We Begin Again — Reviewing ‘TMNT: The Last Ronin – The Lost Years’ #1
by Scott Redmond
‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin – The Lost Years’ returns to the world built within the previous miniseries and finds ways to continue building this alternative universe, filled with such depth and great character development. Not only is there depth in the world and characters but the visual depth and language are fantastic, helping take the story to the next level.
Just because one has witnessed how a story ends doesn’t mean that there isn’t still plenty of story to explore. While the mission of the Last Ronin — the final of the ninja turtles alive Michelangelo — to avenge his family in a dystopian future came to a close with his end as well, what happened in those years before he returned to New York is ripe for exploration. One might call them … the lost years.
And by “one,” of course, I mean those behind the book because the title of this series is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin – The Lost Years.
One of the things that worked so well in that original series from Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz, based upon a story conceived by Eastman and Peter Laird, was how it beautifully married the past and present (a dystopian future but present for the characters) to show us what happened to the other turtles over the years that led to this broken future while also showing us Mikey’s quest for vengeance and peace. We get that sort of thing again because Waltz and Eastman are now focused on Mikey’s lost years, when he was on a journey with Master Splinter’s journal as his guide, but also picking up from the epilogue of the first miniseries; a vignette that saw Casey Marie Jones, daughter of Casey Jones and April O’Neil, working to train the next generation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles alongside her mother.
Getting to take a journey into Mikey’s mind is really interesting because we come to him at his lowest point, wishing to join his family in death, watching as he begrudgingly continues life and is pulled right back into fighting those who hurt others. In the first mini, we saw a turtle on a mission and here we’re taking the slow build to see what led him to be able to return to that point, to build himself up and prepare for such a mission. Stories where the turtles fight back against the odds and do whatever it takes to protect others — even if the mission is futile — are always some of the best. Because these characters are heroes, with all the flaws, issues, worries, fears, and hopes that come with that territory.
What we get of the present day is so intriguing because these are new turtles with their own personalities, but we see some flashes of personality traits that are familiar, which helps the audience to connect faster. I love that the new Turtles are a variety of types, shapes, and sizes. Waltz and Eastman work quickly to establish the characters and the struggle that Casey is having, how April fits in, and where it’s potentially leading with them all. Because this is a sequel it just slips right into the story with only a little bit of backstory, mostly references to things we saw in the first series, and it feels comforting. Their world-building and character work in the first mini was so solid that this world feels fleshed out and just as ‘real’ as the one we’re used to seeing the Turtles living in over in the main TMNT series.
Just like the first miniseries, the variety of time periods come with their own artists to bring those eras to life. Mikey’s past is handled by SL Gallant on pencils with inks from Maria Keane, while previous mini artist Ben Bishop returns to handle the present-day portion of the story and Eastman tackles the bits of Splinter’s journal that we see.
Having multiple artists on a book can be something that fully gels, whether their styles are similar or not, or it can be something that works but stands out because the styles are clashing with one another. This is a series that doesn’t have that issue because what Gallant and Keane are putting on the page is very similar in many ways to what Bishop brings to the pages. Both styles have a lot of depth and detail to them with a sort of smoothness overall to them. We get a bit of a rough nature with some of the lines and angles, playing into how these are tougher stories with elements that are not smooth or nice.
Every character in both sections is just so expressive, not just with their faces but their whole bodies. It’s beyond simple to pick out how a character is feeling at any given moment because Bishop and Gallant have impeccable skill at creating easy-to-read body language; their characters having a life and deepness to them right from the first glance.
One space where they differ the most would be the “weight” of them — I suppose is the best way to state it. There is a heaviness more so to the past pages than the present-day ones, with Gallant & Keane taking a different approach than Bishop. I would imagine that some of this comes from just their natural artistic instincts or styles, but there is something else that stands out thematically. Pages of the past are dealing with a darker subject and feel heavier, while the future ones do have dark concerns but are focused on the hope that these new Turtles can bring so they feel a bit lighter. That could just be me assigning something to the choices being made, but it’s what came to mind right away when dwelling on this difference so there might be something to it.
Bridging the gap between the various art styles are the colors of Luis Antonio Delgado and the lettering of TMNT superstar Shawn Lee, who are both returning from the previous miniseries.
Color palates from Delgado for both eras are similar, but not fully 100% the same, though. Both have a lot of earthy or grounded sort of colors going on — allowing for some vibrant popping colors here or there — pulling in the shadows to keep that somewhat darker feeling needed for the story. Where it changes is in the overall intensity level of those similar colors. In order to make the two time periods fully stand apart, Delgado pulls back a bit more on the colors in one over the other.
By that, I mean how the present-day sections have a lighter sort of coloring to them than the past ones, which have a bit more of the shadows and the colors are just a bit brighter. It allows one to flip through the pages and instantly pick up on the difference even before they spot the characters of the era which are a clear giveaway to which time period a scene is taking place within.
When staring at a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle issue at this point, the type of lettering style and power that comes right to mind is that of Lee. Chiefly because most of the books in the line, from the main one to the miniseries to the event books either regularly or off-and-on, feature Lee’s work. There is a fresh sort of feeling to any work that he brings to the page, capturing the tone perfectly with seeming ease every time. We can feel and hear the emotion in the words, that dance around the page in the way that is best to compliment all the rest of the stuff happening on the page.
Also, I really dig the jagged, almost boxy word balloons in use. It just adds a different sort of energy to everything and moves away from the standard in an interesting way.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin – The Lost Years #1 is now available from IDW Publishing.