When I first read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was the original series by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. In that run, the Turtles were super badass tough guys with a violent streak. Over the last twenty years, the TMNT have been filtered through three puppet movies, a slew of toys and a kids cartoon. They became a homogenized version of themselves.
Now, with the help of original creator Kevin Eastman, the TMNT have come full circle. Eastman and Tom Waltz have created a new direction and style for the turtles and thus far it is golden. With both men handling story duties and Waltz penning the actual script, the new series combines the original badass elements of the turtles, with some of the things that made them famous. The latest result of that union is TMNT #9. The turtles are facing an enemy from their past but that isn’t the real surprise here, that comes at the end.
Issue 9 opens with Splinter in the hands of Hob, a former lab experiment that has also grown to be a mutated hybrid of animal and man. Hob is a cat with an eye patch so it’s hard not to call him Nick Furry, but I digress. Hob is in cahoots with the lab that originally gave birth to Splinter and the Turtles in order to bring their creations back home for testing. Not too fond of that idea, the Turtles, along with Casey Jones and April, storm the lab to rescue Splinter and slap Hob around. After an exciting battle, it turns out Splinter has been stolen from Hob by another Ninja clan. The end of TMNT #9 unveils Shredder, and it’s drop-the-comic-book cool.
What allows this new series to work are the changes that Eastman and Waltz have made. They’ve skewed things just enough to give a new take on the characters without going overboard. Casey Jones is still a vigilante, but a little less kooky, April is still a do-gooder, but now she works at the lab Splinter and Turtles originally came from instead of a TV station. I even like the evil lab idea. Injecting some evil conglomerate gives the Turtles a constant shadow to try and avoid.
The subtle changes in character history and attitude allows old fans to get back into the story without alienating the younger fans who grew up with the slightly more kiddie friendly version. Shredder’s introduction is a perfect example. He still looks like Shredder, but he’s revealed in such a way that he comes off like a real threat. Eastmen and Waltz even manage to make General Kang look evil.
I wish the art from Dan Duncan were a little stronger. When his stuff is on, it looks great, but it’s way too inconsistent. Often, the lines are so thin that the characters look undefined and Duncan’s proportions are sometimes way off. One arm is thicker than the other, a head seems too big for a body, that kind of thing. It’s not that Duncan’s art is bad; it’s just that a series as well done as this deserves top-notch pencils.
(5 Story, 3 Art)