 years, there were some rough, dark sides to the character relationships to our story - but I was honestly surprised how many optimistic points of view we had, mostly Peter's, that the forces of good were much stronger then and would have major successes in balancing the ecosystems, solving world hunger and world peace.
The world we live in today, in my personal opinion, is a much darker and scary place than I have ever known or imagined - so when I looked down the road a few decades, I ended up painting a very harsh global environment as well as a character one. Tom is pretty much on the same page; this will be the most intense story we've ever done, but you never know - there might be a bright spot, glimmer or two of hope, here and there as well.
Nrama: Speaking of writer Tom Waltz, with whom you're co-writing this story, can you give us a window into what your combined writing process is like? Do you write similarly?
Eastman: Tom is far more professional and traditional than I am. He's incredibly creative, yet very structured in his approach. He can clearly see the entire vision of the story in his head while we brainstorm and how tweaks here and there affect the overall story structure, which creates a great dynamic when you have two brains working on the same idea.
I have an overall vision of what I want to bring out in the story but will narrow down to specific scenes very often - character interactions and epic fight scenes (and there are a lot of them in this series) that bring out intense action/reaction to character moments important to bringing the intensity of what we were looking for at the end of the day.
I think the biggest creative tool we bring to the table together is that neither of us has an ego, which keeps the creative mindset all on the story and doesn’t let the protection of an idea become more important than the overall protection of the final core story and outcome.
The process is something we're both having fun with and have had to adapt to a whole new working style just for this one. [It's] some traditional script, some layouts first, and adjusting the final script to incorporate the happy accidents discovered in the pacing process. Makes me feel very much like the way Peter and I did it in the old days, working in the same room, give and take, ebb and flow. Pretty awesome.
Nrama: Fans are definitely going into this book thinking of titles like The Dark Knight Returns and Old Man Logan, or maybe even Old Man Hawkeye or Old Lady Harley. Why do you think these 'Old Man'-type stories are so popular in comics?
Eastman: Well, like everything in our medium - the idea of an aging hero/superhero looking for that final redemption isn't a new one, but The Dark Knight Returns really did such an incredible job of telling that tale. People like me have been jonesing to do it with my own characters, and the fans of all these legendary/icon characters they/we have all grown up on, want the same thing - that last look at the end of a long road, and how will it end?
I love it, always have, and hope it doesn't go away anytime soon.
Nrama: TMNT: The Last Ronin will see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (well, one of them) return to a darker world, similar to the one they were born into at Mirage Comics. Do you think the TMNT franchise would benefit from leaning on its grittier roots?
Eastman: I definitely, 100% believe so. I've spent the last seven years touring, 15 to 20 shows a year, and I have had the awesome experience to talk to a lot of fans, of all ages, about what they like and don't like about different versions of the TMNT. It's a really great cross-section of voices, but the one that rises above the rest are the original fans - not just of the Mirage Comics, but the original cartoon and toy series. That original cartoon was their entry point, then the toys, and the video games, as well as the early films, and they were fully hooked.
But, just as they were growing beyond the 'kids version,' they often discovered the Mirage books, the role-playing games, that edgier universe... and they were sucked back in big time, and for life. The majority of these fans that want to be entertained by their favorite characters at their age level - 30-somethings - they want to see the TMNT in that Daredevil TV series universe. Well-written and with R-Rated action.
I don't want to make predictions, but if The Last Ronin lands with fans the way we hope it will, we have some pretty solid ideas where we'll take it, given the chance to.
Nrama: Speaking of that one remaining Ninja Turtle, we still don't actually know which of the TMNT will star in The Last Ronin. Why is that being kept a secret?
Eastman: That is only the beginning of the secrets we've been keeping with this series (insert loud maniacal laugh here)!
You always set out to create a story full of twists and turns, elements to push the dramatic effect and the characters to places where a fresh look at decades-old concepts could be firmly grounded - and from the very beginning of this one, Tom and I tried to design the story in a way that, just when you think you know where the series is clearly going at the end of an issue, we're going to take you to a whole new level in the following.
We want that page-turning 'Holy shit, I didn't see that coming' feeling we enjoy about the stories we like to read. Buckle up and hang on - lots more to be revealed...
Nrama: And hey, we know it's a long shot, but any chance you could tell Newsarama which of the Turtles it is?
Eastman: Raphanaro? Leotello? Donangelo? Would love to share - but IDW has ninja staked out around my house to take me out if I leak anything more.