Who all loves the Ninja Turtles? I sure do, as I can assume is the same for most other dudes (nongender specific usage here) in their mid to late 30s. for us 80’s babies, the Turtle-mania is strong. We have two men to thank for all of that, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The story started on a drunken night in 1983 between two friends. Yes, the original Ninja Turtle drawing was just a gag but the empire that it grew into is no laughing matter. Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and my personal favorite, Raphael were the 4 terrapin heroes that rocked the airwaves, toy aisles, and even the rest of the store for most of my youth and have come back strongly in my adulthood. It’s a piece of nostalgia pie that I can’t get enough of. I find myself blowing my entire nonbills and expenses part of my paycheck on TMNT themes items such as NECA figures, high-end drip, and pieces of my childhood that I thought were lost forever and I do it happily.
It’s funny to think that the entire overnight dynasty was thrown away by both of its creators over a girl… A ninja turtle girl that is. In 1997 Eastman and Laird parted ways over the inclusion of the female turtle Venus De Milo in the live-action series Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, which I remember fondly. The split seemed to be permanent as Eastman had nothing to do with the property and Laird sold his stake to the rights to Nickelodeon until a reunion came in the most unlikely of places. The Netflix series ” The Toys That Made Us” literally tricked the two long lost friends into being in the same room at the same time and while they did it for a docu-series, little did they know they brought about the death of the four mutant brothers. in April of 2020, IDW Comics announced that Eastman and Laird would once again be pairing up to tell the final tale of the Ninja Turtles timeline: The Last Ronin. A five-part miniseries that would serve as a bookend to the original comic series and end the TMNT story once and for all… at least for one timeline. Now that it’s finished and the last issue is read, analyzed, and permanently tucked away in my long box, I’m ready to talk about it. Submitted for the approval of the Domain society, I give you my synopsis and review of Eastman and Laird’s The Last Ronin. WARNING- complete and total spoilers ahead, do NOT read this article yet if you have not read
Issue one starts with a lone mutant turtle talking to himself about finishing it, once and for all. Not much is explained at the start of the story except that this takes place several years since we last saw the hero turtles and all but one of them has fallen. Over the next few pages, you find out that the lone survivor is talking to the spirits of his lost brethren, who always have something to say. this introduction to this new world is quick, dirty, and bleak. It reminds me a lot of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. The Shredder’s evil grandson, Oroku Hiroto has taken over New York City and is the absolute law. He has created a class system, as all evil future civilizations do, with a resistance living in the shadows and underground. Cybernetic Foot ninjas police the streets with the help of new and improved Mouser units. This lone turtle is on a suicide mission to break into Horonto’s tower and end the clan feud once and for all, even… especially if it kills him in the process. He almost gets his wish as he is unable to make it and almost dies in the process. Upon his defeat, the Ronin prepared for the ritual of Seppuku to end his defeat in honor when he passes out from blood loss only to be found by a resistance fighter. He awakens in his old sewer lair home and is greeted by an old friend, long thought to be Lost, April O’Neil. April then finally answers the question on every reader’s mind at this point, Michelangelo is the remaining turtle on a quest for vengeance. I thought this was a neat choice as Mikey was the Original turtle, drawn back in ’83.
The next three issues do a great job of catching up by way of present dialogue, flashbacks, and also moving the story forward. We find out that the freedom fighter that found Michelangelo in the sewer is Casey Marie Jones, daughter of April, and Casey Jones, who is revealed to have also died while fighting the Foot Clan. Issue two mostly revolves around Michelangelo and April catching up while the Foot look for the remaining turtle after his Suicide run attack on Oroku tower. The flashback explains that a truce had been drawn and honored between the Oroku clan and the Hamato clan. On the night that Casey Jones proposes to April O’Neil and she says yes. as they embrace, the four mutant brothers and their equally mutated father rush into their apartment, very badly beaten with Splinter on the verge of death. The truce had been broken. Hot-headed Raphael declares war has broken and heads out into the night for vengeance, unaware that Karai, daughter of the Shredder has already declared the same war and is prepared. The two warriors lock into battle, both fatally wounding the other and my favorite turtle sinks to the bottom of the Hudson Bay as he bleeds out from his wounds, the first to fall to the Foot clan.
Issue two showcases the first half of the biggest battle in the history of TMNT as Casey Jones rallies up an army of New Yorkers to rise against the Foot and their new leader, Oroku Hiroto, who has caused a fake truce as a ruse to draw out his enemy. Casey Jones and Leonardo fall in a giant explosion that also destroys the Jones’ home and takes out most of the early resistance. Meanwhile, in the present, Casey Marie agrees to be Michelangelo’s student as they prepare for battle against the Foot and April reveals that she has been keeping a sleeping Professor Honeycutt in safe hiding due to the Great Explosion being caused by Baxter Stockman looking for the Fugatiod to exploit his technology for his evil usage. I honestly thought this chapter accomplished the least while setting up the rest of the story. I hated seeing Leonardo and Casey Jones go out like that, but they went out with bravery and that was very befitting of the two warriors.
Issue four shows the end of the war between the clans as Donatello and Master Splinter travel to Japan to meet with the Hamato clan to discuss parlay. These flashback events happen concurrently with the last issues flashbacks as Oroku Hiroto is the one to let Splinter know that his son has died at the will of the great Foot Clan and the parlay was just an ambush to finish out the battle. Master Splinter goes out with a great deal of fight while his other Hamato clansmen retreat and regroup. With a decent body count, Hamato Yoshi falls to rain or arrows and his son, Donatello. This has to be the saddest death because the whole time Donatello is trying to convince his father to fall back with the rest of the clan. In the present, the beginning of the end for the Oroku clan begins with a huge attack on Stockman’s base which ends with April pulling her ace card and unleashing the Fugatiod and all his power who takes his friends being slaughtered pretty personally. Professor Honeycutt takes over a swarm of nanobots and murders Baxter Stockman and destroys the hive mind for the mousers which deals a massive blow to the foot army. Also in this issue, we find that Michelangelo’s continuous and further mutation is what caused him to grow so strong, fast, and nigh indestructibly. We also find out that just being so close to the mutant family caused an effect on Casey and April Jones, which in turn caused Casey Marie to be born a mutant with speed and strength well beyond normal human capabilities but April hid it from her the whole time. All of this leads Michelangelo to leave the freedom fighters, Oroku Hiroto to set out an all-out red alert, and a literal flood to destroy the sewer lair with April trapped inside. There is another flashback where Michelangelo reveals that after the explosion, he made his way to Japan to find his father and remaining brother only to be told that they fell in battle. He is asked to stay with the Hamato clan, be now believes himself to be an outsider, a ninja without a clan. This is the moment Mikey stopped being the fun-loving turtle we all know and love and became The Last Ronin. In my opinion, this was by far the most action-packed issue of the mini series, and seeing Splinter both reunite with his clan for war and chop off several Foot ninja heads on one swipe was excellent.
I thought I was going to die of anxiety in wait for this final issue but it was so worth it. Mikey prepares for another suicide run, with the ghosts of his brothers guiding, and heckling him on. I’ll be honest, it’s not until the end of this issue that we know if the turtle spirits are a hallucination, or real. I like t believe they are real as Spirit projection has been part of the wider TMNT mythos for a while. Canonically Donatello Died in the main continuity a few years ago and it was because of a Ghostbusters crossover (IDW owned the rights to both at the time) that the turtles were able to put Donatello’s soul into Metalhead until they were able to bring him back to life. Back to the Story, Michelangelo finally gets what he wants and fights Oroku Hiroto one on one, to end it for all. Hiroto dons a new liquid metal Shredder costume and ends up destroying his mother’s life support stasis tube, murdering her, during this battle and fighting to the death. The Oroku/ Hamato war ends with Michelangelo triumphant, but he eventually succumbs to his wounds and passes away in the arms of Casey Marie and April Jones. In the afterlife, Mikey is greeted by his brothers, father, and Casey Jones. They all laugh together about how it’s finally over and now they can get back to “really living”, which ends all the death on a real light note. In the Epilogue, Casey Marie is shown to be raising four baby turtles and living with her mom with a “The End?” on the last page. Possibly this won’t be the last of this timeline, which would be great as there is more story to tell. Maybe the baby Turtles grow up big and strong like the Original TMNT, Maybe they’re normal. Only Eastman and Laird know for sure, for now at least.
I gotta say, it took almost 2 years for these five issues to come out and the wait between them almost killed me. I know I spilled the beans of the events of the pages above, but there is so much more to this story that I left out on purpose. I highly recommend finding a way to read this series. The original issues are becoming harder and harder to find. I know I grabbed the last available issue in my city. It’s my fault that I almost missed out, however, the trade paperback is out soon and is much less than the individual issues were at retail. I haven’t read a comic issue by issue in a long time but IDW usually goes hard and this series was no exception. I’m glad Eastman and Laird came back for one more run and I’m glad it was as gritty and dark as the original series. This is a must-read for any adult Turtle fan. I rate this:
5 out of 5 radioactive turtles (not you, Venus. Jennika is okay though.)
Have you read The Last Ronin? what did you think of my synopsis and commentary? Let us know in the comments section below and until next time, “Turtle Power, dudes!!!”