It's really bizarre that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became as popular as they did, if it all. The concept, right in the title, is a tough sell. Four turtles are mutated into anthropomorphic teenagers and learn ninjutsu from a rat master. It's almost like the story was put together with ideas drawn from a hat.
Defying the odds, the concept works; the emotional, familial component connected with fans all over the world and the series has endured for 33 years. With a franchise that's been holding steady for so long, every fan is bound to have a favorite incarnation. If the live-action/CGI hybrids weren't your cup of tea (they weren't this writer's either) and the older, more mature Turtle fan in you wants to wet your whistle with something that isn't quite as aimed at the younger demographic (which is still very good in it's own right), I come bearing good news. IDW Publishing's current run of #TMNT is phenomenal. If you don't believe me, I have four radical reasons you should.
1. Change Is Constant
Like every comic book property that has endured more than a few years, creative shake-ups have to happen every so often to keep things fresh. TMNT is no stranger to such change. Writer Tom Waltz and TMNT creator Kevin Eastman have deftly reinvigorated the franchise with a fresh take on classic stories and characters. All fan favorites are brought back and reworked to fit the story in an intelligent, compelling fashion that keeps readers on their toes while giving enough fan service to keep everyone happy.
A notable threat in the beginning of our story comes from the street gang, the Purple Dragons and their leader. Fans of the 2003 cartoon will recognize the hulking, blonde monstrosity as Hun. Hun turns out to be father of none other than our favorite hockey-themed vigilante, Casey Jones, and a father/son power struggle ensues, giving Casey a real purpose other than just teaching Pain 101.
The biggest departure in the series comes in the form of the origin of the species. The brothers and Splinter start out as lab experiments at the pharmaceutical company TCRI before becoming their ol' mutant selves. Now, this is where things get tricky, as some supernatural elements are thrown in for good measure.
Splinter explains to the boys that once they gained sentience, he regained all the memories of their past lives. The boys and their father are reincarnations of their feudal Japanese counterparts, the Hamato family, retaining their personalities, ages and even ninjutsu training.
This also ties their story back into the Hamato/Saki blood-feud, as Oroku Saki, the Shredder, executed them for abandoning the Foot Clan. Through some demonic trickery, Shredder is still alive today. Oooo boy. I know that's a lot to take in, but trust me — the story is top notch and delivers issue after issue.
2. It's Not Your Little Brother's Ninja Turtles
There are very few runs of comics I feel compelled to collect every single issue and read beginning to end. Thanks to apps like Comixology and Marvel Unlimited, I can read almost everything I could ever want and drop out if I lose interest. IDW's TMNT is one of only two comic runs I've collected and read beginning to end and enjoyed every single issue, the other being Ultimate Spider-Man.
The biggest reason I've fallen so in love with this run is this version feels like the Turtles grew up and matured with me, which is odd for a comic about perpetual teenagers, but it's true. At its core, this story is about family, even one that transcends hundreds of years. It's really satisfying to see a group of misfits hold together so strongly when they've all been lost or broken at one point or another. They go through relatable situations, like losing faith in your parents or searching for a purpose, though the circumstances are much more unbelievable.
It doesn't shy away from violence when necessary either. As I go back and watch the original series, it is odd that ninjas fight with puns and props more than their own weapons, but that's long gone. The stakes are high and the villains are ruthless.
In particular, Bebop and Rocksteady are absolutely terrifying based on their maliciousness and strength alone. From Shredder's plot to rule New York to General Krang's plot to terraform the entire planet, the Turtles have no shortage of high-intensity life or death problems to face, and it makes for an incredible story.
3. The Cast Of Characters Is ENORMOUS, Featuring Many New And Plenty Fan-Favorites
When a series is designed from the beginning to sell action figures to kids, outlandish character creation will be aplenty. What this series does so well is pick the most interesting characters and set them up within the story in a believable way. From the Hot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X in the 1988 cartoon to Leatherhead from the Turtles in Time video game, they gang is (almost literally) all here.
That's not to say the series relies heavily on old characters, oh no. There are plenty new friends and foes along for the ride as well, such as Shredder's henchmen, Koya and Bludgeon, Alopex, the mutant arctic fox, or Old Hob, the human hating, one-eyed alley cat. There's something fun for every member of the family!
4. The Art Is Mind-Blowing
I don't say this lightly, Mateus Santolouco's pencils are the best you will find in any comic book today. His is the perfect style to tell this story — detailed enough to dazzle and add a layer of maturity but cartoony enough to convey the aspects of a concept as fantastical as TMNT. His art is only taken to an even higher level by the lush, vivid colors of Ronda Pattison. I could sit here and gush over the art in paragraph after paragraph but it's better to let the work speak for itself.
I can only give my highest praises for this series. Every panel, every page, every issue has been a joy to read and, at times, both the art and the writing have dropped my jaw. It's taken a pretty silly concept that's perceived by many as a kid's franchise and made it enjoyable for the generation who may have already grown out of it. The trades are always reasonably priced and back issues are usually $1.99, especially on Comixology. If you have the opportunity to check this out, don't pass it up.
For more of my offbeat thoughts and opinions, check out my write up on why Wonder Woman should lead the DCEU.
What TMNT storyline is your favorite?