TMNT The Ultimate Collection

There was a period when I was all-in on collecting comic books. Like I’d pick a series and backtrack. I’d borrow a issues of supposedly seminal runs from generous friends who had been committed to collecting for decades. I got good at going through the bins of cheap bins full of sad decisions from those decades by comic stores that didn’t pan out. When I “got into comics,” I found all these 80’s black & white failures that were aiming to capitalize off the success of the Mutant Turtles. Some of them were by artists who remained in the industry, even to this day.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would appear in these bins in various ways. I liked Flaming Carrot, and one of the first comics I ever saw, and eventually found, was FC’s #25, guest starring TMNT. I’d find other TMNT appearances here and there, but I didn’t start “all-in” with the series until I subscribed to it’s “Volume 4.”

Volume 4 was written by the series’ creator, Peter Laird, and drawn by Jim Lawson and inked by Laird. Laird had bought out co-creator Kevin Eastman. I was probably into checking out more “indies” and with this new series it was a good time to hop on. It was okay. Maybe I’ll try and find those issues again, because I ended up selling a lot of my collection (of almost everything) at the end of the 00’s to pay for various activities (honeymoon, album recording, etc.). If I wasn’t re-reading it, I wasn’t keeping it.

But I also went backtracked on other Turtles’ books, mainly the “volume 1” stuff. That’s the original comics. I found immediately that most of the cheaper issues were not by the series’ creators. The success of the toyline and cartoons and movies kept them busy – they owned the property during TMNT’s immense popularity. I lucked out and found some important issues from the run: the Leonardo one-shot, #10 which followed Leonardo, and the “Return To New York” issues.

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of Cartoonist Kayfabe, Jim Rugg & Ed Piskor’s youtube series where they cover a lot of comics from the 80s & 90s. Since TMNT inspired artists and nearly broke the industry, they cover a lot of the series and the people the studio worked with and influenced. So it was interesting to see a deeper dive on the art of the Mirage team, so I looked up and found some of the more recent reprints, by IDW, with some notes from  Eastman & Laird.

These reprints are “The Ultimate Collection,” and feature about 7-8 issues per book. I’ve bought volumes 1-3, which contain issues written by or worked on by Eastman & Laird and their growing artist stable assisting them as the Turtles permeated the airwaves and silver screen. It’s interesting to see what is kind of by-the-seat-of-each-issue effort the comic was. Was it a one-off that took them by surprise? Why was the third issue just a car chase? Why’d they send the turtles to space? Were they just following their whims, and just when they decided to take a longer, more serious narrative, that’s when the truckloads of money started coming in, keeping them busy and off their own creation?

Questions. The space adventure in book 1, featuring more benign aliens that Krang the cartoon villain would spawn from, was ‘all over the place’ in the sense that it’s hard to read at the expense of telling a four part non-stop action adventure. Volume 2 contains the Leonardo special & #10, which is the group (Eastman, Laird, their pals) hitting their stride, right before they were burning out on the work outside the comics and each other (according to the commentary after each issue). The duo split comic issue duties for a few more issues and in the teens allow others to write & draw, and these guest issues are not included. Volume 3 ends with Return To New York, a 3 parter with art duties split by the team through the run. They’re intense and action packed. And then, at the end, that’s it for Eastman & Laird. It represents them (and their team) at their best.

These books are $30 a pop. I’m late to the party by like five or six years. IDW also has an ongoing series that is plotted/co-written by Eastman (do we call it volume 5?). It’s the longest running series, with way too many spin-off miniseries. I found some copies and traded a bunch of action figures taking up my shelf space for them. IDW does the marketing thing with multiple covers, and Eastman does one of the covers for each issue. It was obvious at the 2nd hand store I picked these up at that someone had sold their collection. I wondered to myself if you hop on board for a new series that Eastman is involved in, why would you order the non-Eastman cover? I mean the non-Eastman covers are okay, but I know what I’d pick if I were ordering the book.

Anyway, this is a terrible book report on mutant turtles. It’s just something I’ve been into the last month or so, and I’m glad I was able to pick up these collections at a good price before IDW is satisfied with its returns and let the books go out of print and then they’re too expensive on the secondary market. It was an interesting time in comics, all because of these two guys and their goofy turtles.

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