In 1984, the turtles made their first impression on the world and exploded. Despite the already crowded and fantastical world of comics, the four mutated brothers found themselves household names by1990, with a cartoon that had been out for about three years. Now, the cartoon and the original comics from Laird and Eastman serve as the beginning of a slow split between turtle fans, with the comics being grittier and the cartoon targeting children as its audience. It’s not horribly unusual, with characters commonly being manipulated for a younger demographic. As a result, the turtles are often viewed as a more family-friendly sort of team to get your children into, but in reality, their first comics were quite violent, specifically Raphael. Mirage published the first several runs in black and white, complimenting a darker tone almost forgotten in turtle comics. However, regardless if you’re a fan of the original, darker comics or the light-hearted, humorous cartoons, modern TMNT writers are constantly having to traverse the gap between classic Laird and Eastman fans, and lovers of the cartoons.
I think the most apparent example of this gap is found in the recent turtle comic published by IDW. Since the gap between the two fan bases have widened due to Nickelodeon’s recent adaptations, writer Sophie Campbell and artist Ronda Pattison have found themselves in a situation where they need to balance the comic in order to appeal to older fans while also drawing in newer readers that have mainly been exposed to the recent animated series. And they do a decent job. Sure, the art is rather underwhelming at times in my opinion, but it’s semi-cartoonish and contributes to building the same playful atmosphere as the original cartoon. And, I would say the writing is better than the art but still has some issues. Since Splinter died in TMNT #100, Campbell has been writing for around twenty issues with the four turtles taking on more of a leadership/teacher role within the mutant community. There’s nothing wrong with it, in fact, the turtles have grown in ways they couldn’t without Campbell’s creative work, but it just feels like something is missing from the team without Splinter.
Michelangelo has a radio show, Leonardo is as close to being head of the clan as he can; Donatello and Raphael (in addition to being sheriff) aid in training countless mutants from Mutant Town, and Splinter may still be alive in human form. So, what’s wrong with these comics? Sure, they’re fun, containing appearances form Bebop and Rocksteady, as well as getting interesting arcs with characters such as Rahzar and Tokka or humorous cameos from Herman the Hermit Crab, but it all just feels like filler. Hob is weak after issue one-hundred, but is still around and the mutants paired with the Hamato Clan dethrone him in favor of running an election for a mayor of Mutant Town, but nothing really happens. It takes twenty issues for Campbell to get rid of Hob’s position in power, and she’s still only beginning the arc of what is likely Sally’s induction as the town’s mayor. It just seems like Campbell is struggling to fill issues sometimes; like she has ideas in her head but doesn’t know how she wants to put them on the page, giving her first twenty issues a slower, less dense feeling. But hey, she’s fascinatingly developed several characters, and is taking over after a one-hundred-issue run from co-creator Eastman and Tom Waltz that changed everything in turtle comics, so rebuilding and development is something that is a necessity. Unfortunately, it’s something that takes time as well.
Although the most recent comics are in an awkward sort of rebuilding phase, one thing that’s noteworthy is the plethora of characters within the comics. There are spinoffs like the newest series featuring Jennika as a main protagonist, new versions of classic teams such as the Mutanimals (my personal favorite), anthologies focusing on the best moments of particular characters, and most of all, The Last Ronin. Sure, I might go back and forth but IDW is pushing out spinoffs and related series that seem to surround the main title, building a library of interesting reads. In recent years, we’ve seen some of the most expansive, creative, and intricate storylines we’ve ever seen under the TMNT brand, and it’s amazing. Laird and Eastman are still in the mix with The Last Ronin while new creators are bringing in fresh stories that still hold many of the themes of classic works. And, most of all, IDW finds a way to shake the Shredder dependency within the comics. Of course, Hob isn’t near the level of villain as Shredder, but the mutant cat is fresh and new. We’ve seen so much of shredder, everything from the shows and previous comics has depended on the villain, and well, Shredder is a fantastic antagonist, but it’s nice to see the turtles battle against another villain that isn’t constantly connected to him (or even Krang).
For me, the first hundred issues helmed by Eastman and Watz in IDW’s reboot of TMNT are the best part of the these “modern” comics. Eastman simply preserves some of the original, darker tones and blends them with some comical comradery that makes for a best of both worlds, giving readers stories that remind them of the original comics while still giving newer fans familiarity due to the lighter, happier moments reminiscent of recent shows. As of right now, Campbell’s run has primarily targeted a more “laid-back” version of the turtles. Sure, there are some violent moments, like Raphael stabbing Hob through the shoulder and pounding his face into the ground, but overall, the run hasn’t been very dark. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with this, it just serves as an example of how the turtles are generally split between gritty and light-hearted. Unfortunately, the first twenty issues from Eastman were more compelling to me than the first twenty of Campbell’s run. They had more of an identity, spoke to fans of both sides of the fandom. However, I still think Campbell has potential to build on what I believe to be some of the best TMNT comics, and hopefully, she can finally shake the shadow of Eastman and build her own world. If she does that, I have no doubt I’ll be writing another article about her in the near future.
Also, this seems like a good opportunity to remind you not to read TMNT: Bodycount.