Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin feels like a true return to the iconic Eastman and Laird style that made the Ninja Turtles a household name. Now on its second issue, the fingerprints of the gritty and goofy ’80s black and white indie hit are all over this book, and every minute I spent reading it was a treat. Turtles is a franchise that his evolved a lot over its long history, and every generation since has had their own Heroes in a Half-Shell to call their own.
And almost every version does their own take of a dark future where things have gone wrong, and are often loved by fans. Comparisons could easily be drawn to the fan favorite “Same As It Never Was” episode of 2003’s animated series for instance. However, much as I love every incarnation of my favourite terrapin heroes, there’s an undeniable sense of purity going back and re-visiting the old stories that made them a success in the first place.
Last Ronin, fitting given that it’s a re-worked version of a discarded Eastman and Laird idea, feels like it leapt right out of Mirage Studios’ golden years of production. Even with the seeming absence of Peter Laird himself, his presence is still felt all over this book. The dialogue feels distinctly Laird, something I’m impressed was captured so effectively by Eastman and Waltz.
Many aspects of its tone remind me of Mirage’s TMNT Vol. 4, which Laird himself has unfortunately long since stopped updating despite retaining the legal right to finish. It leaves me to wonder how much of this story was worked out back when it was first thought up, and if any of this dialogue could actually be thirty year old notes by Laird. It wouldn’t shock me if that was the case, but it had me smiling regardless.
An interesting thing to note here is that the world shown to us via flashbacks is neither a recreation of the classic Mirage continuity, nor IDW’s current take on the Turtles’ world. While this book is clearly taking place in its own alternate future, the world it’s built off feels like a true amalgam of both aforementioned continuities.
The reveal in the first issue — the true identity of the titular last ronin — is explored to a degree here. We see how Michelangelo’s journey from the fun-loving, relaxed member of the Turtles to the brutal, revenge-driven ninja warrior happened, at least in part. The story still obviously has gaps to fill, but we are treated to a flashback showing the betrayal of a truce between the Foot and the Turtles, which kicked off the events we’ve been following in the present of the book.
Michelangelo himself is the perfect choice as the sole remaining turtle. As many hardcore turtle fans are no doubt aware, Mikey is often described as the most naturally adept at Ninjitsu in many Turtle stories. Should he ever focus in and really dedicate himself to the ninja arts, he would truly be a force to be reckoned with, having trained himself into the ultimate weapon of revenge against the Oroku family that Splinter wanted from them back in Eastman and Laird’s original first issue.
It calls to mind the discussion of the Turtles’ purpose as tools of vengeance by their father in “City at War”, and how the cycle of revenge with the foot seemed like it would never end until a truce is made with Karai. This story feels like it’s going to directly continue that line of discussion with the apparent break of a similarly made truce.
There’s a palpable tragedy to Mikey in this story. That the kindest and purest of them, the very heart of the Turtles, has become a broken old soul lamenting the loss of his family. The metaphor at play with how he imagines speaking to his long dead brothers — their “ghosts” haunting his thoughts to this very day — is especially clever and really tugs on the heartstrings. The way his cautious opening up around April and her daughter Casey seems to melt his hardened exterior was also quite sweet. It shows that even after all he’s been through, Mikey’s kind heart hasn’t quite been snuffed out just yet.
I’ve also got plenty of praise for the artwork. As expected from IDW’s Turtles by now, it’s excellent. I struggle to think of a time where Turtles hasn’t had stellar artwork under IDW, and this is no exception. Though with how many artistic talents were listed, it’s no wonder that every panel of every page is a true visual treat. With Eastman’s famous layouts, and even a flashback sequence done in the classic black and white by the man himself, there’s a strong sense of action and grit integral to the Turtle experience.
All in all, Last Ronin feels like a real “last Batman story” for the Turtles. Even only on its second issue, there’s so much here to chew on that I’m still thinking about where this could possibly go by its end. The book pays loving tribute to Mirage, but stays true to its theme of moving forward while still honoring the past, not getting lost in its own nostalgia. It marches forward, focusing on delivering a good and memorable story before anything else.
I’m excited to see what’s next, and if I know anything about the Turtles, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected, and that you should never count them down until they’re out.
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