The first issue of the R-rated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles limited series TMNT: The Last Ronin #1 will be released October 28, and despite whatever fanfare readers see in the lead up to it hitting newsstands and digital readers, know one thing: The hype fails to do this comic book justice.
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: 10 out of 10
Billed as a story of a lone and unnamed turtle seeking revenge for his fallen family and friends, The Last Ronin takes place in a dystopian New York City set in the future at a time when one might have hoped the lean, mean, green machines might have finally enjoyed a restful retirement. What we come to discover, however, is that not only have most of them been permanently retired, they're not even able to rest in peace.
Whether these are the actual ghosts of the mystery turtle's brothers that we see or simply manifestations of the 'ronin' experiencing survivor's guilt remains to be seen. But what results is a haunting story that will not only stick with readers long after they turn that last page of this first issue, but one that will also make an indelible mark on the body of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic books as a whole.
Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, and Tom Waltz co-write this story, as it opens with the lone turtle preparing to cross the Hudson River to Manhattan and put an end to his brothers' murderer. But this is not the NYC of old, as it now stands as a walled-off city-state under the control of Oroku Hiroto – the son of Kirai and grandson to Oroku Saki (the Shredder). While the Foot Clan resides in power over the residents of this new world, we begin to see there are elements of a sort of underground resistance, but it isn't until we get to the end of the issue that we will discover how deep underground they are. Nonetheless, this first issue focuses on the Ronin's attempt to get to Hiroto, which doesn't go as planned. And faced with such failure, he finds his path moving in some unexpected directions.
While this first issue runs fast and furious at times, there is no question it is 100% character-focused. The ronin never stops talking with his deceased brothers, which speaks to the deep sense of loss he feels at not having them with him physically on this mission. Even the characteristic ninja turtle mask is now black – fitting for a ninja, but more indicative of the mourning he experiences years later. We also find that he carries their weapons with him (and later still, their masks) as a way to continue to go into battle with his fallen brothers (though we are not given a hint about which ones died). Their ghosts respond back to him, informing him how to proceed just like the old days.
What's also great about this story is that it truly stands alone. Like any decades-long franchise, keeping up with the twists and turns of continuity can be a real struggle for even ongoing fans let alone more casual readers. The Last Ronin assumes next to nothing about its readers aside from a basic familiarity with the Turtles and doesn't let itself get beholden to any particular past storyline though its quiet allusions to past stories won't go unnoticed.
In truth, if you've watched the original live-action TMNT movie, you have all you need to truly appreciate this comic book. And if you've been reading the comic books, watching the television shows and films, and played the games? This story will take you on an emotional rollercoaster.
Credited with providing the artistic layouts, Kevin Eastman's pacing couldn't have been better. He moves between moments of somber reflection as the ronin talks with his dead brothers, just as we might expect them to have done in the present day when they were all alive, to hard-hitting and explosive action scenes without missing a beat. The panel-to-panel transitions while Ronin fights the cybernetic Foot are great examples of this. And while The Last Ronin earned an "R" rating – for violence – there's nothing that feels out of place that will jar readers into feeling as though something graphic or vulgar was included merely for shock factor.
Likewise, Esau and Isaac Escorza take on the turtle's share of art duties, translating Eastman's layouts into a visual presentation that both captures the original raw linework and gritty inks from the original Eastman and Laird runs while simultaneously injecting a finer tuned look reminiscent of classic TMNT creators, Jim Lawson and Michael Dooney. The colors were equally effective at creating contrasts between the garish city lights and the shadows in which the Ronin operated, obscuring just enough of him to impart the effectiveness of our turtle protagonist at remaining silent but deadly. As a result of these efforts, the art feels like both a classic and yet fresh take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that is sure to please.
It's difficult to assign a "10" to a comic and it doesn't happen often. To do so, the story and art need to be working in sync so as to create an immersive story that grips its readers. Moreover, it needs to offer readers something of long-lasting importance beyond simply entertaining them for the time spent reading the comic. It needs to contribute in a greater way. The Last Ronin #1 delivers on those promises and more.
In the ways that Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns provided Batman with a sense of closure through taking readers through the Batman's final story (later sequels notwithstanding), so too do we see Eastman, Laird, and their fellow creators look to offer a comparable finale for their decades-long creations. The ending of this first issue makes it clear that the Ronin will accomplish his mission or die trying. There will be no sequels or returns. And given the ending itself, readers are poignantly reminded of the turtles' early beginnings as we approach the end game. Eastman and Laird are bringing the story around full circle and fans of all walks will not want to miss this ride.
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