Review: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1’

IDW collects the first seven issues of the Turtles’ adventures in an oversized hardcover.

“Yeah, the cartoon’s cool, but the old comic books are way more hardcore.” I’m sure some of you out there had some variation of this conversation with another kid when you were younger about the Ninja Turtles—either they’d read the original comics and were totally blown away into a state of utterly cool nonchalance from the experience or, more likely, they’d heard about the originals and were looking to sound wiser beyond their years. Well, I can assure you that within these first seven issues (and a standalone introduction to fan favorite character, Casey Jones), there are no brutal decapitations, no more metal than metal moments of gore and mad violence, but it’s certainly more mature than the original animated series and actually feels closer in tone and feel to the 1990 feature film.

More than anything else, the original series was meant to evoke Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil with its dazzling obsession with ninjas by way of Roger Corman-esque sci-fi craziness. If that’s not clear from the scene where the turtles and their father figure/mentor Master Splinter are splashed with radioactive material as a young boy shoves a blind man out of the way of oncoming traffic, then the exuberant, detailed breakdowns of each issue from series creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (primarily Eastman, though) lay out their influences behind creating the book pretty clearly. These one to two page pieces are—besides the blown-up artwork from the two creators—maybe the biggest reason to pick up the collection, serving as sort of a mini history on the origins of the book, the unique, cross-country correspondence that brought the series to life and kept it going, and the unexpected success of the comic.

Looking at the quality of the actual comic: yes, this was the work of two guys still feeling their way around the material, but the energy and bright ideas were more than enough to make up for any technical shortcomings. Presented entirely in black and white (save for the colors), the first couple of issues in particular had some very clever and dynamic layouts that effectively served as information dumps but still communicated a feeling of action and flow (the whole sequence where Splinter narrates their origin is maybe the standout of the entire work). Some of the human figures could be a little raw, and presenting them in a larger size shows all sins of anatomical construction, but it’s not really an issue where you will at any point say anything beyond, “man, these guys could sure draw some killer sword fights.”

And you do get loads of fights here and get a lot of the Turtles being actual Ninjas, hacking and slashing at the Foot Clan in their first encounter, taking down rampaging Mousers, Raphael mixing it up in a pretty brutal throwdown with the sports-obsessed version of the Punisher, the aforementioned Casey Jones, and on it goes. Each issue leaps forward with some new piece of delirious weirdness and it’s no wonder the book quickly found an audience upon its debut.

Besides the commentary from Eastman and Laird (again, mostly Eastman), the book also includes plates detailing some of the original page layouts, and the original color covers preceding each chapter. The hardcover is surprisingly light but not at all flimsy. I accidentally knocked the book around but there was no scuffing or scratching immediately visible on the glossy cover, so IDW should be commended for putting together another well-constructed volume.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 will be available from IDW Publishing on January 10th.

Related posts:

IDW Set to Wreck Time and Space In 2012’s Line-wide Crossover ’Infestation 2’
TMNT’s Casey Jones Gets A Very Gritty Fan Film

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