Review by Jamie McNeil
By 1993 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had turned a simple comic about four mutated pet turtles trained in the ways of ninjitsu by an elderly mutated rat into a multi-million dollar franchise. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were on everything from bars of soap to t-shirts, the animated TV show and live action film winning over children’s hearts and systematically emptying parents’ pockets. This meant that Eastman and Laird rarely wrote any TMNT stories, other writers and artists at Mirage Studios long since taking over creative duties, but the original creators would return for what was to be their last run together for many years. ‘City at War’ was a massive twelve part story arc, big enough to fill two volumes. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate B&W Collection/The Works Volume(s) 5 starts halfway through.
An injured Splinter is being cared for by the mysterious Rat King whose views on attaining higher consciousness clash with Splinter’s own. Casey has found happiness with Gabrielle, April is moving on with her life in Los Angeles while Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo are home in New York but lacking focus and direction. The arrival of the Foot Clan’s new leader from Japan will usher in a new era for the Turtles, even as the fates conspire to bring everything back round or end it all for everyone.
Despite coming in midway this storyline is far more congruent than in the preceding volume, now working from a variety of different perspectives and far less action driven. The writers give Casey a soft side, add strength to April and the Turtles’ development as both team and individuals has an interesting perspective. Splinter’s story remains unsatisfactory simply because important aspects are told in Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Jim Lawson’s artwork is bold and experimental, displaying decent cityscapes from various angles with the initially chaotic action sequences becoming more focused action scenes. He has a tendency to masculinise the strong female leads and his work isn’t always consistent, but alternatively captures some tender moments involving the hard nut Casey, even inducing a lump in the throat. While there are plenty of genre tropes, some plotlines remaining unresolved despite the writers claiming they were, but it is a big improvement and this is among some of Eastman and Laird’s best work together, even managing to sensitively handle some difficult subjects like death and loss.
Whatever the opinion on the quality of the earliest stories, TMNT has proved to be highly collectible even since its inception and IDW have the collector in mind with the wonderful ways these volumes are presented. The Ultimate B&W Collection is pricier, so go for the coloured The Works if you want this for nostalgia’s sake since it’s cheaper and comes in an entertaining pizza box style format cover.
IDW continues to collect and reprint early collections of TMNT from Mirage studios, albeit by different creators, in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate B&W Collection Volume 6.