One Final Adventure: Reviewing ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin’
by Scott Redmond
Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s long-gestating ‘final’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle story brings a whole new life and situation for the beloved characters of this franchise. It’s brimming with gory battles, dystopian forces and rebellions, great character moments, and more tragic moments centering around these pop culture icons. A truly tragic yet beautiful final story for these iconic characters that leaves enough there to give hope for more stories in this world.
Dark futures full of older, broken, and scarred versions of characters we know and love are a staple of most fiction. Common practice is to lay out what the new dark future world and its stakes are, while also taking a trip back to paint the picture of the beginning of the end (aka how we got here). This and so much more is exactly what we get with IDW Publishing’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin.
Based on a long percolating story from the minds of original creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, with story assistance from longtime TMNT writer Tom Waltz who also scripted with Eastman, the series features the last remaining member of the Hamato clan on a quest for vengeance against the Oroku/Foot Clan. Who that final Turtle is and how they came to be in this position is tragically told through the series, giving painful but at times almost beautiful/poetic final moments to these characters that many of us have followed most of our lives.
Eastman and Waltz bring over a lot of the energy and sensibility that was seen during their work in IDW’s rebooted main TMNT series over the years, kicked up to 11 as so much has changed. Unlike many stories that use flashbacks of this magnitude, the duo doesn’t let their flashbacks take away from the main portion of the storyline as they make the most out of the set number of issues and pages they had for the story. Flashbacks are interspersed between future set bits that move the first issue story forward, both from the last Ronin and ally’s perspective, as well as that of the Foot Clan as they seek to hunt him down.
This series incorporates many elements that are familiar to any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan but does so in a way that does not nail down exactly which continuity we have seen before, if it’s any of them, it might fit into. It is a beast in and of itself pulling upon the history of the franchise as a whole. Because of it pulling from these sources there are moments where the actions of certain characters will be a given or predictable but in a way that makes it even more tragic when things go awry. Normally the characters get to walk away from the traits and choices that might usually cause them to stumble, but not this time.
With this series, with the flashbacks of various types and the main story, we get a whole huge artist jam that includes Esau & Isaac Escorza, Ben Bishop, Kevin Eastman, Luis Antonio Delgado, Samuel Plata, and Ronda Pattison. It’s quite rare to have artist jams of this nature come together so seamlessly. There are usually some styles that slightly clash in a way that the eye can’t help but notice, but that is not the case here.
The only part that is different is that of Eastman pulling from his TMNT roots for specific pages and panels done in the older style for emphasis and a remembrance of where the series came from. In a way, both the tragic “past” sequences and the dystopian era under Foot’s control are in a sense the “future” when one compares them to where those original Turtles series that Eastman was part of ended up. Eastman’s panels serve as a way to connect the eras together and make it easy to believe that the events shown in the pages were possibly some of the natural directions that things might have gone if that original run had continued and been somewhat different.
There is a worn-out looking shadowy texture of sorts that clings to the brighter colors of the dystopian future, giving it a bright look but also hammering home the darkness of the era. While the flashbacks are also colorful but in a different way. They have almost a sepia filter tone applied to them, making sure that they stand out as the flashbacks. Even with the tragic events, it gives them almost the nostalgic memory sort of look to them that we expect of “older” imagery.
Every bit of this story is energetic and detailed and so very dynamic as we can feel what these characters are going through every step of the way. We can see the wear and tear that has come from age/time, and how deeply they feel, while the battles that are fought have such weight and motion to them. It’s brutal and dark but so hopeful all at the same time. It’s like they took all the feeling and energy that has come from every single incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and distilled it down to the perfect epitome of these characters/this world and packed it into five wonderful issues.
More and more there are a handful of people that define what TMNT is at this point and what it can be, and Shawn Lee is one of those people as lettering the various books fall into his hands. His style always feels fresh and fun whether it’s for the actual dialogue/captions or SFX that fill these pages. It brings stability to this line, no matter how far apart the books are timeline-wise, by creating a connection that holds them all together as a true family of titles.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin hardcover edition is now available.