If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the last few weeks of “Turtle Tuesday” it’s that, of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), it is Raphael that has stood out the most in even just the first three issues of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s initial run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. Sure, we’ve seen that Leonardo is the de facto leader; he’s been the voice of reason after Splinter’s disappearance and gives directions and strategy during the TMNT’s many bloody battles. Donatello has tinkered with some machines and hinted at his familiarity with computers, which was a significant aspect of issue two but has yet to be properly focused on, and “Michaelangelo” has been…there as well… But every issue has made a point to emphasise Raphael’s individuality from his brothers. Hell, the very first issue dedicated a whole side plot to Raphael that gave him his own inner monologue and he was the only one of the TMNT to fly off the handle after their lair was ransacked and Splinter went missing so is it any wonder that, of the four TMNT, it was Raphael who got his very first spin-off comic during this time?
Raphael: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle continues with the TMNT still hiding out at April O’Neil’s apartment after the disappearance of Splinter. Tensions are high and, as he spars with “Michaelangelo”, Raphael flies into a rage when his brother gets the better of him. Enraged, Raphael grabs a wrench and is moments away from bashing his brother’s brains in before Leonardo intervenes and admonishes him for his emotional state.
Right away, this opening sequence establishes two things: one is that Raphael has one hell of a temper and has been pushed to breaking point by the disappearance of his father-figure and the second is that “Michaelangelo” is actually a competent and formidable fighter in his own right. How often do we see Michelangelo portrayed as not only a proficient and skilled fighter but also capable enough of not only holding his own with Raphael but actually besting him? Here, Mikey counters each of Raph’s moves and comments upon his brother’s technique and ability with a knowledge and wisdom far beyond his usual characterisation as a lackadaisical surfer-dude. Clearly, Raph’s anger is getting the better of him and causing him to make mistakes in this battle but Mikey’s commentary reveals that he’s no pushover when it comes to fighting and using an enemy’s skills against them; it’s not massively surprising considering all of the TMNT are far more focused and capable than their animated counterparts but it is interesting as, at this point, all we really know about Mikey is that he’s a ninja turtle with nunchaku.
Raphael: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle also establishes that “Michaelangelo” is Raphael’s best friend; as he takes to the rooftops, desperate to clear his head and wallowing in shame and regret, Raphael laments his actions and what his rage nearly made him do to his “best pal”, emphasising that Raphael’s bloodlust in battle leads him to not only make mistakes but also drives him to a frenzy where he can’t tell friend from foe. The story then switches to my second-favourite TMNT character, Casey Jones; sat before a television in his squalid apartment, Casey is randomly inspired by what sounds like either a clichéd cop show or a clichéd cop movie to take to the streets with a hockey mask and a bag full of sports equipment to teach criminal scum the lesson he feels they sorely deserve. Within a few hours, he spots Raphael beating up a couple of street punks when they try to steal a woman’s handbag but is incensed when Raph lets the scumbags escape and drops in to finish the job.
Alarmed that Casey is about to kill the punks, Raphael steps in and fight ensues, with Casey managing to catch Raphael off-guard by feigning defeat and then knocking him out with a golf club. After coming to, Raphael is determined to track Casey down and put a stop to his vigilante ways before he goes too far and kills someone but has no idea where the masked vigilante ran off to. New York City is rife with crime on this night, however, as Casey soon stumbles upon a couple of guys stealing a car radio and dishes out his own brand of justice by bashing them with a couple of baseball bats, even breaking one of the perpetrator’s legs. Right as Casey is about to deliver the killing blow, Raphael steps in, incensed that Casey believes that every crime is deserving of capital punishment.
Ignoring Splinter’s training and Leonardo’s words of caution, Raphael dashes across a busy street and engages in a long, bloody fight with Casey in Central Park; the two are evenly matched in their ability to both give out and take punishment and, before long, they’re both absolutely exhausted and bloodied up from their scuffle. In the end, the two reach a compromise and a degree of understanding as Casey recognises that Raphael is not above killing those when they deserve it and Raphael advises that Casey needs to keep his temper under control so that he doesn’t needlessly kill for the most minor of crimes and, begrudgingly, the two agree to race to the aid of a nearby citizen in peril.
Raphael: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle more than makes up for the last issue’s lack of TMNT action; nearly every panel of this one-shot is dedicated to Raphael and some classic TMNT action. Not only that but it introduces one of the TMNT’s most enduring human allies in Casey Jones, a hockey mask and sports-gear-wielding vigilante who is more than happy to beat street punks to death. Very little is revealed about Casey’s background; we have no idea why he feels so strongly about engaging in vigilante justice and it seems he’s meant to be a commentary (or parody) of the influence violent television can have on the mentally unstable. And Casey definitely seems to be a bit off his rocker as he relishes in dishing out violent retribution for the most minor of crimes and Raphael agrees to tag along with him mainly to ensure that he does not go too far with his vigilante ways. This serves to help Raphael come to a realisation about his own violent actions and his temper; well aware that he went too far during his training with his brother, Raphael knows that his anger is an issue and that he needs to try harder to maintain his focus in battle but Casey represents what he could become if he doesn’t work to keep his temper in check. While this works as a character arc, of sorts, for Raphael, the issue ends with him only hoping to do better and it’s a little jarring seeing Raphael suddenly being so against killing as he and his brothers didn’t hesitate to kill in their debut issue.
While you can make an argument that the Purple Dragons and the Foot Clan were deserving of this punishment, there was nothing in the first issue to indicate that this was the case. The Foot were considered as evil and dishonourable as their master, the Shredder, who was unequivocally stated as deserving of death for murdering Splinter’s master, but were they really? Maybe they were disillusioned youths like in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Barron, 1990) live-action movie, or new recruits who hadn’t done anything more than the street punks Raphael is so quick to defend in this issue. It seems like Raphael only admonishes Casey for wanting to kill indiscriminately because it fits the theme and message of not only this one-shot but also Raphael’s character as depicted here. Don’t get me wrong; he’s right to say that capital punishment isn’t always necessary but, up until this point, he and the TMNT certainly seemed to think that it was so, while it works as a lesson for Raphael to learn, it does seem a little contradictory to what we’ve seen of the TMNT so far.
What did you think about this one-shot TMNT comic? Do you think Raphael deserved to be the first of the TMNT to get his own spin-off or would you have preferred to see a different character get that honour? Do you like Casey Jones? If not, which of the TMNT’s human allies is your favourite? Whatever you think about this issue, or the TMNT in general, feel free to leave a comment below and come back next week as the TMNT continue their search for their master in the next instalment of Turtle Tuesday.