It’s been some time since I was able to cover an issue of The Last Ronin, but as the old saying goes, good things come to those who wait. I make it no secret that I’m a big fan of this story, with it covering nearly every basis a hardcore Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan such as myself could hope for. Last Ronin continues to be one of, if not the greatest TMNT story under IDW’s publication banner.
That being said, this issue does have a thing or two that I enjoyed slightly less than in the last ones. Previously, I had praised the vagueness of this continuity, which allowed it to feel like it could exist in nearly any, most enticingly the original Mirage stories. Unfortunately, this issue shatters that almost right out of the gate, by giving a detailed account of how we got to this point. This means the story ends up forgoing some of that ambiguity that I enjoyed. While it is for the sake of setting the stage a bit more for the present, I would have enjoyed remaining a bit more in the dark in that aspect.
The plot develops quite a lot in this issue, even with a lengthy flashback near the start explaining how we got here. We get a brief moment with our villain, some time with April’s daughter and the Purple Dragons, reflection for Michelangelo and even a plan of attack for their final assault to come. The book manages to cover a lot of ground with pacing that feels quick, but not in a hurry. It’s very cinematic in how it keeps you just focused enough for a quick read while still giving you tons and tons to chew on.
The character writing is steeped in familiar and well-defined characterization, drawing heavily from the franchise’s past. Mikey, the titular Last Ronin, continues to act like the Mirage-inspired jaded and grim loner he’s been transformed into, with his past still weighing heavily as he struggles to try opening up once again. April feels (appropriately) very similar to her characterization in the fan favourite Same As It Never Was episode from 2003’s cartoon, which even got a cheeky nod in Mikey’s inner monologue.
The touches of Peter Laird-esque dialogue is still greatly appreciated, and helps further blur the line between how much of this story is old, and how much is new. The speech patterns for many of the characters feel distinctly Laird, and much like the last issue, it makes me wonder if they’re part of some leftover writings from the ’80s, or just a flawless emulation of his style on the part of Waltz and Eastman. There are also some great nods to the original ’90s movie, and even the famous Second Time Around battle from the original comics.
The villain of our tale, Oroku Hiroto, unfortunately isn’t explored much in this issue, merely bringing the impetus of martial law within NYC, which speeds our heroes along to their final desperate plan to take down the Shredder’s dark grandson. The son of Karai has been a concept I’ve found myself intrigued by since this book started, his fight with the elder Michelangelo flipping the tried and true theme of the old vs. the new on it’s axis. In this story, Hiroto represents the future of the Foot, while Michelangelo stands opposed, an old man and the last of his line of warriors. It feels like a classic samurai tale with a goofy sci-fi twist, something Turtles has always excelled at.
The art is gritty, dirty and heavily seeped in Blade Runner-like neon for the streets of NYC. It’s a style that fits the tone of the book perfectly, helping establish how pushed down, battered and bleak the world has become. Once again, using Eastman’s legendary layouts that bring a great sense of dynamic flow and makes every page feel satisfying to scan over. The shorter flashback pages handled by Eastman never feel more appropriate than in this book, adding that distinct touch of Mirage to really bridge the aesthetic sensibilities. With such an extensive art team handling everything from pencils to inks, colours and more, it’s no wonder that it’s this polished.
As I’ve noted throughout this review, the book goes out of its way to homage as much Turtles material as it possibly can. With the aforementioned references to Mirage, 2003, and even the main IDW universe itself, we even have what I presume (hope) to be a nod to 2003’s Battle Shell, as the issue uses the armored car as the stinger for next time. Really, there’s so much to say that I’ve barely scratched the surface, but the book is just that densely packed with goodness for any Turtles die-hard, that it’s honestly difficult to keep myself from discussing ever tiny aspect in intense detail.
The book is fantastic, stylized, and full of that pure Turtles heart and soul. While I would have preferred letting this story bask in the ambiguity of its history a bit more, it still does a fantastic job building this unique amalgamized take on Turtles continuity. The book is a breezy read that flows naturally from panel to panel, with well defined and realized versions of the characters we know. Last Ronin continues to knock you flat with all the grace, style, and coolness that made these characters first leap off the page in 1984. All in all, fantastic.
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