To come right out with it: I’m going to be 30 in a few weeks, and I still think the Ninja Turtles are awesome. I still have most of the movies, games, and many toys, I know the cartoon inside and out (the old one, however the new Nickelodeon reboot is actually quite good), and if they made Turtles sheets that fit my bed, I’d consider sleeping on them.
I was never really a comic book kid growing up, though, so for me the Turtles started with cartoon episodes on VHS tapes I bought at a grocery store and action figures that made He-Man look like a furry-girdled Mormon. It’s important to right past wrongs, however, so I’ve set out to read the original TMNT comics, which IDW has made quite easy with these beautiful hardcover collections of the original comic issues, interlaced with interviews with the creators.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice the grittier look of these original turtles. The art style reminds me a bit of The Walking Dead after Charlie Adlard took over the drawing duties. They all wear red headbands, but still have different weapons to differentiate themselves, and while their personalities do differ slightly, the more archetypal delineation between each turtle (uptight leader, sarcastic hothead, goofy prankster, brainy geek) is not yet present.
Neither is the the violence toned back for a younger audience. (How frustrating is it that no one–besides robots–ever gets cut with Leo’s swords, or stabbed with Raph’s sais in mainstream Turtles depictions?) These comics are bloody, very bloody. And the turtle siblings are ruthless. Indeed, the story these opening issues tell is one of revenge. Splinter has raised the turtles for one purpose: not to be heroes that patrol the streets of crime-saturated New York, but as a team of assassins with the singular goal of hunting down and killing Oroku Saki, now a crime boss known as The Shredder. And they go about that mission in gruesome fashion.
If you’ve seen the first live action Turtles movie from the 90s (you should, it pulled some punches but still stands up today), you’ll notice right away how close that movie’s plot actually sticks close to the first few comics presented here–a bit surprising considering the mega-popularity of the cartoons at the time. In addition to these openers with Shredder and April O’Neil and Casey Jones, in later issues the turtles are met with plentiful appearances from characters that would become mainstays from the toy and comic universes to come: Baxter Stockman, the Krangs and Triceratons, etc.
Even the casual Turtles fan will eat this book up. It’s great to see the origins of a childhood staple, and even better to find that it’s still pretty good to boot. There’s four more of these volumes waiting for me, and I’m totally looking forward to that snowed-in lazy Sunday morning when I get the chance to dive into more of these. Cowabunga.