Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (#1) – Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird

5 out of 5

It is surely nigh impossible to rate this issue without an iota of bias, given my status as a lifelong TMNT fan. The issue’s beats are also so embedded in my brain due to not only rereads, but also having reexperienced them as redone and regurgitated across several other comic, cartoon, and movie iterations, that it’s hard to try to read the issue “fresh.”

There are things I could criticize, of course. The boys’ artwork, though always stylized o’er the years, is especially “crunchy” here, and almost amateurish or flat when it comes to human being and some backgrounds. The two would keep the general looks they use here (Laird a more bubbly-faced characterization; Eastman squared), but certainly their skills as draftsmen and with layouts and etc. would improve; here, everyone except the Turtles sort of washes into a murkiness of similar looking angry-types or business-types, and then the fact that the boys were essentially all swappable, save the weapons they used. The Shredder’s ability to contort himself into odd shapes in order to fit into panels is pretty funny. The backgrounds are detailed, but exist on the same plane as everything else; depth is achieved through vanishing point basics and not line weight, shading. And yeah, the writing – taking its purposefully cheeky and parodic bits into account – is pretty overstuffed, and very surface level, get-the-job-done work.

However, a lot of that is where legacy works against the book.

If I try, try, try to pretend like the TMNT never existed – and thus, maybe no anthropomorphic superhero team of note – and that I was picking this book up for the first time, new to these Eastman and Laird cats, what the book has to counter all of the above is an undeniable sense of energy and creativity, and unlike the majority of #1s nowadays, it’s not out to set up a whole universe to get you hooked for a trade: it’s a complete story.

When I pick up an indie book, energy and creativity go a long way toward overcoming creators’ limitations. For example: while I can nitpick how Eastman draws a human being here, the duo are consistent throughout the whole issue, and set the bar at a reasonable level for themselves, showing off with crazy choreography and some super fun layouts, and making everything work for them as much as possible within those borders – like being aware of what you do well and not so well, and then not being scared to highlight one and do your best with the other. And we might move quickly through a ridiculous story of spilled mutagen and 20-year long revenge schemes, with little callouts that always seemed odd to me until I realized they were Daredevil puns, but it’s a tale told with similar control – being aware of how many pages they were working with, and giving each slice of the cluttered narrative its due. I can also never get over the duotone inking look of the book. From when I was single digits, reading a First TPB colorized reprint of this, up through now, flipping through one of the several floppies I have (I’m not super limited edition here – from Mirage originals, I only have a 3rd and 5th printing), the dithered blacks and grays look so cool, and so original to me; I’ve never seen anyone quite replicate the style.

So although my rose-tinted glasses make TMNT #1 difficult to truly assess on its own terms, I think it’s also valuable – and a testament to the series’ longstanding appeal – that it’s a book I can reread multiple times, at different ages, and not get tired of it. Maybe a more reasonable rating would call it a 4 out of 5, but that’s where I’ll allow myself to slip in some bias after all.