IDW’s TMNT is awesome
July 17, 2012 Leave a comment
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of my all-time favorite childhood franchises (alongside G1 Transformers and the Real Ghostbusters), but as a fan who likes a good retro kick, my heroes in a half-shell haven’t been exactly accessible in the comic world. Before there was a cartoon or a toy line, there was a comic written as a spoof by two guys named Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It was a dark, violent comic and it was pretty awesome.
But that was a long time ago. With the cartoon and toy line boom long since gone, TMNT lived on in comic form in its original home of Mirage Studios. But the last version of the Mirage comic had very little to offer the casual fans that might provide the oomph to restart a solid TMNT fanbase. Rather than starting fresh, the comic continued the story that had originally started the whole thing. The turtles were no longer teenagers, Splinter had passed away, April O’Neil and Casey Jones were married, and there were a whole lot of characters a reader was expected to know about with little to help them along. And not only that, only two of the turtles were in their normal state as Donatello had been permanently shrunk and was piloting a turtle robot and Raphael was a mutated monster.
The comic went into hiatus when Peter Laird became busy with the CGI TMNT movie (which was far better than the comic) and never really came back. By the time Mirage sold the franchise, no one was exactly demanding a conclusion to the story.
It seemed inevitable that the turtles would eventually hit the comic shelves again, and last year IDW made that happen.
After reading seven issues and three issues of a mini, I have to say that this new version of TMNT is fricking awesome.
And after the jump, I’ll tell you why.
History is appreciated
Despite its lack of direction in recent years, the TMNT franchise has a lot of history between its numerous comic incarnations, its popular cartoon(s) and even its four films. The new comic doesn’t simply toss all of that away with a simple “we do what we want”, but rather incorporates them into its new story. Casey Jones and Raphael’s close friendship is established in the opening issues. April’s tie to the turtles is as well, though she has yet to meet them in their current forms (as far as I’ve read). Splinter’s ties to Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki are once again brought into the forefront, though they are quite different than what’s been seen before (see below).
Though it is a new story, there’s a lot to like in this comic if you’re a fan of what’s gone down before.
The two major TMNT sources finally come together
When I was a young lad watching TMNT on Saturday mornings and burying my nose into Archie Comics’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, I felt like I had the turtles down. Then I checked out a couple collected volumes of the original comic and realized I didn’t know squat. When the original movie came out in 1990, one of the things my friends complained most was that they got the background story wrong, by having Splinter as a pet of Hamato Yoshi rather than a mutated form of the man himself. The problem came with making TMNT friendly enough for a children’s cartoon show. After all, the original comic was very dark themed.
Over the years, the various continuations of the original comic stood steadfast in not applying any of the themes created by the cartoon. But that changed with this run. Fans of the original cartoon will see a lot of familiar things here. Krang, the talking brain in the stomach of an android body, is introduced as an alien warlord complete with his rock soldiers. He’s introduced in a battle against the planet Neutrino, which was one of the earliest themes introduced in the cartoon. The micro-series issue devoted to Raphael debuted the still-human Rocksteady and Bebop. Neither were called by name, but their appearances were unmistakable.
But that’s not to say there’s not plenty from the original comic as well. Splinter’s ties to Shredder are shown complete with the scarring of Shredder’s face. Baxter Stockman is back to his original form of an evil genius with horrible inventions at his disposal, and April O’Neil is introduced as a student in his employ.
But a better example of the merging of the two lores is the new origin story for the title protagonists.
The new origin story
In the original comic, the origin of the turtles laid in Splinter, who had been the pet rat of Japanese martial artist Hamato Yoshi, who had become embroiled in a feud against Oroku Nagi. Nagi’s brother Oroku Saki murdered Yoshi’s love Tang Shen (yes that was her real name) and attacked Yoshi when he found the corpse of his love. In the fight between Saki and Yoshi, Splinter’s cage was broken and he attacked Saki, scarring his face, but could not prevent the death of his master. Left alone, Splinter made his way to New York aboard several ships until he came to reside in the NY sewer system. An automobile accident involving radioactive ooze and a blind man crossing the street (a parody on the origin of Daredevil) led said ooze and four baby turtles to be dropped into the sewer atop Splinter. The ooze caused the five of them to mutate into anthropomorphic animals, and Splinter raised the four turtles as his sons, naming them after Renaissance painters he had learned of in a book he’d found in a storm drain.
The cartoon changed that origin to remove the murders from the story and make it more kid-friendly. Gone was Tang Shen and Oroku Nagi, and instead Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki were both members of the honorable Foot Clan (itself a spoof on the Daredevil enemies The Hand). Yoshi was in line to take command of the Foot, but Saki set him up to appear to be attacking the Foot’s leader and was exiled from the clan. Finding himself homeless on the streets of New York, he made his home in a sewer lair where one day he found a glowing ooze and four turtles. He cleaned the turtles, but the ooze caused them to became more human (as they had been in contact with Yoshi), and Yoshi himself to become a humanoid rat (the last animals he had touched before the ooze).
The turtles themselves remained basically the same in both stories – innocent baby turtles who were simply in the right place at the right time. The big difference was whether Splinter had begun life as a human or as a rat. The new story for the group takes both routes.
Again Splinter’s origin traces back to Hamato Yoshi in Japan, but this time he not only has a wife with Tang Shen, but also four young sons who themselves are trained in the martial arts. Yoshi and his family are targeted for execution by Oroku Saki, but in the first attack, only Shen is killed while the others escape. The sons take familiar looks to those paying attention – they clad themselves in their favorite colors (blue, red, purple and orange) and train using familiar weapons (katana, bo staff, sai and nunchaku). Unfortunately, the family is found by Saki and themselves executed. Just before his death, Yoshi (a Buddhist) prays that in a future life he be allowed to have revenge for his family’s slaying.
Yoshi is reincarnated as a lab rat, and his four sons show up as four turtles in a lab owned by Baxter Stockman (and tended to by April O’Neil) where the workers have named them Splinter, Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael. Splinter and his sons escape when the lab is attacked by the Foot Clan and find themselves covered in a radioactive ooze outside. One of the four turtles is picked up by a stray cat and carried off, but Splinter manages to free him by scratching out the cat’s eye, but before he can collect his missing son with the others, the Foot ninjas return and he is forced to flee.
The ooze has the predictable effects, but rather than being completely raised by Splinter, the turtles begin showing characteristics that they had in their previous lives, most notably their inherent martial arts abilities which show once Splinter begins training them. Once suitably ready for action, Splinter gives his three sons red masks (the missing son’s favorite color) and sends them out looking for him. The missing turtle himself has also mutated and wanders the streets without memory or home, simply fighting crime as a sense of what’s right. He breaks up a domestic dispute in which a college-aged Casey Jones is being attacked by his father, and the two begin not only friends, but crime fighting partners. In one of their patrols, they come upon the very cat that had first tried to take the turtle, himself mutated and calling himself Old Hob. The pair are nearly killed until the other three turtles show up and the four are reunited.
The missing turtle, Raphael, begins his own training with his brothers and takes to his skills well. When ready, Splinter presents Raphael with his sais, as well as giving the other three new colored masks to reflect their individuality, no longer having to wear red since Raphael had been found.
Personally, I love this new origin for the stories. It not only mixes the two origins of Splinter – allowing him to be both Hamato Yoshi and a pet rat – but gives the turtles inherent abilities and knowledge which in turn allows their origin story to be compressed to the point that April herself could be there when they were in their original form. Raphael gets a reason for his tendency to go solo,
Longtime TMNT fans have plenty to look for
Little snippets here and there give fans like me reasons to smile. For example:
- Michelangelo at one point refers to himself as “a party dude”, a nod to the ridiculously catchy cartoon theme.
- Donatello gets a message board invite for an Expo from a “PROF_J_PERRY”, which would of course be referring to Professor Jordan Perry, David Warner’s character from TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze.
- Donatello’s own screen name, “DUZ_MACHINES_84″ is itself another reference to the original cartoon theme song. The 84 is, of course, the debut year of the TMNT, and therefore technically the character’s birthdate.
- Rocksteady debuts by calling himself a rhino.
- Traag, Krang’s commanding rock soldier in the cartoon, is once again at his side, but at this point he’s just a Captain, rather than the general he had been in the cartoon.’
- Krang is fighing against the Neutrinos, who were amongst the first allies of the turtles in the original cartoon.
If you like the turtles at all, then you need to be buying IDW’s comic. It’s absolutely worth it.