Back gain, back again. The foundations for the 90s indie hit are laid out before us. This book marks the end of the golden age of TMNT. After issue 12 the two creators took turns creating working on issues due to creative differences. As a result, the stories after this don’t flow as well until we begin the “Return to New York” storyline.
This volume collects issues 8 - 11, plus the Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo one shots. After each issue are notes and annotations by the creators of the series. Here we begin to see them considering stepping back. Their brand was growing and with that came a whole flood of new work and opportunities beyond writing and drawing the series.
Issue 8 is the famous crossover between the turtles and Cerebus the Aardvark (all of the stories of which I have discussed in their own section)- This is a return to Cerebus’s barbarian days, which the comic had actually progressed beyond, and involves the turtles being transported into another dimension and forced to storm the castle of a necromancer with Cerebus. The two art styles mesh together perfectly and none of the characters act differently than in other issues. The only drawback is that the dialogue is way too jokey and riddled with bad puns. It drags down the story.
For me issue 10 marks a turning point for the original series. The stories had gotten increasingly more fantastical and over-the-top. Magic, science fiction, aliens were all mixed up in the story. And the overall tone of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was threatened to be bogged down by silliness and bad humor. Then comes the Leonardo one-shot that leads into issue 10. The return of The Foot Clan. The return of the Shredder- albeit a new man inside the armor.
We see a much more serious story as the turtles return to the themes of their origin. That of familial duty and revenge based on the actions of people long dead. We see here the pendulum of this cycle of violence swing back to hit the turtles. The tone is darker, serious, with hints of the deadly conclusion that might occur. A hero story is only as good as their villain, and the turtles were beginning to lag without one.
The Leonardo one-shot is probably the most masterfully put together turtles story ever. The juxtaposition between the violence of the ninja action and the rest of the turtles joyfully trimming the Christmas tree - perfectly shows the two elements which drew people to the series in the first place: Playfulness and deadly action. I think it’s their best work.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.