Pullbox Reviews The Last Ronin #1- The Dark Turtle Returns!

  • The Last Ronin, part 1
  • IDW Publishing
  • Story by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, & Tom Waltz
  • Script by Tom Waltz & Kevin Eastman
  • Layouts by Kevin Eastman
  • Pencils & inks by Esau & Isaac Escorza
    • Page 39 art by Ben Bishop (color assist by Samuel Plata
  • Colors Luis Antonio Delgado
  • Letters by Shawn Lee
  • Edits by Bobby Curnow

It’s the TMNT event of 2020! Springing from the minds of TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird comes an epic like you’ve never seen before! In a future NYC far different than the one we know today, a lone surviving Turtle goes on a seemingly hopeless mission to obtain justice for his fallen family and friends. Kinetic layouts from Eastman, moody inks from Andy Kuhn and a thrilling script full of surprises from longtime TMNT scribe Tom Waltz all combine to make this one of the most memorable TMNT stories you will ever read! This is a perennial TMNT tale that can’t be missed!

In a world ruled by the Foot, one man… one turtle… will take a stand for justice!

Sounds heavy, right? This has been one of my more anticipated titles coming out this year, and on most counts it didn’t disappoint. Brought together in 1984 by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, the four brothers have defended the streets and rooftops all across the city of New York. They’ve had movies. Video games. Cartoons. Over the course of that time, they moved away from their original, more serious tone, and took on a much lighter attitude. Set up as a “Dark Knight Returns” kind of story set in a dystopian future of the TMNT, The Last Ronin promised readers a dark story packed with emotional action.

As this issue opens up, the surviving turtle has begun his final act of vengeance as he infiltrates the Foot stronghold. To bring an air of mystery and anticipation, the identity of the last brother is kept from us. He’s carrying all of the iconic weapons of his fellow ninja- Leonardo’s sword, Raphael’s sai, Michelangelo’s nunchaku, & Donatello’s bo- along with an assortment of others… anything & everything he could possibly need to see his task through to the end.

Or to die fighting, as honor demands.

As if the promise of all that wasn’t enough, there was also the news that the Turtles’ original creators, Eastman & Laird, were going to be involved in this story. Joined by longtime writer on the IDW series, Tom Waltz, this title proved its metal right away. The action starts in the first few pages, giving readers no real indication of events leading up to this grim future New York, and refuses to let up until the very end. The turtle’s inner dialogue- a great throwback to the tone of the original comics- gives clues along the way, his musings dropping hints as he makes his way to his objective: the tower fortress of the Foot’s current leader, Oroku Hiroto.

Another cool storytelling device is in the voices heard only by the titular turtle, the Ronin, those of his lost brothers. Whether they’re whispers remaining from his memories, ghosts of the dead, or the imaginings of a turtle pushed to the breaking point isn’t revealed in this issue. What is revealed by the end of the book is the true identity of our hero… which I’m absolutely not going to put out there. I might’ve preferred this reveal to be held until later in the series, set for five issues, but I’m still no spoiler.

The artwork for The Last Ronin handles its business very much in tune with the original Turtles’ style, complements of Esau & Isaac Escorza, but with a lean into sort of a cyberpunk turn to spotlight the dystopian future. Where the action is down & dirty, the Escorzas work is rough as heavy blows land and robotic heads roll. Following the Ronin closer to the heart of his enemy’s turf, that cyberpunk aesthetic kicks in and the backgrounds shift into more of a neon lit mode. The job of colorist Luis Antonio Delgado might have been made a little more complicated in that change, but it paid off and I really like the contrast in settings.

Overall, the visual style is on point as the Ronin tears his way through cyber-foot soldiers & layers of high tech security on the way to his target. And for that reason alone I have to point out a couple nitpicks that were just enough to take me out of the action (for the record, my wife says that she hates watching some movies or shows with me because I catch small glitches that no one else would notice). During the issue’s more intense moments of combat, there are spots where there was either a miscommunication or a slip in continuity from one panel to the next…

Two back to back panels where the Ronin switches his grip on the tonfa

In the above panels, what catches in my craw isn’t so much the change in grip as it is the way the Ronin is holding the weapon initially… Holding a tonfa like that is awkward and serves no real purpose in its trained use. Although I suppose that awkwardness might explain why a combatant would want to change his grip in the middle of a fight… hmm.

Nothing up my sleeve… until there is…

In these panels, The Ronin is leaping into the fray, choosing to take on his foes empty handed… until he’s not. Again, sure there’s the chance that he could’ve just drawn the weapon and continued the fight, but for me at least that breaks the flow of the action. In a filmed fight scene, that kind of a choreography would be worked in. If the weapon just suddenly appeared in the hero’s hand, it would be a flub.

On this, I’ve got nothing… It just looks to me like the tonfa was put into the picture after the fact. The Turtle’s thumb doesn’t come down around the handle, and just looks like he’s making a fist with the weapon superimposed on top of it. Oh, and there’s that pesky reversed grip again…

Don’t take me wrong, I’m not dissing a huge miss for these slips. I just know enough about the martial arts and have trained in the use of the tonfa & its modern adopted brother the PR-24 to see an issue with these panels. I point them out because on a title like this, with this kind of a anticipation (and subsequent success… good luck finding a first run copy without putting up a kidney), these are mistakes that shouldn’t have been overlooked over the course of the creative process, and would have been pretty easily fixed.

The Last Ronin is a must-have for any fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, old or new. It’s a “what if” addition to their already deep mythology, and takes readers through a few different turns as we wonder who this enraged avenger really is. Take my criticism with a hefty grain of salt, as at the end of the day I’m still a fan, and still just some guy spouting his opinions. If anyone can offer any explanation for these missed edits in the art, please let me know so I can offer a public apology and fix the article.

End of the day, still a great book…

Final Score: 11/13

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