One of my favorite comics on the stands these days is IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Headed by Tom Waltz, Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman and a host of others, the two-year-old Ninja Turtles series feels like the perfect balance of what a new take on the series should be. Silly as it is to say, the Turtles are some of the most versatile properties in comics and television on the level of Batman. They could be anywhere from serious Frank Miller knockoffs to goofball comedians. Over the years they’ve shared scenes with the Power Rangers, the Flaming Carrot, the Muppet Babies and even Hitler (and that was in the Archie Comics spinoff of the 80’s cartoon!).
Even with something like Turtles Forever, I saw a little too much divisiveness within takes on the characters. The current series feels more accepting of all walks of the foursome and shows it well. It’s pieces of the Mirage universe, pieces of the 80’s cartoon universe, a little bit of the 4Kids cartoon universe (which doesn’t have too much to take from since the early seasons were mostly retellings of the Mirage stuff) and a lot of new twists and ideas to keep it original when it counts.
The hook of the series compared to all the other takes is this: you know how the cartoon was about the Turtles teaming up against Shredder and Krang, even though those two had little in common outside of being evil? What if it was instead a war between Shredder and Krang and the Turtles are just in the middle? Hell, go further. Add several more evil factions, all working against each other and the Turtles are the only bastion of hope to stop them.
Now, there is one major problem with the series and that’s in its format. As of this writing, there are 23 issues of the main series, 11 micro-series (character spotlights), an 80-page annual (the first Turtles comic written and drawn by Eastman in decades), a two-issue part of the IDW Infestation 2 storyline and a four-issue miniseries about the history of the Foot Clan. Other than Infestation 2, it’s all pretty important and it’s really hard to get the reading order down. I’m lucky because I was reading the Micro-Series issues as they came out, but for someone catching up and getting the trades, it’s a gigantic headache.
So I figured I’d give a bit of a primer for the series. A big who’s who of familiar and not-so-familiar faces.
First Appearance: #1
Micro-Series Issue: During #11
Upon introduction, Splinter was just a lab rat at Stock Gen Research Inc. Due to some experiments, they were able to increase his intelligence, separating his human-like cognition from his animal instincts. Despite being just a rat, Splinter was able to understand the darkness that surrounded the lab, outside of naïve intern April O’Neil. When a couple of Foot ninjas broke into the lab one night, Splinter was able to help save April and then chase the ninjas onto a rooftop. He scratched out one’s eye and caused him to drop his plunder from the lab: four experimented-on turtles and some mutagen. Splinter and the turtles ended up in the sewer, stewing in the mutagen. Splinter grew into a humanoid rat creature and had a greater understanding of the world.
But really, his story began even earlier. In Feudal Japan, Hamato Yoshi was a great ninja warrior and member of the Foot Clan back when it was an honorable group. He was married to Tang Shen, who gave him four sons. Yoshi’s clan-mate Oroku Saki became leader of the Foot and started using it for ruthless, power-hungry reasons. Yoshi left the clan, feeling it was a disgrace. In response, Saki had Tang Shen killed. Yoshi was able to save his children and ran off with them to live in the mountains for years. Unfortunately, they were one day tracked down by the Foot and all beheaded. Yoshi prayed for justice and to be one day reunited with his children. Then, in his last act, he swore revenge on Saki.
Splinter became sought after by both Stock Gen for his blood and by the modern Foot Clan for recruitment. When Shredder saw Splinter’s skills in action, he began to notice the familiarity while Splinter realized that Shredder was Oroku Saki himself in the same exact body as all those years ago. Splinter lost in combat against Shredder, partially due to how he was worn down by having to go through an army of Foot ninjas and Alopex. Splinter was saved at the last minute by his sons, who defeated Shredder and brought him to safety.
Splinter is very strict about his sons not killing, as it is not their way. At the same time, he struggles with his hatred for the Shredder. At the very least, he insists to his sons that it is their duty to kill the Shredder. Not for the revenge factor, but because he’s too evil and dangerous to live.
Recently, Splinter donned a masked identity and attacked his sons, promising to go after Splinter if they didn’t stop him. He was able to get the best of them and revealed himself as a way to drive home the point that while the Turtles are skilled, they’re becoming too predictable. He needs to train them in more martial arts and truly broaden their horizons.
First Appearance: #1
Micro-Series Issue: Between #8 and #9
Leonardo is the reincarnation of Hamato Yoshi’s eldest son. He’s the most loyal of the four and follows all of Splinter’s words like law. More than anyone else, he believes in Splinter’s claims of reincarnation, both because he believes anything Splinter says and because he has vague, dream-like memories of seeing Tang Shen die in front of him.
When Splinter was captured by Stock Gen, Leonardo searched the streets and found himself targeted by the Foot Clan, tangling with them for the first time. While he was able to fight a bunch of them off, the Shredder – wearing less extravagant ninja gear – easily beat him down and deemed him unimpressive. Later, Leonardo led his brothers in saving Splinter from being killed by Shredder. This time, Leonardo pressed the numbers advantage and won out. Leaving for the sake of getting Splinter to safety, Leonardo made sure to throw a shuriken an inch from Shredder’s head and deemed him unimpressive.
Splinter’s claims that they need to kill Shredder do not sit well with Leonardo, who wishes not to kill under any circumstances because life is sacred. This came up soon after when he and his brothers had to fight the insane and unstoppable Slash. Leonardo tried his hardest to reason with the giant turtle, but ended up gravely wounding him by accident while protecting April and Casey. Leonardo didn’t know that Slash survived having a katana shoved handle-deep down his shoulder and became troubled over it, keeping Slash’s black eye-mask as a memento.
After their second skirmish, Shredder grew to respect Leonardo and found potential in him as an apprentice. He staged a trap and kidnapped Leonardo. The witch Kitsune put Leonardo through a ritual very similar to what Frank Miller had the Hand do to resurrect Elektra. Leonardo’s memories were altered into a nightmarish recollection where Splinter had been terrorizing him via all of their adventures while Shredder had been trying to save him from all of it. In these altered memories, Splinter killed the other three Turtles and resurrected them as his evil soldiers. Last seen, Leonardo woke from this ritual, wearing Slash’s black eye-mask.