IDW’s TMNT: Change Is Constant
It wasn’t that long ago when IDW’s TMNT hit a milestone with issue #73, becoming the longest-running Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic in history. That is a pretty big record when you realize the property has been around since 1984 and is still, to this day, a highly-recognizable brand. Well, IDW’s TMNT is about to hit another milestone on December 11, 2019, with issue #100! For me, this has been consistently one of the best comics on the stands since it debuted in 2011. So, I would like to take a look back at my personal history with this series, where it has come from, and where it may go after issue #100.
I grew up around when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first peaked as a product; when the cartoon was all the rage and the live-action movies were hitting theaters. I was the perfect age: around 4-7 during that time. I loved the Turtles, like most kids. Raphael was my pick and red has forever been my favorite color. I remember religiously watching the cartoons and having every toy imaginable. I saw all the movies in theaters (did Raph just scream a cuss word!?). Had TMNT-themed birthday parties and dressed up as them as much as possible. I remember my Dad getting me and some friends out of school early for my birthday to watch TMNT III on its release. In hindsight, maybe I should have stayed in school that day.
I was too young to understand the original comic (or even know it started as a comic book) and it wouldn’t be until later on in life that I would read them and appreciate them. I have been a TMNT fanatic throughout much of my life; IDW’s interpretation of the Turtles came in at a very coincidental timing for me. This was around early 2011; I really hadn’t been in a “comic book shop” in a long time or read single issues. I was still reading comics, though. Most of my comic book reading came from collections my brother had let me borrow, or books he suggested I read, that I would later pick up. I wasn’t at the forefront of what was coming out at the time.
I was preparing for an amateur MMA fight in 2011, so every Saturday I would wake up at 5 a.m. to travel to Chattanooga, TN to get some boxing and Jiu-Jitsu in. To get to the highway for the hour-and-a-half drive I always passed by a random little shopping center in my town. Nothing really of interest for me was ever there. Really just random shops. But this morning I noticed a new sign: “Mountain Top Comics”. Noting to myself I hadn’t been in an actual comic shop in a while, I decided on the way back home I would stop in.
So, once training was done and I headed home, on the way I stopped by the shop. Now, noting once again, I was far from up-to-date on current comics. Most of the stuff I read at the time was probably at least 3-5 years behind, and then a bunch of way older stuff. So, I grabbed a bunch of single issues. I attempted to jump onto X-Men; as a ’90s kid they were always a staple. That worked out terribly (anybody remember Age of X?). I did get lucky that Daredevil was just starting to relaunch with the “Reborn” mini-series starting (right before Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s run). I had recently been turned onto Daredevil at the time, starting with the classic Born Again, so that did turn out well. Other than that, I spent the first few months just buying random titles. Then, around June 2011, I read that IDW had the rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and would be starting a new series. I was immediately excited, as I would be able to start off a new series with a franchise I love.
The Start of Something Beautiful
From the first issue, I was enamored with IDW’s interpretation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It blended everything about the Turtles together, from the original Mirage comics, the “OG” cartoon, the live-action films, the early 2000s cartoon, and others. It brought them all together in a unique way, and was a blast of nostalgia in all the right ways. But the comic was not solely banking on nostalgia. The comic also made its own lineage and history as well. While it had great nostalgic favorites, it was not afraid to change things up and make some things all its own.
Probably my favorite thing that was newly brought in is the idea of reincarnation for the family. They all once lived as humans in Feudal Japan, but now have been reincarnated into these forms in the future. It has built the foundation for IDW’s TMNT and is wholly original to it. It also made the whole family connection and storylines that much stronger with this twist in lineage. The reincarnation has brought in a new, great connection to Oroku Saki, “The Shredder”, as well. It made the feud between Splinter, Shredder, and the Foot Clan much more of an emotional connection than ever before.
Its blend of nostalgia and not fearing change has led to this series’ great success. A lot of this has to do with the main writing team of Bobby Curnow, Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz (who also edits the whole line) keeping everything together. Without this core writing team, things could have gone off the rails easily. With all of the one-shot, micro-series, mini-series, and what-not springing out, it would be very easy to “lose the thread” of what was happening in this universe. The team should be praised for keeping this all together and making it to issue #100. Issue #101 will be the first issue of the main series not written by the group, as Sophie Campbell takes over for a story arc.
It is wonderful what Eastman, Waltz, and Curnow have done with this series, from building upon tried-and-true TMNT story tropes to forging new paths for characters. They have built a truly original story for a group of characters that have seen it all. They have also continued to build the story along, not afraid of some “long burn” storylines and also not afraid to slow things down, either. Whether it is time-hopping, space travel, ninja battling—the writing team stayed true to the core of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and kept strong family ties with every story arc.
The writing team also has done an incredible job of keeping the series flowing together nicely from one story arc to another. Everything fits seamlessly together. Even in heartfelt one-shot Christmas stories that still serve the purpose of a one-shot but also fit and affect the ongoing story dramatically as well. The writing team could not have done a better job with this series.
IDW’s TMNT, since its beginning, has always had a rotating crew of artists on the main series. This could spell trouble, at times, for most books. As for me and most people, we like the same artists on the same series. It keeps that consistency and look for a series. Much like with the writing, consistent artists help the story unfold.
What makes it work well for IDW’s TMNT is, in my opinion, firstly, that usually the artist only changes after a story arc. So whatever arc we are going through keeps the same artist most of the time. So, that story has that consistent art throughout its telling. Also, the artist fits appropriately for the story arc being told. For example, when the “City Fall” story arc was happening you had Mateus Santolouco’s detailed, high action style powering that story. But then immediately after the jaw-wrenching “City Fall” we had the “Northampton” story line. Sophie Campbell came in with a toned-down, softer style that fit perfectly with the story. The Turtles needed some time to think and ponder their lives. Campbell fit that story-line to a T. The crew at IDW has done an excellent job of matching the artist style with the story being told.
Secondly, what helps is that 90% of the time all the artists tapped to be on TMNT have been fantastic. Very rarely have I looked at a TMNT book and thought the art was bad or sub-par. All the artists that have been on the series are pros. They bring something special to the series in style and substance. I love seeing different artists’ interpretations of the Turtles and IDW has brought in some great talent throughout the years.
Not to Be Overlooked
Third, and maybe most important, is colorist Ronda Pattison. She has been there since the beginning and is the “glue” that holds the art together. If you have read any of my reviews of TMNT (funny enough, my first article posted for the site was a review for TMNT #62) you know how much I adore and respect Ronda Pattison. Through all the changing artists, she always keeps the “feel” of this series. She helps bring that consistency to the series art with all of the varied talent coming through. She is also a colorist that should get praised way more than she does.
Also, I would like to add a special section for letterer Shawn Lee, who has been there since the beginning. He is also a key and vital component to keeping the series and issues consistent with all the changing artists. He does an outstanding job and is highly overlooked. Lettering is something that is often not praised; it would be a great travesty not to give Shawn Lee credit for his outstanding contributions to this fantastic series.
What makes IDW’s TMNT line even more impressive is the number of spin-offs, from one-shot, mini-, maxi-, micro-, and macro-series they have used to add to the lore of the Universe. These have added a wealth of different things to this world while also adding in a ton of different characters. They have used these other series to build up main characters, side characters, villains; to push ongoing storylines, and everything else in-between, exceptionally well. The same heart and thoughtfulness are put into these spin-off series as the main series. It shows through their production and craft.
The spin-offs have also let other writers come in and add their own flair to the Universe, while still staying within the story confines of the main series and also pushing that main series story forward with extra developments. It is all just great cohesion between creators that have crafted this huge unfolding story for the past 8 years. If you add in all the micro-, macro-, mini-, TMNT Universe, etc., issues together, the unfolding IDW TMNT saga is probably well over 200 issues of continuing story.
IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles holds a lot of “current” nostalgia for me in its own right. As noted, it came at a time when I started really getting back into comic books on a weekly basis. It also happened to start coming out when I started dating the woman that would eventually become my wife. So, I have a lot of good memories that are vaguely or directly attached to them.
For instance, if I had to sell all my comics for some reason, there are only a couple I would absolutely not, and one of those is TMNT Micro-Series #2 Michelangelo. I just randomly remarked to my wife (then girlfriend) in conversation that the comic shop was sold out of it and I would have to find it, thinking nothing about it and moving on. Then I got this as a gift a few weeks later. So, it holds a special place for me just because of that. If I go back and read story arcs I can, at times, pinpoint where I was at in life and what was happening a lot of those times.
Also noted previously, my first officially published work ever was for this website and a review for TMNT #62, and I think I have reviewed every issue of the main series since then. That starting block has really helped me bloom as a writer and helped me explore something I have always wanted to do.
100 and Counting
I don’t think this is going out on a limb, to say this. But as a long-time TMNT fan, IDW’s TMNT comic book is the best interpretation of the franchise on any media to date, from television, films, and comic books. It has everything you could possibly want. It combines everything that has made the brand popular for over 35 years and adds even more to it.
IDW doesn’t seem to be slowing down after issue #100. As noted previously, Sophie Campbell is coming on to write and draw the story arc immediately after issue #100. She has written TMNT Universe before, but this will be the first for any writer on the main series. It will be exciting to see what the future plans are for the Turtles and the crew at IDW Publishing. The sky is the limit and, as we have known since the first story arc, “Change is Constant”.
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