(w) Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Tom Waltz (a) Kevin Eastman, Esau & Isaac Escorza, Ben Bishop (c) Luis Antonio Delgado, Samuel Plata (l) Shawn Lee
After months of hype and a mountain of variant covers, TMNT: The Last Ronin #1 has finally arrived. Telling the bleak future of a lone, surviving Ninja Turtle, at first glance it’s easy to see this fitting into the continuity of either IDW’s current series, or that of Mirage Studios. Given that the original outline of the story was developed by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird back in 1987 – and hence why this has been billed as a “reunion” of sorts – it clearly does feel at home with those original, grittier comics. But whether you’ve read the classic comics, the current stuff, or just have a passing familiarity with the TMNT, The Last Ronin is accessible media that delivers a gripping and satisfying read.
Those original Ninja Turtles comics, at least the ones by Eastman and Laird, were by design a tribute to the duo’s favorite creators – Jack Kirby and Frank Miller. The Kirby influence is evident by the blocky figures and dynamic action. Frank Miller’s impact could be seen in the storytelling, as he was in the throes of his celebrated Daredevil run. But by the time The Last Ronin was outlined in 1987, Miller had made another big splash, this time with 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns. To say that that story had an impact on the industry is an understatement, as it continues to influence comics (for better or worse) today. However, where The Last Ronin deviates from other imitators is that, as was the case with the original TMNT books, it acts as a loving tribute to one of Miller’s seminal works while being something completely different.
There are obvious visual similarities between The Last Ronin and The Dark Knight Returns. Its protagonist is an older, grizzled version of an iconic character. The story is set in a dystopian future with a cyberpunk aesthetic. There’s even an internal monologue of the Turtle that guides the reader from beginning to end. But that is where the similarities end. Our protagonist wasn’t forced into retirement by government legislation, his family was instead massacred by the descendant of their foes. The fact that his deceased brothers – whether it’s a memory or their actual spirits – follow him as he infiltrates the Foot Clan fortress gives the reader his motivation. The Last Ronin is a revenge tale that borrows from cinema like The Outlaw Josey Wales and John Wick. It’s protagonist is brutal, uncompromising, and focused – for better or worse.
Even though this story is about the last remaining Ninja Turtle, having the others show up throughout the issue gives this issue an unexpected emotional weight. This is in large part thanks to fantastic art by the art team. The layouts by Eastman shape the story as one balanced by explosive action and moments of quiet introspection. The pencil and ink finishes by the Escorza brothers add refinement to an issue that truly elevates the story. Even the sole page of art provided by Ben Bishop is fantastic, while the colors by Luis Antonio Delgado and Samuel Plata tie everything together.
The Last Ronin #1 is a fascinating, great start to this long gestating story. While it might not be quite the Eastman/Laird reunion it’s billed as, there is raw energy to it that hearkens back to the Mirage days. However, there is also a noticeable level of skill and refinement thanks to the book’s other collaborators – from the Escorzas to co-writer Tom Waltz – that makes this book work so good. If (and that’s a big if) the remaining issues are able to maintain this level of quality, this just might be the best Ninja Turtles comic ever created. If you consider how great IDW’s ongoing TMNT series is, that’s quite a feat.