Cowabunga, dudes! If we were still living in the ’80s or ’90s, the radical heroes in a half-shell who thwart criminals using the martial art of ninjutsu while chowing down on pizza would be all the rage. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exploded into pop culture fandom after indie creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird optioned their comic book creations for an animated TV series, movies, and an array of expansive merchandise. Children everywhere were spouting the same surfer-bro taglines as heard from the Turtles, playing with their TMNT action figures, and wearing ugly green and yellow apparel.
While TMNT may have experienced a dip in demand and popularity from their ’80s and ’90s heyday, the Turtles never went away. In fact, they’ve consistently headlined animated series after animated series have continued being featured in films, video games, and toy lines. They’re now experiencing something of a resurgence with the help of video games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge and the latest cinematic adventure Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. But let’s not forget, it was the comic book medium that gave the turtles their big start. If Mutant Mayhem has reignited your interest in the Turtles, there are a few mighty enthralling comic book adventures to read that might be up your alley.
Why not start where it all began? Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original series is absolutely the best place to begin. But make no mistake, the original comics were more violent and gritty than the classic animated TV series or Mutant Mayhem designed for young children. The Turtles occasionally swear, brutalize the Foot, and even attempt to force Shredder into committing seppuku – the ancient act of ritual suicide.
While the original comic art was in black and white, you can find these seven issues in a collected colorized edition in comic stores or through online outlets like Amazon. These are the most basic intro to the Turtles and what started the entire pop culture phenomenon.
Truthfully, you could read any and all of the issues under the Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles label considering this entire series is a continuing anthology. However, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird began the series as a means of building out the TMNT world and introducing new characters and villains. In keeping with the theme of Mutant Mayhem, which is quite literally an explosive cast of mutants from throughout the Turtles’ history, Tales will introduce you to some of these characters’ very first appearances.
Leatherhead, while gender-swapped for the Mutant Mayhem film, receives his first appearance in issue #6. The Turtles also go head-to-head with the Rat King, who would become an iconic nemesis for the gang. There’s plenty of world-building fun to be had in this series.
The goofy, villainous duo of Bebop and Rocksteady are staples within the TMNT franchise. Bebop, a mutated warthog, and Rocksteady, a mutated rhinoceros, were once human gangsters that the Shredder subjected to mutations in conjunction with their respective animal traits. Bebop and Rocksteady are often bumbling fools that act as punching bags for the turtles. Their lack of intellect is often played for comedic relief. They were originally created specifically for the animated TV series in an effort to generate more characters for toys and merchandise.
They eventually made their way to the comic book medium with their first appearance in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1. This comic book series is actually meant to adapt the animated television show in the comic book format and even utilizes the same TMNT logo and branding as the show. While this TMNT comic book series is more in line with the 1987 animated series’ age level in terms of content, it’s still a fun read for any fan of the series, young or old.
This three-issue arc published by IDW is known as The Trial of Krang. The storyline is filled with mutants and aliens galore, and, as the title implies, Krang is on trial in Dimension X on the Neutrino planet for his crimes. The Turtles arrive to view the trial but find that Leatherhead is present to act as a witness in the trial. As the trial begins, the prosecutor, Councilor Apap is killed by an assassin and all mayhem breaks loose.
At one point the Triceratons enter the mix as they endeavor to save the Neutrino world from an alien swarm with the promise that they’ll receive their own planet should they be successful. Things get messy as the Turtles attempt to get to the bottom of the assassination while dealing with the Triceraton conflict. The arc features the most vibrant and gnarly characters that are reminiscent of the Mutant Mayhem cast.
Truthfully, this masterpiece doesn’t have much in common with the light-hearted and cartoony affair at the center of Mutant Mayhem other than the Turtles themselves. It’s a book that adult fans of the franchise will surely appreciate. It represents a facet of the series that has ultimately grown up with the audience that the TMNT franchise cultivated as youngsters in the ’90s. And it’s written by TMNT’s co-creator, Kevin Eastman.
This five-issue miniseries tells the story of a single remaining turtle in a dystopian future who is combating the oppressive regime of the Shredder’s grandson. The other three Turtles as well as Splinter are deceased, though the book tells the story of how these deaths came to pass in flashbacks. The identity of the Turtle waging war against Oroku Saki isn’t revealed until the end of the first issue — so we won’t spoil it here. Still, this dark and dreary world is reminiscent of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is appropriate given that the esteemed author’s take on Daredevil inspired Eastman and Laird to create TMNT in the first place. The remaining Turtle is out for blood as he seeks to fulfill the Bushido code by bringing honor to his family through the demise of the Oroku bloodline. It’s a riveting tale for the most devout TMNT fan.
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