In the future, New York City is a dystopian nightmare. The water is poison, the skies are filled with drones. One Ninja Turtle remains to finish what his family started.
(Beware of very mild spoilers in this review.)
I want to make something very clear: it’s very difficult for me to remain entirely objective when reviewing this comic. I have a lot of love for these characters, these creators, and I’m generally a sucker for these “one last mission” types of stories (heck, I even wrote an article breaking down some of the weirdest and coolest “final” superhero stories).
Considering the fact that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird hadn’t worked together in years, I felt a good deal of cautious optimism heading into the launch of The Last Ronin. The idea of the creators of the TMNT collaborating to tell the story of the final turtle’s last stand sounded like it was right up my alley. Basically, there was a lot of hype for The Last Ronin. And I’m very happy to say that it exceeded all expectations in this first issue.
Even though The Last Ronin is just getting started, it already feels like a perfect bookend to the very first TMNT comic. There are some interesting parallels, both visually and thematically, that tie this issue to the adventure that started it all. In many ways, this feels like a book that was written directly to the fans, but it also doesn’t feel like you have to have decades of continuity memorized in order to follow the narrative.
This issue certainly tackles some heavy themes, but readers may be happy to know that it’s not all grim and gritty. The script from Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman also gives the reader a clear sense that the Ronin won’t give up, no matter how bad things get. The Ronin messes up several times over he course of his infiltration, but he continues to improvise different ways of getting to his goal. Yes, he knows that he is probably on a suicide mission, but that doesn’t mean that he’s ever okay with quitting.
The narration gives readers a good feel for this turtle’s personality, all while cleverly obfuscating his true identity. It’s a pretty incredible balance that is struck here.
One of the most interesting aspects of this story involves how the Ronin has learned to cope with losing his brothers. He still talks to them as if they are in the room with him, and he can occasionally hear them reacting to different moments in the narrative. While the Ronin has his own interior monologue throughout the issue, it becomes clear that the most important things on his mind are being said aloud to his brothers.
Likewise, some of the “reactions” from the other turtles in his memory help to represent facets of the Ronin’s personality. He still has a bit of optimism and belief in the fight against evil, because the strength of his family has never truly left him.
The action sequences stick to Master Splinter’s teachings of striking hard and fast and then disappearing. These are mean, down and dirty fights. The turtle goes for efficiency over style, which makes for fights that are genuinely thrilling, with exciting choreography that is easy to follow. Each motion is precise, showing that the Ronin may have aged, but he hasn’t lost any of his skill over the years.
The book looks incredible all around. Esau and Issac Escorza ground the larger-than-life action by placing an incredible amount of detail in every shot. Kevin Eastman’s layouts ensure that every last slash, parry, and jump gets a moment to sing, as many of the pages are filled with tons of smaller panels. Esau Escorza’s high-flying action scenes and futurist landscapes are exquisitely realized, with a sheen to them that also has plenty of grime and ugliness peaking in from the corners.
Aiding in this are the fantastic colors from Antonio Delgado. Everything outside of the city and in the alleyways has a musty, dirty look to it. Even the beauty of the enemy’s tower has spots that look dingy, like the facade could slip at any second. Again, no spoilers, but the use of lighter colors also really bring out the emotional impact of a quasi-dream sequence toward the end of the issue.
Isaac Escorza inks everything with thick lines, recalling some of the early TMNT books and giving everything an appropriate amount of weight. Even in the more chaotic portions of the book, everything is well-defined and easy to follow. The Turtle has a grace to him that his enemies do not, and that’s evident in every fight scene.
Meanwhile, the lettering by Shawn Lee delivers some dynamic sound effects, with some sounds “traveling” along the speed lines with certain attacks. The lettering also creates an even clearer range of emotions within the Ronin’s narration boxes.
Every single element of this book feels like it has been contributed by a creator at the top of their game. The result is easily one of my favorite single issues of the year and a must-read for Ninja Turtles fans.
So much of this book is based around high-flying ninja battles and bloodshed, so the fact that the end of the first issue is a quiet moment among friends is a wonderful touch. The final moments of the issue are extremely emotional, delivering one revelation after another. However, these reveals are done in very natural ways, rather than simply occurring for the sake of shocking the reader. Again, this story feels very intimate and personal, which is quite a feat for an issue that also includes an action sequence atop a series of flying cars. I won’t say any more on the matter, because I don’t want to spoil the surprises, but I’ll admit to feeling a tear welling up at the close of this issue.
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