Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a comic book nearly two years in the making.  Or maybe 27 years.  And it may be the best single comic book issue of the year.  But as strange as the tale between the covers, the story of its creators is stranger still.  What you probably know is this:  In 1984 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird published a single issue comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Intended as a spoof-parody-mash-up concoction of Marvel’s Daredevil and The New Mutants, Frank Miller’s Ronin, and Dave Sim’s Cerebus, the book sparked something much bigger for readers, becoming one of the most popular franchises for a few generations of readers and cartoon watchers (not to mention the impact it had via toys and movie tie-ins).  A couple unrelated–short-lived–parody spin-offs of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came and went unrelated to Eastman and Laird, including Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos and Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.

What you don’t know is that eight years after the Turtles saw their first comic–in 1992–comic creators Shane Bookman and his brother Paul released their scrappy indie creation on the unsuspecting comic book universe: Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls Like Eastman and Laird, the Bookmans had their own share of ups and downs, tales of fame and fortune (evidently Eastman sold off his rights to the Turtles some 20 years ago, etc.).  So in 2017 Eastman and writer David Avallone and artist Ben Bishop (with Troy Little, Brittany Peer, Tomi Varga, and Taylor Esposito) took the Bookmans’ story to Kickstarter, and nearly 1,200 backers brought in more than $100,000.  Now it’s all done, first to tell the Bookmans’ story in a new monthly comic beginning this past week called Drawing Blood, and at the same time with a companion comic they created and discussed in their comic industry exploits, Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls, Issue #1.

 

The result?  Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls is an idea as good as any Turtles tale you’ve read, and as finely crafted an origin story, full of action, top-notch writing, beautiful layouts, and exciting new characters: referred to as the Ragdolls (from the cat breed), they are three female cats who encounter gamma rays, cosmic rays, genetic mutagens, and who knows what other comic book superpower trigger was tapped, to become Tezuka, Otomo, and Miyazaki.  Speaking, Ronin-trained, defender cats.  Otomo is the most fearsome, Miyazaki speaks in Haiku poems, and Tezuka is a master tactician.

Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls is like a parody of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Stan Sakai′s Usagi Yojimbo, DC’s Katana, Mike Wieringo’s Tellos, and Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden.  Clever, endearing, heroic, adventurous, and fun.  In fact it’s very much like a parody… because it is.  And Shane and Paul Bookman?  They’re more like Tony Clifton–characters created to tell the story of the creators.  That’s right.  Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls is a parody of a parody of a parody.  But if you love anthropomorphic tales, you’ll see Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls is the real deal, and as promising as anything it parodies.

 

The origin story of the cats is told with an “insert” set off in an effective color scheme and altered style.  None of the pages have that quick-drawn, “filler page” feel that seems to find its way into many comics.  And the story is full of quick quips, throwaway jokes, throwback references, and Easter eggs that make for something more layered than your average comic book.

If you’ve been reading Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Crisis in a Half-Shell, or like the art style in Ghost Tree, you’ll want to add this to your reading list as soon as possible.  The first (hopefully there will be a series to follow) issue is available with some incredible variant covers that practically jump (Ronin-style) off the comic book shelf, drawn by Troy Little and Kevin Eastman (cover A), Kevin Eastman (cover B), Ben Bishop (cover C), Freddie Williams II (cover D), Stan Sakai (cover E), an Alan Quah cover variant exclusive (both with and without logo) from Big Time Collectibles, and a Chase Alexander video game variant exclusive from Comics and Ponies.  As with Drawing Blood, the comic is a reprint of the issue from the Kickstarter campaign, with so far only Drawing Blood planned as an ongoing monthly.  Three original cover variants from the Kickstarter project are only available in the aftermarket (eBay, etc.), and they include a cover by Bishop, a cover by Eastman, and a blank sketch cover.

 

It’s now available, self-published by Kevin Eastman Studios.  Eastman uses the best paper stock and color inks for the book, along with a shiny, vibrant set of covers that feel almost plastic-coated–quality from cover to cover, with logos mimicking Eastman’s early Turtles work.  Order the first issue of the brilliant Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls now from Elite Comics or your local comic book shop today.