Story: Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Tom Waltz
Script: Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman
Page Layouts: Kevin Eastman
Pencils/Inks: Esau + Isaac Escorza
Page 39 Art: Ben Bishop
Color assistance: Samuel Plata
Colorist: Luis Antonio Delgado
Release Date: October 28, 2020
IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin is a relatively new miniseries that takes place in a dystopian NYC under the oppressive rule of the Foot Clan. TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird are directly involved, having developed the story with Tom Waltz. The script is by Eastman and Waltz.
Issue #1 of The Last Ronin follows its protagonist over the razor wire-topped walls of NYC and across the city on a mission of vengeance. It’s been ten years since a deadly confrontation with the Foot left the Turtle’s family irrevocably changed.
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The best TMNT stories have always revolved around themes of loss, trauma, isolation, and grief. I don’t think anything has ever been more emblematic of this than First Comics’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Book IV. The oversized TPB collects the Mirage Studios Leonardo #1 with Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10 and #11.
In that book, after being chased across NYC by an army of foes, Leonardo is beaten unconscious, nearly to death. April’s apartment is burned to the ground. The Turtles are driven out of NYC by the Foot and are forced to retreat to Casey Jones’s derelict family home. The family grows apart. Leonardo withdraws into a deep depression and the family struggles to recover spiritually. If this strikes you as familiar, it’s because Hollywood found the story compelling enough to make a movie out of it, the first TMNT movie. The story has been retold many times in various subsequent iterations of the Turtles.
I can’t stress enough how much I love The Last Ronin. It recaptures what was best about the original Eastman and Laird books. The Last Ronin’s desperate scramble across NYC feels like it comes from the same era as Leo’s hopeless fight for survival in the original comics. The internal monologue of The Last Ronin very authentically gives the impression of a character who lived through the events of Eastman and Laird’s original stories followed by decades of catastrophic hardship.
Eastman and Laird’s involvement is why The Last Ronin is so evocative of the classic books. I’m not surprised to find out that the story is developed from a concept originally conceived in the heyday of TMNT. The Last Ronin feels like it was written at the same time, by the same people.
NYC is an authoritarian hellscape run by the Foot. The waterways around NYC are more toxic than ever. The city’s inhabitants are prevented from escaping by an enormous perimeter wall and an army of cybernetic Foot soldiers. Foot headquarters is a massive, heavily fortified superstructure at the center of the city.
The titular character is a lone turtle plagued by hallucinations and maniacal obsessions of retribution and honor. His mission is to locate the leader of the Foot Clan and to force a final confrontation. We follow the vengeful mutant through a gauntlet of police, flying cars, foot soldiers, laser-welding robots, and elite ninja.
Issue #1 of The Last Ronin is a great-looking book. It’s rough in exactly the way it should be. Brothers Esau and Isaac Escorza had the unenviable task of translating Kevin Eastman’s layouts into finished pencils and inks. I like what they’ve done. The line art in no way mimics that of the classic books. But the scratchy organic inks and heavy use of blacks seem well suited to a retro TMNT project such as this.
A TMNT book with layouts by Kevin Eastman and final art by someone else is nothing new. Eastman and Laird struggled to manage the TMNT franchise when its popularity skyrocketed. They frequently relied on contributing artists to get the comics done. Kevin has since done this on multiple books.
To the Escorza Brothers’ credit, The pages of The Last Ronin #1 retain the kineticism I’ve come to expect from Kevin Eastman. The bold blocky figure of the main character is obviously a product of Eastman’s design. Page compositions and action sequences very nostalgically feel like an Eastman and Laird book.
The page by Ben Bishop is beautiful and a creative way to handle a flashback. Colorist Luis Antonio Delgado brings a lot of mood and atmosphere to the pages of The Last Ronin #1. Using minimal textures Delgado sets the tone almost entirely with color. As we get farther into the story and the action escalates the colors get really wild, evoking a cyberpunk atmosphere.
I’m starting to develop a genuine appreciation of IDW’s handling of the TMNT franchise. Sadly, the Turtles haven’t been given the respect in TV and film that they are given in the IDW books. The ongoing TMNT series has been stellar. And now The Last Ronin is at once both an homage to the gritty classic comics that birthed the franchise and something completely new.
The Last Ronin represents a maturation of the concept of the Ninja Turtles. The book is packed with old-school action. But The Last Ronin is ultimately a somber tale about the fate of 4 misfit teenagers. I’ve tried not to spoil anything. You should go into issue #1 relatively blind. You won’t understand what’s going on until the final pages of the book.