Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ultimate Collection, Volume 1
Despite growing up with the TMNT toys and cartoon series, I had never read the original Eastman and Laird comics that started it all. So when IDW published these smart new hardcovers of the earliest issues, I was interested - and when a Comixology sale offered the first volume for just a few quid, I couldn't refuse.
This first book collects the first seven issues of the comic as well as the Raphael one-shot (or 'micro-series' as it's styled here), but there's more content than that sounds: each issue is extra-sized, and there's plenty in the way of behind-the-scenes commentary and context from the creators too.
The comics themselves are great reads despite their crudeness (in terms of the occasionally clunky writing and rough-around-the-edges art). There's a real passion and energy to them that really comes through the page, and I like that each issue seeks to tell a complete story that's satisfying in its own right.
They're fun reads for a lot of reasons: the characters are lively, the action is dynamic and well thought-out, and the concepts are just the right combination of silly and straight to make the whole thing work (like the Krang-esque aliens we meet towards the end of this volume).
Also, the parody elements are lots of fun. I had known in advance that the early TMNT comics had riffed on Miller's Daredevil, but I didn't realise it was as blatant as this.
There are also some fairly straight attempts at serious storytelling here, whether it's characterisation of Raphael that pushes him close to quite worrying psychopath territory...
...or bold storytelling choices that include some pretty grisly and uncompromising fates for the stories' villains.
Most of all, I really enjoyed the clear attempts to give readers value for money and a real sense of scale and spectacle. In the extra material, Eastman and Laird cite Kirby as a major influence, and you can see it in the bold action scenes and dedication to dynamic visual storytelling, as well as some of the more intricate detail of the crazy tech and alien concepts.
The text pieces really give you a good insight into the creators' intentions for the book and the circumstances of its creation, and it's exciting to read about how the TMNT phenomenon grew so quickly and Eastman and Laird developed as artists and businessmen between the first issue and the final issue collected here.
It's no exaggeration to say that my temptation to buy volume two is as much down to a desire to keep following their story as to keep reading TMNT comics, and the result of their commentary and their do-it-yourself ethos is that you come away from the book feeling inspired to pick up a pencil and start writing and drawing and making comics yourself. And that's probably about as high a recommendation as I can give.