4 out of 5
Sigh, there’s nothing like the original TMNT. As much as I’ve loved some of the other iterations, something that really only existed in this first run – although Peter Laird helped to imitate it very well in the 4Kids animated series – are the giant tonal shifts that were likely made possible by the thing not being a “brand” yet. So you could jump from the rather dark and violent Daredevil parody of the opening book to a goofball mad scientist scheme in this issue, and then spacefaring adventures, and Cerebus crossovers, and it all feels like it exists in the same world. The thing Eastman and Laird stumbled into – the “brotherhood” of team books like X-Men, but taking place in this insular world where, sure, the boys bicker, but then laugh at each other a moment later – is a weird nexus of grit and goofiness that’s honestly never been exactly replicated. Traditional comics meet pulp. Self-awareness meets willful stupidity. Lot of Dad jokes, but it’s the coolest thing ever. Issue #2 coming after issue #1 is just a perfect encapsulation of that.
And things also seem immediately more refined in this book, with the duo syncing on a squat, thick-lined art style that doesn’t have some of the funky (but charming) character art / paneling woes of the previous ish – either a result of Peter and Kev settling more in to what they wanted TMNT to be, or because this is a much more streamlined A to B to C story, or both.
But maybe proving that I don’t just automatically default to finding classic TMNT perfect, issue #1’s rough edges are all in service of its quick-moving, jam-packed energy, with ideas bursting from its pages; it is such a great book because of its flaws. I don’t exactly have that same reverence for this tale, which introduces April O’Neil as the assistant to scientist Baxter Stockman, whose “Mouser” creations – mechanized rat traps – are being used to do silly villain stuff, like rob banks. Though I love Baxter admitting that he’s kinda doing this just because it’s fun, the narrative is much more forced feeling, like the boys trying to bang the pieces to fit. It’s still incredibly pulpy fun – Kev and Pete wholly lean into that – and I love the brazenness of the way it proceeds from introducing the Mousers on a news program the Turtles are watching, and then driving April into a meet-cute with the same, and then the way it cements the Turtles’ forming personas with the raid on the Mouser lab. But despite its overall importance in the lore and canon, it’s very much a stepping stone story, breaking out of ninja confines to a larger, weirder picture.
The art never spares us a splash page, and, as mentioned, our creative duo have really found themselves even by this early point; while I might take issue with the clunky story beats, every panel feels like it achieved exactly what was intended.
My third printing also features a backup from Fred Hembeck; its punchline is pretty expected, and it’s a lot of words up front to get to that, but it’s cute. More important on this printing is the wraparound Corben cover, which I’d consider an all-time classic piece of TMNT fan art.