Comics & Manga

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate B&W Collection Vol. 1

Spoilers for Mirage Comics TMNT 1-7 and Raphael 1.

Not to be dramatic, but I have been waiting to read these comics my entire life.

Having grown up watching the 2003 animated series (which adapts much of this material), and having seen James Rolfe talk about the original comics, it's taken me far too long to get here. But thanks to Comixology Unlimited, which I had been apprehensive about getting (I hate Amazon), I can really dig in.

You hear a lot about how the original TMNT comics are more dark and gritty, and that certainly is true. But the sense of fun and adventure when the story heats up is not suppressed by that intense issue one. Let's start with the story, shall we? Eastman and Laid are really damn good here.

I think we all know the basic Turtles origin story, the ooze, Hamato Yoshi, The Shredder. It's an absolute classic first issue. The 2nd, which features Baxter Stockman (and the introduction of April!), is slightly less tight than issue one, but an exciting one nonetheless. But at #3, a real story arc begins, and damn is it a satisfying read.

The early stories of the Ninja Turtles, when looked at as bullet-point plot beats, can come across random cool stuff that we like, which is not wrong or bad necessarily! Characters like The Fugitoid and the Triceratons are some of their old ideas. But Eastman and Laird seem to quickly grow a knack for making it work, and letting emotional beats do the heavy lifting for the surreal events of the story.

The Turtle's discovery of TCRI and subsequent disappearance into the Triceraton world is tied up directly with the search for Master Splinter. Right when they find him, boom, zapped away to a faraway planet.

When they return, the Triceratons come with and find the exact thing they're looking for, instant chaos and action. In the midst of all that The Fugitoid (aka Professor Honeycutt's) desire to keep peace and never build the dangerous transportation device, and April's longing to see her new friends come home safe.

Things like that may seem simple, and maybe it is, but it's maddeningly effective in turning TMNT from a cool looking indie comic into a genuine page turner. As soon as issue 2, the Turtles start to develop their personalities, and their world starts to grow with them. It's awesome. It's just plain awesome to read. I feel this aspect of the Mirage TMNT comics is a bit underdiscussed!

Of course, it's not just awesome to read, even from issue one it's visual stunner as well. The opening sequence is beyond classic, but regular splash pages and truly explosive fight scenes are so much fun to look at for countless minutes. MINUTES.There's genuine detail in the big fight scenes and a sense of pacing and motion. That's not always easy in comic books!

It's not mindless action though, TMNT genuinely has a cinematic sense when it comes to camera placement and neat visual storytelling. My favorite example has to be Splinter silently watching the demonstration of Stockman's Mousers. We don't need dialogue or caption to tell us how he's feeling here. He's a rat and he looks fucking pissed.And sure enough, this dreadful feeling pays off for readers when he's attacked and bested by Mousers and taken away by what we'll find out are the TCRI Aliens.

Or hell, look at THIS page. LOOK AT IT. The sense of scale and detail is ridiculous.

I don't mean to recap every single story beat and cool moment, but it's takes a serious mental effort from me because it's fun to tell you about.

The Eastman and Laird story must be touched on here. I won't go through it all, but, yes, they were just two friends who could draw and loved comic books. AND THEY MADE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. Even ignoring how Turtles became a enormous franchise, it's very inspiring. They made great comics together, their way, with stories and themes they liked. They worked hard to get these issues out, it was many (usually about five!) months inbetween issues! Two guys with a dream to self publish, a loan from Eastman's uncle to pay for issue #1's printing, and a lot of fun.

Their enthusiasm for the art of making comics is infectious. They absolutely had no intent to make a media franchise. They love comics. I think that's why they came out so damn good. They care about the plotting, paneling, inking and tones. Who could design something like this with ninjas, aliens, space travel, and dinosaur men with the intent to launch anything other than their own cool book? This is what comic books are all about! I love it, I just love it, and I think anyone reading it will get the vibe. There are notes and comments from Eastman and Laid both inbetween issues to help paint the picture.

I chose to read these in black and white, as they were originally released. There are various color versions as well, so take your pick if you're curious. Which I certainly hope you are after all my praise! I might be the last Turtles fan to have read this material, but I won't let that stop me from pleading. Read this stuff, no matter what your experience is with the franchise.