Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1

I am a unicorn. I clicked a wrong link somewhere–now I’m caught, my computer frozen on a shifty looking craigslist ad. Barring the way out are fifteen spam-bots from a lose weight fast scam filled with the most identity stealing malware on the site. The only way they’ll let me out is if–

Whoa, whoa, whoa– really? A parody of the opening of issue one?

Why not?

Why not? Do you have any idea how lame that is?

I don’t care. I love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and in light of the Holiday Season, I’m giving myself a gift, by discussing my favorite ninja team’s incarnations. What better way to kick off this month than with the comic that started it all? That’s right, I’m taking a look at the very first issue of Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

This issue opens with Leonardo, my favorite Turtle, narrating what I have just parodied. The narration, in true Dark Age of Comics fashion, is extremely melodramatic, but I can’t help but feel fan-girlish glee every time I read it. As the fearless leader puts it, “We made a wrong turn somewhere– now we’re caught, our backs to the wall in this trash strewn alley. Barring the way out are fifteen members of the Purple Dragons, the toughest street gang on the East Side. The only way they’ll let us out is if we’re dead!!” If this sounds familiar, then you have either read this issue before or seen the first episode of the 2003 animated series. That’s right, the first episode lifts this narration, word for word at points, from this issue, which I find incredibly cool, but I’ll discuss that show in a later post. Anyway, while Leonardo is narrating how his brothers are reacting to the prospect of a fight, the Purple Dragons are taunting the Turtles, telling them that nobody is allowed to trespass on their territory, especially in stupid turtle costumes. Then we get an awesome two page spread of the Green Machine leaping at the reader, and Leonardo telling us that the Purple Idiot is wrong, dead wrong, because “We’re not wearing costumes.” The Turtles promptly unleash a can of whoop-shell on the unsuspecting Purple Idiots.

Killing them all in the process.

Yes well, I can excuse the heroes killing in their first outing this time.

Didn’t you say, and I quote “We know next to nothing about these characters, so when they kill, we can’t sympathize with them. Characters like the Punisher, Deadpool, or Wolverine work because we know their back story and why they do what they do. And they usually kill people who are bigger monsters than themselves. We see why these monsters must be killed and they suffer the repercussions for killing them. These characters have none of that. They kill indiscriminately and we can’t sympathize with them because we have nothing to sympathize with,” in your Cyberforce review?

That is a totally different situation, and I’ll get to why in a minute. As I was saying, the fight scene is decent, but not great. Leonardo’s narration, while entertaining, can get a little goofy, but that’s a part of the fun. The main problem is the lack of backgrounds in the panels. They are either a gray gradient, gray bricks, or non-existent. This makes it hard for the reader to gauge how large the alley is and have a sense of proportion. Other than that, the fight scene shows the Turtles as a competent team and a deadly fighting force. The police arrive and the Turtle return home to the sewers, where their sensei, Master Splinter, is waiting. When Splinter hears how the turtles fared in battle, he decides that it is time to tell them where they came from.

During a discussion of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a friend, I was asked which origin of the Turtles was true, Master Splinter once being a man (as seen in the 1987 and 2012 versions) or that he was always a rat (as seen in this and the 2003 version)? While both are legitimate and decent origins, I would say that the origin in this comic is the canonical one, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Splinter explains that he was the pet of a ninja named Hamato Yoshi and his cage was kept in Yoshi’s dojo. Yoshi was the most prominent and skilled ninja in the Foot clan, and Splinter learned all he knew from imitation. Yoshi and a fellow ninja named Oroku Nagi competed against each other for everything, including the love of a woman named Tang Shen. Tang Shen chose Yoshi, and one night, Nagi entered her home and demanded her hand in marriage. She naturally refused, and Nagi decided that if he couldn’t have her, no one could. He had nearly beaten her to death when Yoshi arrived. In his anger, Yoshi murdered Nagi. Yoshi was disgraced and given a choice: kill himself or flee. He, Splinter, and Tang Shen fled to America, leaving behind the clan and Nagi’s vengeful younger brother, Oroku Saki. Saki, after swearing revenge, becomes the clan’s best assassin and the leader of the American chapter of the Foot under the name of The Shredder. He didn’t forget his vow, though, and one night, he broke into Yoshi’s apartment and murdered both Yoshi and Tang Shen. Splinter escaped in the skirmish and wandered the street until the fateful day a boy pushed a blind man out of the way of a speeding truck. A canister of radioactive science goo fell out of the truck, struck the young man, and bounced into the Turtles’ glass bowl. The Turtles fell into the sewer, where Splinter decided to take pity and rescue them.

I guess that now is as good a time as any to explain the origins of the comic itself. It was originally written as a one shot stealth parody of the most popular comics at the time, especially Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Allow me to refresh your memory on the origin of Daredevil. While rescuing a stranger, a young Matt Murdoch was blinded by radioactive material that fell out of a truck. He was trained by a master named Stick (Splinter) to fight a clan of ninja called the Hand (Foot to our heroes). They were also meant to parody the New Mutants, Dave Sim’s Cerebrus, and Frank Miller’s Ronin, but the connection to Daredevil is the most obvious. I find it extremely ironic the parody of these works actually became more popular than the works themselves.

Anyway, back to the origin. After discovering that the Turtles were intelligent enough to walk and talk, Splinter decided to train them in the art of ninjitsu and gave his students names he found in from a book on Renaissance art that was thrown into the sewer. Splinter finishes his tale by telling the Turtles that they must avenge his master’s death. Now, let me explain the difference between this team’s first issue and Cyberforce’s. In the first Cyberforce issue, the reader is given nothing about the “heroes” back story at all. We do know where the Turtles came from, how they can do what they do, and why they kill. While we’re on the subject of why they kill, I just want to say that Splinter isn’t exactly the good guy when you think about it. Sure, he took the Turtles in and treated them as sons, but he only raised them for one purpose: to kill Oroku Saki. I would like to mention that the Turtles are thirteen years old. That is two years younger than me. They are essentially children that Splinter has manipulated into killers. Yes, they are going to kill an evil man who has gotten away with his crimes for too long, and yes, they are extremely skilled fighters, but they are still children going up against the greatest warrior of Foot Clan. In a way, this reminds me of the fourth Batgirl, Cassandra Cain’s back story; all were trained from birth by their fathers to be assassins, sent on their first kills at a young age, and succeed  in murdering their targets. The big difference, other than the abuses Cassie suffered that the Turtles didn’t and being sent to kill at a younger age, is that the Turtles’ “father” is considered a good guy.

Anyway, enough griping and back to the story. Raphael is chosen to deliver their challenge to The Shredder. He kills a few guards and interrupts a business meeting by sending the note to Shredder through a window. The melodramatic narration is back, but not bothersome. The one thing I’m wondering is this: why are The Shredder’s guards are only equipped with swords? There is a reason most guards carry guns, and that’s because swords are large and only work in close quarters. If an intruder wasn’t a skilled fighter, but had a gun, the guards would be dead before they got close enough to cut said intruder down.

Anyway, the next night, the Turtles go to the meeting place specified in the challenge. They call out to The Shredder, who himself  is wondering why the crime he’d committed fifteen years ago is now coming back to bite him in the shell. After being asked if he is a coward, he shows up with his best cannon fodder–er I mean, students. The Turtles defeat them quickly and now have to face the master. They each attempt to fight him one on one, but fail miserably. Leonardo decides on a change of tactics and has all four attack at the same time, first attacking at a distance, then facing him in close quarters when he is off balance. I really like this part, because it shows Leonardo to be an intelligent leader as well as a competent fighter. Leo stabs The Shredder, but give him the chance to die honorably. Instead The Shredder decides to take everyone out with a thermite grenade. Donatello throws his bo staff, knocking The Shredder off the rooftop as the grenade blows up. The exhausted team starts to head home, and finds a piece of Shredder’s armor, and “It seems that… the Shredder has been shredded!

My copy of the first issue had an additional story that I assume wasn’t in the original printing because it features April O’Neal, so I’ll only briefly discuss it. This story is called “Not One Word”. Donatello decides to leave April’s apartment for some fresh air and to get the newspaper for his hostess. Things quickly go wrong when he falls into a dumpster, makes his way out, but slips on a banana peel and falls through a skylight and into a vat of pink dye. He retrieves the paper and returns home to the laughter of his brothers. It’s an entertaining story, except for one thing. My copy is a fifth printing, and I don’t know if this is the same for every fifth printing, but page four and page five were printed backwards, making it very confusing to read at first. Like I said though, this could just be my copy that has this problem.

Overall, this is a great read, especially for a huge TMNT fan like me. I nitpicked on a few things, but this is still a lot of fun. If you were only a fan of the 1980’s TV show, you might be surprised by how dark and gritty this story is, but it isn’t bad, especially considering the entire dark age of comics. Personally, I wasn’t that shocked when I read it, but that was mostly because the 2003 series followed the spirit of the comics pretty closely. Despite the lack of backgrounds, the artwork is great, and the story does what a first issue should do. It introduces the characters and their back stories in such a way that the reader won’t be at a loss as to what is going on. So what are you waiting for? Read it now, for we are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans. We strike hard and fade away… into the night.

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