TMNT: THE LAST RONIN
By Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Tom Waltz, Esau, and Isaac Escorza
- Collects Issues #1 – 5
- Publisher : IDW
- Release : 7/5/2022
- Softcover : 224 pages
- Dimensions : 7.38″ x 11.19″
- Reading Age : 13+ years
- MSRP : $29.99
Projects don't get much bigger, but...
This book has been smoking hot. It came out in 2021 and wrapped up in 2022 with the collected edition coming out in July 2022. Until recently, it sat #1 on the Amazon Best-Seller list for Science Fiction Graphic Novels. The series has an impressive 4.9 customer review rating on Amazon, 4.34 on Goodreads, and an 8.8 Critic Rating on Comic Book Round Up.
I’m a huge turtles fan and it’s great to see fans clamoring for a worthwhile TMNT project…but (truthfully speaking) we all bought into the gimmick and the hype…not much substance to be had here.
While the premise of the last surviving turtle story is compelling, Eastman & Laird joined Waltz in a pretty uninspiring jaunt. For me, Tom Waltz is that “kid next door that plays with his toys wrong”. I picked up the first collected volume of his 2011 series and then jumped on again back in 2015 leading up to the death of Donatello stunt. I hung around for a while waiting to see anything special unfold but that storyline went nowhere and was (at best) mediocre. IDW failed to capitalize on the death event, selling less than 15K copies and settling for #146 on the sales chart. I think the team learned from their marketing mistakes back in 2015 and overcompensated with nearly 200 variant covers for the TMNT: The Last Ronin series and an appalling $8.99 cover price on the individual issues. IDW boasts a massive 840,000 copies of the first five issues were sold to retailers. With the success of the collected version, the series has produced over one million units in circulation making it the biggest marketing success for IDW Publishing.
Without giving any spoilers away, we know from the premise that only one turtle remains. Everyone wanted to join in to see who it was, but (I’m sorry to say) it doesn’t matter who is left. The turtle that remains is written in a way he could be any of the four, it literally doesn’t matter which one. He is just there. He never takes on any of the familiar individual characteristics throughout all five issues. The character’s essence that we knew never comes into play in the story.
I also had a problem with the premise as it was conceptualized because I felt it exploited a limitation of the medium. We spent an entire issue following our beloved character, seeing him, hearing him speak, reading his thoughts, but we can’t tell him apart from his brothers until it is revealed to us when someone speaks to him by name. Does that make sense to you when you stop to think about it? There is an animated version in the works but I anticipate this approach cumbersome on screen and I don’t think we should give them a pass on the page. At one point it’s later explained that our remaining turtle has mutated more over the years causing him to be larger than the previous version of the turtles. He is also battle-hardened and wear but I’m still not prepared to give them a pass. If they wanted to withhold the reveal in the first issue until the end, they could have played up on the ninja aspect of our character and skillfully used a silent gimmick throughout the first issue rather than just operate as though they’re all indistinguishable from each other. While Eastman & Laird’s early stuff portrayed them as indistinguishable, Waltz’s run portrayed them all with different skin tones, personality, and body types.
I don’ think fans are going to look back on this series in five years and feel it gave them what they really wanted. However, rather than just gripe, how satisfying would it have been as a fan, if we could have gotten a pitch where “what if each turtle was the last surviving turtle?” In other words, what if each of the four turtles got a Last Ronin five issue series? What if you had multiple parallel scenes throughout the story and we got to see each of their four unique personalities affect the outcome? What if we got to see how they each reacted differently to the loss, their individual resolve, and the personal crusade for vengeance? What if there were converging and diverging arcs throughout the five issues. What if the first and last page of each issue was virtually from the same perspective? I think that would have made for a more compelling and rewarding story. Instead, we are going to get a host of sequel and prequel projects to ride this new IDW cash train.
In 2017 we already saw a superior grim three episode Nickelodeon cartoon story called “Raphael: The Mutant Apocalypse” set fifty years in the future that was intended to be the original cartoon series finale. The story was released as part of season five and relabeled the Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Final Chapters. There is a wealth more character and payoff in that series than what Eastman, Laird, and Waltz are able to throw together.
Nickelodeon gave us the best version of the turtles in their 2012-2017 series.
Our favorite characters got their best treatment from showrunner Ciro Nieli. While Nickelodeon botched the programming for the final season, we already saw a superior grim three episode Nickelodeon cartoon story called “Raphael: The Mutant Apocalypse” set fifty years in the future that was intended to be the original cartoon series finale. The story was released as part of season five and relabeled the Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Final Chapters. There is a wealth more character and payoff in that series than what Eastman, Laird, and Waltz are able to throw together.