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SDCC 2023: Tom Waltz and Ben Bishop on the blockbuster success of 'TMNT: The Last Ronin'

Comic Books

SDCC 2023: Tom Waltz and Ben Bishop on the blockbuster success of ‘TMNT: The Last Ronin’

Waltz and Bishop discuss what made ‘The Last Ronin’ such a runaway hit.

If there’s one comic book property that can stand up to the longevity of characters like Batman or Spider-Man, it’s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The heroes in a half-shell have been part of multiple comic book runs, a plethora of animated series and film adaptations, and far too many crossovers to count.

In turn, this has made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin all the more exciting.

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Focusing on an aged Michelangelo as he sought vengeance for the death of his family, it was a story that proved to be a blockbuster hit thanks to the work of TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman and longtime TMNT writer Tom Waltz (alongside artists Ben Bishop, Isaac Escorza, and Esau Escorza). And the series continues to further develop and grow, including a recent Lost Years one-shot special, and more titles/projects coming down the pipeline.

At San Diego Comic Con, I spoke with Waltz and Bishop about what made The Last Ronin such a success as well as its various spinoffs and that upcoming sequel.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Last Ronin

Courtesy of IDW.

AIPT: Did you ever imagine The Last Ronin would become this successful?

Ben Bishop: They knew…Tom and Kevin knew. They brought me in and Kevin was like “It’s going to be huge!” But it was all manifesting.

Tom Waltz: When we started we talked about…Kevin talked about it being evergreen. He said “lets do a book like Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen, something that people will buy over the years.” So we figured it’d have longevity but we didn’t think it would come out of the chute so fast and be as big as it was. What really surprised us wasn’t that it was big, but it kept getting bigger. But Kevin’s been doing this for a while and he has really good instincts. And he was leading the way and we were like “We’re good. He’s gonna get us where we need to go.”

AIPT: The Lost Years miniseries expands upon Michelangelo’s travels following the death of his family. What was it like writing a Mikey who’s less of a jokester?

TW: It’s funny because when I was writing Lost Years, I tried to show that his inner monologue is a little dense. It’s not as quick as it was in Dark Knight or Last Ronin. So you can almost see that regression from somebody who had that humor and joy in him as one tragedy follows after another, you see him regress. So when we were writing The Last Ronin I had just come off of the ongoing series, and my first draft…Kevin said “We gotta pull back, you’re still in IDW Turtles mode, you’re not in Last Ronin mode.” So I started tweaking the script and then I found the rhythm. So it was his guidance that got me there. But it’s tough for me not to have a fun pun in there because it’s Mikey!

Last Ronin

Courtesy of IDW.

AIPT: Ben, you had a hand in shaping the world of The Last Ronin – is there any part of the world you liked drawing?

BB: Credit where credit’s due, the Ronin look was all Kevin and the Escorzas for sure. But I had the pleasure of killing off all my heroes, all my Turtles each issue. Further into Lost Years, getting to design the new Turtles from scratch, from birth…that’s just been amazing. The agenda is to make them all different with or without masks. They’ve got different sizes, different silhouettes, different markings…a lot of different personality traits. Visually and internally they’re different, not just from the OG Turtles but from each other.

AIPT: Did you have a favorite character other than Mikey throughout the series?

TW: In The Last Ronin itself I did like Casey Marie Jones a lot, and April’s kind of like a personal favorite to me in general. In Lost Years, particularly the Lost Day special, this character named Tinker 2 was really fun to write. She’s a dichotomy of emotions…she’s an ally to April, but she blames April for her father’s death. But Casey Marie Jones has been a lot of fun.

BB: When it came to Lost Years I spent a lot of time with April, which was great. I kept drawing her getting more and more weathered, more Sarah Connor…I kept thinking of her as Walter White. (laughs) She’s a badass!

SDCC 2023: Tom Waltz and Ben Bishop on the blockbuster success of 'TMNT: The Last Ronin'

Courtesy of IDW.

AIPT: The Last Ronin sequel, Re-Evolution, was announced at the TMNT panel. Can you tell me about that?

TW: Re-Evolution is going to pick up where Lost Years left off. We’ve been showing the little Turtles grow up. But like I said in the panel, the purpose of the training was true martial arts. It was discipline, being able to defend yourself, but it wasn’t about seeking fights. Casey Marie and April had always hoped that all the training would be just that. But now there’s a power vacuum rising up to take the Foot’s place and it’s going to force them to come to the surface and use the skills they’ve learned. There’s a lot of surprises to come with April, the Turtles…it’ll be fun to flesh that out. Old habits come to the fore. History repeats.

One question on the panel, and one very good one, is “Why would April play God and create new Turtles?” We’ll explore that, the ethics of that and why she did that as a scientist. There will be a purpose to all this.

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