One of the reasons why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to be one of the most successful franchises in pop culture is how it has always reinvented itself. Whether it’s through comics, television, film or video games, every new generation gets their own version of the Ninja Turtles. While not every iteration will leave a positive mark, it will be a gateway for anyone getting into the franchise and perhaps all its corners. That said, there are fans who will feel negated whenever the Turtles do get rebooted, such as the first generation that grew up reading the Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird comics published by Mirage Studios that started the whole thing.
IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin serves as a coda of sorts for the Mirage comics, which will delight that particular fanbase. Based on an unused idea by Eastman and Laird from decades ago – hence making it the first IDW title crediting Laird’s participation – the story takes place in a future, battle-ravaged New York City, controlled by the Foot Clan, where a lone surviving Turtle embarks on a seemingly hopeless mission seeking justice for the family he lost.
Despite sharing a story credit, Laird was barely involved in the creative process besides giving the creative team his blessing to look at his original outline. Although Eastman and Tom Waltz co-wrote all five issues – after writing the first hundred issues of IDW’s main TMNT title – The Last Ronin does read like an extension of the Mirage comics, which clearly aimed to both pay homage to and satirize the work of Jack Kirby and Frank Miller. Miller, in particular, looms large into the creation of TMNT with his run on Daredevil being a key inspiration. For The Last Ronin, the creators looked at Miller’s Ronin and The Dark Knight Returns as the story presents an aging superhero/ronin fighting in a dark futuristic city.
No doubt there will be a section of lifelong TMNT fans disappointed by the identity of the last, remaining turtle – since everyone has their favorite Ninja Turtle – but how the creators convey his journey that has been filled with tragedy and loneliness is compelling, especially when he is haunted by hallucinations of his dead brothers. If you’re well-versed in the TMNT franchise, part of its appeal is how a new iteration will put their own spin on certain elements and with The Last Ronin, which follows the tradition of dark future superhero stories, you see fan-favorite characters being presented in the dystopian setting. Some of the new interpretations don’t always land, most notably the main villain that is the Shredder’s grandson, but seeing the Ronin reunited with an aging April O’Neil whilst interacting her daughter Casey Marie Jones cements that theme of family.
Instead of the traditional look of all green with the colored bandana, the Ronin is covered in black ninja clothing, as well as wielding all the Turtles’ weaponry, which cleverly played with the initial mystery of who the eponymous Turtle is.
There are a variety of artists involved, from Esau and Isaac Escorza doing the future stuff, to Eastman himself illustrating a few pages throughout the five issues, which could have been jarring, but the use of flashbacks helps to smooth out the distinguishing art styles. Being a TMNT comic, the action is strong, but it’s not definitely not for younger readers, who might be upset by seeing any of the Turtles getting bloodied up, or for that matter getting killed, as seen in the Ben Bishop-drawn flashbacks.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin works for both the lifelong TMNT fans who miss the Mirage years, as well as the newbies who are interested in a TDKR-inspired Turtles narrative.
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