Well, here we are; it’s been a long few weeks but we’ve finally reached the last issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Color Classics Volume One (Eastman, Laird, et al, 2018). This full-colour volume collects the first seven issues of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s initial run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) comics, plus two one-shot issues featuring Raphael and Michelangelo (here referred to as “Michaelangelo”). Unlike the family-friendly TMNT that took childhoods by storm through the cartoons and action figures, these turtles are darker, far more serious, all dress in red, and routinely cut down their foes while also getting bloodied and battered up. These initial comics books introduced many TMNT staples and plot points that would be heavily featured in the first two live-action movies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Barron, 1990) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (Pressman, 1991), as well as inspiring many episodes of the cartoons that followed. We’ve seen the TMNT confront and kill the Shredder, the dishonourable ninja behind the death of their master Splinter’s master, battle Baxter Stockman’s robotic Mousers, befriend and turn to April O’Neil when Splinter goes missing, and be teleported across space by the T.C.R.I.’s (alien brains inside robotic bodies) and battle the dinosaur-like Triceratons! We’ve also seen Raphael form a begrudging alliance with Casey Jones, a violent and sadistic masked vigilante, Mike deliver some Christmas cheer, and now, finally, it looks like the TMNT are finally on their way back to the familiar sights and sounds of New York City.
Speaking of which, issue seven opens up outside the T.C.R.I. building where the police and national guard have arrived and established a perimeter on account of the massive, suspicious beam of energy that had struck the building like a bolt of lighting from the sky. This is, of course, the Transmat Device finally beaming the TMNT back home; the T.C.R.I.’s stand ready to stun the turtles (since the last time they met, the TMNT attacked them in a frenzy after discovering Splinter being held in their facility) but are shocked to see that they didn’t just bring the TMNT back to New York…they also brought the TMNT’s new ally, Professor Honeycutt, and a whole bunch of angry Triceratons!
Though weakened and unacclimatised the Earth’s atmosphere, the Triceratons know a Transmat Device when they see one and immediately attack the T.C.R.I.’s to seize it. Caught in the middle, the TMNT join the fray and attack both groups; although the T.C.R.I.’s take care to try and stun the aliens rather than out-right kill them, true to form the TMNT have no such qualms about fatally wounding the Triceratons during the fight. With the Triceratons either dead or stunned, the TMNT are finally reunited with their master and father-figure, Splinter, and finally allow the benevolent T.C.R.I.’s to explain themselves rather than flying in all guns blazing. It’s been a long road but the TMNT are at last reunited with their mentor and it’s very satisfying to see this reunion get a nice full-page depiction.
After April arrives at the T.C.R.I. building and quickly leaves as she feels unable to help, learning that the military is preparing to force their way into the building to find out exactly what is going on, Splinter recaps the events of his escape from the Mousers and being cared for by at T.C.R.I. This leads to the T.C.R.I.’s explaining an extended version of the TMNT’s origin from issue one; it turned out that, twenty years ago, about a hundred of the aliens crash-landed on Earth during a peaceful scientific expedition; only a third of them survived the crash and, with no way of getting or contacting home, they assumed the guise of normal, everyday civilians and slowly accumulated the wealth and capital to purchase the T.C.R.I. building and begin constructing a Transmat Device to get back to their home world. During the construction of this device, they had to transport technology and salvage from their crashed ship and, during one of these runs, the fated canister of ooze fell from their truck and gave birth to the TMNT as we know them today. So, after all that, the TMNT are literally the by-product of alien technology; who would have ever thought that would be a thing…
Unfortunately, all the fighting in the building has damaged some of the aliens’ systems and, to make matters worse, the military have finally forced their way in. The T.C.R.I.’s send their automated defences to subdue the soldiers but, when they realise the machines aren’t deadly, the military bust out the heavy ordinance to force their way further into the facility. Thanks to the assistance of Professor Honeycutt, the Transmat Device is repaired but, with the soldiers seconds away from breeching the Transmat room, the TMNT and Splinter are forced to follow the aliens into the beam to parts unknown once more. Back in April’s apartment, it is revealed on a news report that the T.C.R.I. building was destroyed in the aftermath to ensure that the aliens’ technology didn’t fall into the wrong hands. Though she laments the fate of her strange new friends, April is overjoyed when the TMNT and Splinter materialise in her bathroom, finally back home once more.
And that’s a wrap for the TMNT’s first seven issues. Honestly, the concept started off strong with a ridiculous parody of the likes of Frank Miller and then went truly off the rails by introducing mad scientists, killer robots, and aliens all within the first four issues! It’s absolutely bonkers but it absolutely works and, best of all, this issue is full of the TMNT action I’ve come to love about these early issues; the TMNT get down and dirty with the Triceratons once more, cutting and stabbing them to death in the melee and once again carry the wounds of such a battle, which is always a mind-boggling sight to see after how watered down the TMNT would become in the subsequent cartoons. Speaking of which, it is equally still just as strange to see the brain-like aliens act so benevolently considering how much of a constant threat Krang was to the TMNT over the years. The T.C.R.I.’s aren’t given much of an explanation or even a true species name in these issues and all we really know about them is that they came to Earth with apparently-nonviolent intentions and were stranded there for twenty years; they never try to harm or kill anyone, even when their robotic shells are being blasted to smithereens, and, right when you think they’re going to abandon or betray the TMNT at the issue’s end, they stay true to their word and return the TMNT back home with the fully-recovered Splinter.
Honestly, I am regretting that it’s taken me this long to properly get into these original interpretations of the TMNT. I knew of their darker, more violent original incarnation and remember reading at least the first two issues in an original printing but, once the Color Classics books were released, I knew that this would be the best time to finally explore these first few issues and see what the TMNT were originally all about. Will I get another volume and continue the story, or perhaps take a stab at the much-lauded IDW series? Well, probably not as I like to buy the physical books and I only have so much space but, after reading this first volume, I have to admit that I am very tempted to make room for some more TMNT action and seeing how Eastman and Laird developed these iconic characters into fully-fleshed out personalities.
What are your thoughts on the original, more violent versions of the TMNT? Did you read this first issue when it first came out or, like me, did you discover it after the TMNT took the world by storm? What did you think about the original versions of Shredder, the Foot Clan, Baxter and the Mousers, Casey Jones, and April? Have you read the Color Classics books? If so, what did you think? Do you, perhaps, prefer the IDW comics? What is your favourite piece of TMNT merchandise? Whatever your thoughts and memories of the TMNT, feel free to leave a comment below and, if you’d like to see me bring back Turtle Tuesday or cover other TMNT media, please let me know.