Tuesday’s are “Turtle Tuesday” for the next few weeks as I use this time to look back on the first few issues of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which painted a far darker and serious picture of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) than their later animated interpretations.
After avenging the death of their master Splinter’s master in the first issue, the TMNT made a new friend in issue two when they saved April O’Neil from Baxter Stockman’s robotic Mousers. Not only did issue two start to distinguish the TMNT by more than just their weapons, it also began a storyline that would continue not just in this next issue but over the next few issues as well, showing that Eastman and Laird were fully capable of plotting out ongoing story arcs even this early into their fledgling publication.
Issue three begins with the TMNT and April finally escaping from Stockman’s laboratory; indebted to the TMNT for their help, April leaves them her number as they head back to their sewer hideout…only for them to discover that their beloved master and father-figure, Splinter, is missing. Not only that, their lair has been ransacked and there are smashed up Mousers and blood all over the place.
Enraged and fearful for his master’s safety, Raphael is inconsolable; despite Leonardo’s efforts to calm him and assign him a task to help compartmentalise the problem, Raphael flees into the night, determined to find Splinter sooner rather than later. While we saw a glimpse of his headstrong Raphael was in issue one, this is the first real indication that he is, by far, the more hot-headed and emotional of the TMNT; interestingly, Raphael and Leonardo don’t come to blows over the issue, which is a nice change of pace.
Instead, Raphael simply allows his emotions to get the better of him and to ignore Leonardo’s more measured approach to the situation and, even more surprisingly, when Raphael returns to the group, he even admits that he was wrong to rush off alone and apologises for his actions. Reunited, but still unsure of how to proceed, the TMNT call April and she immediately comes over to pick them up in her van.
Unfortunately, as April drives the TMNT back to her place, they attract the attention of the police, who mistakenly believe the van to be the same one involved in a robbery, unaware of this, and desperate to not be caught or discovered, a high-speed pursuit ensues that takes the TMNT, April, and the cops through Central Park and causes a great deal of damage and disruption.
Thankfully (luckily), no one seems to be seriously hurt from the pursuit and, quite coincidentally, the TMNT catch a break when they just happen to pass the real perpetrators of the crime and finally lose the police pursuit (resulting in an amusing full-page spread of New York’s finest spouting every cop cliché line in the book while holding the thieves at gun point).
Arriving back at April’s place, the TMNT have a brief moment where they bond with her before falling asleep from the stress and exhaustion of the last few days. For anyone familiar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Barron, 1990) live-action movie, a lot of this issue will ring a bell as the TMNT also returned to their lair to find Splinter missing and took shelter at April’s apartment; April even lives alone above a junk shop, just like in the movie, showing just how faithful that initial film was to Eastman and Laird’s original vision of the TMNT.
Compared to the last two issues, though, issue three is far less action-packed; the chase sequence amounts to the entirety of the issue’s action and, instead, we see a different side to the usually stoic and action-orientated TMNT. Confronted with a situation where their ninja skills and weapons cannot help them, the TMNT are somewhat clueless as to how to proceed, turning to April as they have nowhere else to go. As with the other issues, though, it is mainly Leonardo and Raphael who have the strongest, most distinct reactions to Splinter’s disappearance, with Raphael reacting in angered haste and Leonardo not only trying to hold his brothers together but remaining steadfast that they will recover their master and father-figure.
The issue ends with an extended epilogue that reveals to the read the specifics of what happened to Splinter; caught off-guard by a sudden Mouser attack, Splinter is wounded and barely manages to escape with his life. Discovered by a couple of mysterious, strange-sounding men, Splinter is taken to the T.C.R.I. building for medical care but, when he awakens, Splinter discovers that his rescuers are actually sentient brains inside robotic shells, ending the issue on another cliffhanger that will be continued in next week’s instalment of Turtle Tuesday!