3 out of 5
The Last Ronin – the “last” TMNT story, as outlined by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird themselves some decades back – should be a bigger deal than it turned out to be. I mean, given that description, that there’s a project touched by the main duo coming out all these years later is something; and yet, even upon the initial announcement, if you were part of the more hardcore TMNT community – and let’s consider me a lurker – excitement was there, but moderate. And not necessarily due to the extreme judgment longtime fans put on the modern handling of the property, but because a lot of us sort of suspected something was up from the start: Peter Laird’s working on this? Really? (At this time of writing, Peter’s quite checked out of TMNT, and there’d been no signs prior to Last Ronin’s announcement of his participation in something new.) And there was definitely press, but not the kind that should’ve accompanied a landmark tale as told by the original creators. So it felt off.
Details trickled in: Peter’s not working on it; rather, this is a story he and Kev outlined a while ago, and now its been dusted off and written up to spec by IDW scribe Tom Waltz. Sure, okay. Any classic TMNTers on it, artwise? No. If this informed at all by any of the future TMNT stories that are in the Mirage canon? No, this is pretty standalone.
This is still a big deal, but given that Eastman has been heavily involved in IDW this whole while, The Last Ronin essentially amounts to an Elseworlds TMNT tale, springboarding from a Pete- and Kev-blessed idea. Cool, but maybe the fact that we got a conclusion to the Image series felt like a bigger deal? And in a world where we have these might-as-well-be-canon, elite, hardcover fan projects that do have the likes of every other Mirage and Image name associated, The Last Ronin feels that little bit less special.
I realize that’s a lot of baggage to bring in, but I swear: I left it at the door. I read TLR on its own terms, and I have to say: it’s a quality Turtles book. Better written than anything in the main IDW series, whether from Waltz’s hands or others’, and a fun extrapolation of the TMNTverse a few decades down the road, when April’s gotten older, a third generation Oroku is leading the foot, and there’s only a sole turtle left to finish what Splinter started, way back in issue #1 of the Mirage series: to kill the Shredder.
That is the most satisfying thing about this series: it has the IDW tang to it, thanks to Waltz, but it’s much more of the Mirage mindset, and concepts like mentioned above show a proper reverence for the franchise, as opposed to the endless fan service that happens in the other IDW books. And it doesn’t hold back: it’s not all gloom and doom by any means (neither was the original series…), but it doesn’t cheat its title, or its concept: one turtle left, on a mission of vengeance. I also really liked that there was a strong Miller Dark Knight influence here in some of the characters and scenarios, as that’s – the Miller linking – another proper callback, and one that I hope came from the original Kev / Pete outline, but if not, good on the team for going with that.
But with those praises, I firstly don’t think this needed 5 prestige issues, as it kinda wheedles about for many of those – one failed assault on the Foot headquarters, then a lot of flashbacks leading up to the next assault – and just doesn’t world build effectively to support that. This relative story flatness is there right from the start: I like that they don’t try to hide that our leftover turtles is haunted by the ghosts of his brothers, i.e. not turning that into a “twist”, but just kind of explaining that things happened, and that the future-city is now this cyberpunk Foot-ruled land of haves and have-nots – that’s not world-building; that’s just a setup. And this persists throughout all of Last Ronin, where it feels like our lead’s exhaustion with the never-ending battle has influenced the narration: nothing feels exactly like a reveal or discovery, but is rather presented as information that we should somehow already know. Then, when we circle back around to fill in more details, it inevitably feels rather tired: we’ve essentially been forced to get the gist already through somewhat sloppy storytelling.
With better / smarter pacing, this could work for the page space its given, but as-is, it comes across as a lot of thumb-twiddlin’.
However, I did give props to Waltz up above, and I’d repeat that: he has totally dropped his shtick of trailing narration from page to page (using it as a fake way to connect scenes), perhaps because the book is appreciably very linearly focused on our lead, and not 100 subplots. The dialogue that’s there is also very direct, and very personable, suggesting that the problem in the main IDW book where there are only like three character modes – quippy, verbose, and Michelangelo – is also perhaps due to there just being way too much going on in that universe at any given point. Here, our cast is down to 3 or 4, giving Waltz focus, and purpose.
Art-wise, I really dug Esau and Isaac Escorza’s “heavy” character work and inking. Some panels have a distinct Image vibe to them in terms of shadows and big, 90s muscles, but done up with a much finer line – something more akin to the work you’d see in a modern Marvel or DC book. The action choreography is not great, unfortunately, with characters warping around through space and ruining the flow of those scenes; I might blame Eastman, handling layouts, for this, as I’ve never considered him the best at page flow. It’s also cute that they switched up artists for different layers of flashbacks – Eastman and Ben Bishop handling certain periods of time.
So I’m glad this happened. This was the first TMNT book the publisher has put out in several years that – despite all the crap I’ve thrown down here – I didn’t have to keep ticking off caveats as I read it in order to enjoy it. It’s an average TMNT book… by the classic standards. That’s the most important takeaway for me: that while this is couched in IDWness, you can tell efforts were made to keep it in the spirit from the creators’ hands from whence it sprang, and I’d definitely been down to read more “average” books exactly like this.