Congratulations IDW!!! You did it!!! With the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles issue #73 last week, IDW’s TMNT series became the longest running Turtles comic of all time. Yay!!! Archie Comics’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures held the record at seventy-two issues running from August of 1988 to October of 1995 and, for comparison’s sake, the Turtles’ original Mirage series ran for sixty-two issues, ending in August of 1993. In honor of this momentous occasion, I wanted to talk about why IDW’s Turtles series has captured my heart and mind as well as how growing up with the Turtles for nearly thirty years has allowed my appreciation of their story to evolve.
My love of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began a few years after I first met Spider-Man and predates my love of Star Wars by many years. Like my love of Spider-Man, I’ve tried to stay with the Turtles in their various incarnations over the years, even after I’d stopped reading their comics and watching their first cartoon series. I tried to watch Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, the Saban-produced live action series from 1997-98 where they fought Power Rangers-esque villains and found out they had a sister named Venus. (Actually, just writing that line kind of makes me wonder if it’s on Netflix. It was odd when I was fifteen; I wonder what watching it now would be like…) I’ve seen both Michael Bay produced films and, while the visual look of the Turtles isn’t what I’d like, I’m happy with the dynamic between the brothers. I dig Nickelodeon’s TMNT animated movie and their current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series too. As opposed to outgrowing the Turtles, I’ve grown with them, enjoy them wherever I can.
Like many, I first met Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo in their 1987-1996 cartoon series. It wasn’t long after I started watching those early cartoons that I fell in love. My brother David was right there with me too! We loved all things Ninja Turtle. (Raphael was always my favorite while David was a Leonardo guy.) We loved the toys! We loved the comics! The Archie Comics series was one of the very first comic books I passionately sought every single issue of. We loved the movies! The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from 1990 is the first memory I have of being at a movie on opening night. We had to see this! I remember coming home every day after school and crossing another day off the calendar as we inched closer to seeing them in live action. We spent countless hours running around the house and backyard pretending to be the Turtles too. We were even ready to see them in concert. (Do you remember that brief period when the Turtles fought crime and were also a band? You bet I do! If you don’t, I’m sorry. You missed out…unless you don’t dig your Heroes in a Halfshell also being rock stars.) Alas, that wasn’t to be as the tour was cancelled.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have always been a big part of my life. While people say you can’t go home again, IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seems to prove otherwise. Reading these comics feels like coming home! Granted the Turtles, and my experience of them, is very different than what I knew and what I felt when I was five or six years old. But that’s not a bad thing. It should be different! Of course you can always go home again but, as we grow up, our understanding and experience of home naturally changes. That’s what I’ve found to be true in my life and it’s also one of the things I’m most thankful for when I read IDW’s take on the Turtles. These are the Turtles I’ve grown up with but the content of their stories has grown a little too.
As I’ve written before, there’s an emotional richness to this incarnation of the Turtles that I haven’t seen before. However, the emotional weight doesn’t strip all the heart or humor from the narratives. No, we find the Turtles we love – laughing, joking, eating pizza – while also seeing them authentically hurt, heal, and grow. I often find myself marveling at just how human a book about anthropomorphic animals using ninja moves can feel.
For this milestone issue, IDW has the Turtles returning to Dimension X as Krang awaits trial for his war crimes. The story began in this year’s FCBD issue which finds the Turtles working with Professor Honeycutt to improve the security in their lair. As they tweak the system, Hakk-R – a regenerating and cyberneticly-enhanced bounty hunter sent by Krang – arrives to steal information about the key witnesses for the trial from Honeycutt’s head. To ensure that Krang is held accountable for his crimes and to protect the witnesses, the Turtles volunteer to return to Dimension X with Honeycutt. Issue #73 then begins “The Trial of Krang” story arc with Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael meeting up with their old Neutrino allies Commander Dask, Zak, and Kala as they are transported to Dimension X.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the Turtles in space and/or dimension hopping so I think this is the perfect choice for a record-breaking issue! I remember the excitement when Archie’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures first stepped away from simply adapting storylines from the cartoon to deliver original content. The first story to do this saw the Turtles travelling to another planet where they were forced to compete in an intergalactic wrestling match. I remember the wild settings and the brand-new costumes the Turtles were sporting. I also remember Raph keeping his all black body suit for a long time, even after their work on that planet was done (which, for a Raphael fan who loved Spider-Man (and who grew up with Spidey in his black costume) was pretty cool!!). While the Turtles were originally created as a satirical take on Daredevil and New York City will always be their home, I still get excited to see the Turtles in space. There’s just something fun about comic writers and artists given the freedom to envision alien landscapes for our familiar heroes to explore. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles team certainly didn’t disappoint me either!
As soon as the Turtles arrive on the planet Neutrino they find themselves in the Royal Palace being presented with medals for their part in the Great Krang War by the royal family – Princess Trib and her parents Queen Gizzla and King Zenter. I felt this was a stroke of absolute brilliance. How do we celebrate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting this milestone? Why by giving the Turtles medals of course! Within the context of the narrative there’s this huge celebration to honor the Turtles and thank them for being the heroes the world of Neutrino, and so many other worlds, needed. There were huge crowds, accolades for their bravery and strength, and a totally A New Hope-feeling medal presentation ceremony. For us, as fans, the Turtles have been our heroes for over thirty years. They deserved something like this and it did my heart good to see it. What a great inclusion to the story!!
This story was written by Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz with art by Cory Smith and colors by Ronda Pattison. To everyone involved, well played. I also want to thank IDW for the classy way they handled this landmark occasion. Do you know what I found inside issue #73? A really good comic book. Do you know what I didn’t find? All sorts of irrelevant bonus material designed to make it longer so they could jack up the cover price. Nope, IDW just delivered a captivating issue with gorgeous art (on, I might add, the best paper stock of any comic I read from any company…no one comes close to IDW’s quality) for the usual cover price. Yes, they could have offered a needlessly bloated issue with a $9.99 cover price. But they gave me an incredible Turtle comic book on high quality paper for the usual $3.99. Thank you IDW. It’s noted and appreciated.
While Professor Honeycutt stays behind to help prepare the case against Krang, the Turtles volunteer to travel to worlds across Dimension X with Zak and Kala to bring back the prosecution’s five key witnesses. Here we get another treat from IDW! In honor of this milestone, they are offering a new five issue microseries, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Dimension X. What I appreciate about this is you don’t have to read it to understand and enjoy the main title story. I hate being manipulated into spending more money. If the story’s great, I’ll read it you know? Dimension X is showing the Turtles gathering the five witnesses as well as letting us learn more about these characters and their connection to Krang in the process. For me, I’m excitedly jumping on board! I’ve already said I love Turtles stories in space and Dimension X is being written by Paul Allor with art by Pablo Tuni soooo I’m in. But I appreciate that IDW is offering a fun additional microseries if I want a little more (which I do!) as opposed to making it a necessary part of the main title storyline so I have to buy it.
In addition to respecting their readers’ hard-earned money, what I’ve noticed with the IDW series is my appreciation and understanding of the Turtles has evolved. It’s specifically because of the great emotional weight of their stories that I’ve learned this. When I was younger, one of the greatest things about the Turtles (and, I’d wager, one of the things that helped me connect with them so much) was that they actually felt like teenage heroes. With the exception of the Turtles, as a kid who loved superheroes I never really saw a depiction of youthfulness that resonated with me. Batman never clicked so I certainly didn’t see anything I could connect with in his teenage sidekicks. As I’ve written before, Spider-Man was always an adult to me. I loved the New Warriors but, for whatever reason, while they were teenage heroes they never seemed like kids to me. In the Turtles however, I found an authentic picture of youth.
Raph, Donnie, Leo, and Mikey ate pizza, rode skateboards, talked with slang, played video games, bickered like siblings, looked out for each other like family, goofed around, listened to music, and genuinely felt like kids. They were older kids, sure, but they still felt like kids to me. That was awesome! Now, as a thirty-five year old high school teacher the tales Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman deliver each month has me appreciating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ youth in a way I couldn’t when I was still sharing in it. There is a tremendous amount of sacrifice in their lives. My heart aches for them because they are kids and they shouldn’t have to carry what they do. The snappy banter and high fives are still there but now when I read the comics I think of my students. They are the age of the Turtles. When I was a kid, the Turtles were teenagers. They were so adult! But now I see them as kids. And their lot in life is far from fair.
[Okay, so to discuss the emotional weight the Turtles face in this series I’ll be outlining major plot points from the entire run. If you’re in the middle of the series or if you’re reading this and thinking you want to start and don’t want any spoilers, just skip the paragraph sandwiched between the two sets of big pictures below. Coolio? Coolio.]
Over the course of this series the Turtles have waged war against the criminal underworld in the streets of New York City. They’ve faced down attempted planet-wide genocide in the Great Krang War, fought across dimensions. They’ve watched their father, Master Splinter, kill the Shredder and take control of the Foot Clan. They’ve stood toe-to-toe with the Pantheon, immortal beings who use humanity as play things. They’ve worked alongside the Foot and left their father to do what he must do when they realized their moral compasses wouldn’t let them participate in Splinter’s crusade any longer. Most recently they and the Mutanimals were hunted by Agent Bishop across the city to either be killed or turned into mindless weapons of war. That conflict ended with Leonardo taking Bishops hands off with his katanas to prevent him from manipulating Slash any longer.
That would be A LOT for any group of heroes to handle. But the Turtles are still kids. I look at all my students carry on their shoulders on an average day – pressure for grades, an ever-growing list of extracurricular activities, pressure to know what college they want to go to (and what job they want to have!) piled on earlier and earlier, social pressure, family pressure, unhealthy body images marketed as though they are the norm, drugs and alcohol usage, the warped world social media can create, depression, bullying, and the all-consuming, ever-present questions of who they are and where they fit in. I pray for them all the time, that they may find the peace and strength they need to be happy in a world that tries to pull them in every other direction. Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo are in the exact same place emotionally and developmentally except you can add a distance placed between them and the world at large because they are mutants. There is also the psychologically scarring nature of what they have to deal with every day from the Foot Clan to Krang to the Pantheon to Agent Bishop. No child should have to shoulder that. Very few could.
While I love all the incredibly talented artists to work on this title, I have to say Cory Smith’s rendition of the Turtles drives this point home with great efficency for me. I was excited when I opened this landmark issue to find his pencils. His Turtles capture all the fierce strength, independence, and fragile vulnerability of youth in their postures.
But the Turtles keep standing because of the strength of their family – each other, Splinter, April O’Neil, Casey Jones, Alopex, Angel, Jennika, April’s parents, and the entire cast of characters around them. In many ways I see IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a story about the simultaneous loss of and the attempt to preserve something of the innocence of youth. It’s also a story about the strength found in the family forged in and through love. Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello are kids forced to grow up too fast, struggling to do the right thing, while trying to hold on to any semblance of normalcy they can find. The narrative carries the power of great literature.
As a kid, I loved the Turtles in part because they seemed like kids to me. As an adult, I can appreciate the emotional toll of their journey and the sacrifices – emotional, physical, spiritual – that they are forced to make as a result of their duty-bound lives. It’s a powerful story…and it’s uniquely special characters (in very talented hands) that allow a fan to grow up with their appreciating it in new ways all the while. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, IDW has proven the most worthy stewards for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With issue #73 they’ve broken a record and hit a milestone. That’s so exciting! But what’s really important is the story they’ve told on their way to this milestone, a story I can’t wait to see continue.