Review by C.J. Bunce
It never used to be this way and it didn’t have to end up this way. Over the years and across the decades, somehow comic book publishers decided comic book readers wanted to see the death of every favorite character. By the 1990s and 2000s it became more difficult to find a major character that hadn’t been killed off at least once. But just like you don’t want to watch the final Lassie episode or Benji movie to witness a beloved dog’s last breath (Oh Heavenly Dog doesn’t count), or watch Baby Yoda/Grogu meet his fate at the blade of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, maybe we don’t want to see the killing off of even one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the original creators of the TMNT think you do, so if you do, and for those that do, it’s happening right now in the pages of IDW Publishing’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin. We’re two issues into the five-issue limited series, and the first issue has already gone to record reprints, thanks in no small part to a huge number of variant covers. We always love our variant options, but this mini-series has at least 69 covers for Issue #1 and at least 26 covers for Issue #2. It’s a bit odd, because the subject matter is that last turtle, so don’t expect much variation in content. Those knowing their turtles by color, never fear: the black mask on the covers does not give anything way. For TMNT collectors, completists, and fans of future otherworld stories and what ifs like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, you’ll probably want to at least check out the trade edition for this one. Take a look at a preview of The Last Ronin below.
Not to knock the TMNT brand any–the creators are just doing what every series eventually does in comics. They even killed off Archie, right? (What’s next, Snoopy?). But if your view of cool equals gritty, then you’ll probably see The Last Ronin as some kind of dessert. It’s consistent with early TMNT and is stuffed with the same martial arts action that has defined the series in all its incarnations (and there are many, so we assume this is just one of many possible TMNT paths, not necessarily definitive, but maybe). You can never quite tell who really does what in a series like this: we’re told the story is by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, and Tom Waltz, the script is by Waltz and Eastman, layouts are by Eastman, and pencils and inks are by Esau and Isaac Escorza, with Samuel Plata and Luis Antonio Delgado on colors, Shawn Lee on letters, and I’m sure someone else on percussion and sax.
Set in New York City thirty years into the future, the future underworld of tunnels and sewers doesn’t look much different than the bowels of a big city today. The Last Ronin is drawn so much like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again that at times it feels like Miller’s 1980s futurism was the primary inspiration for the story–Eastman’s layout feature the turtle hero jumping out windows and crouched with clenched fist in Miller’s trademark look that echoes the boxy-ness of The Thing (and his dialogue may even sound in your head like mine as if it’s being spoken by Michael Chiklis). We even meet April as a cyborg, swapped in for Oliver Queen in Miller’s story. Cyborgs and robots take center stage as the Foot Clan of the future, but names and legacies from the past aren’t lost here.
By the second issue it becomes clear that this isn’t an Old Man Ninja Turtle tale that could spin off into further adventures, but a swan song as we witness in flashback the picking off, albeit in the expected noble and honorable fashion, of each of the brothers. It looks right. It feels right. But it’s bleak. The best component is the inclusion of the voices of the dead in a clever way. Here’s a look, which filters out a few panel giveaways:
Steer clear of the poachers flipping individual issues on eBay for amounts unlikely to hold their value–there are plenty of options available at cover price or less. Or pre-order the trade edition–keep an eye out for it here, and a black and white throwback Director’s Cut here, coming to Amazon. TMNT: The Last Ronin issues #1 and #2 are available to order at good comics stores like Elite Comics now.