The Last Ronin is proving to be Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s The Dark Knight Returns. If you are not reading this series, start today.
EASTMAN AND LAIRD’S OPUS
Certainly we have seen other stories that follow Last Ronin’s formula. Set in a grim future with no heroes, the aged veteran returns to right the wrongs one last time. Mark Millar’s “Old Man Logan” immediately comes to mind.
But this is no "Old Man Logan." It's even better. Instead, this series follows in the footsteps of TDKR.
There is still plenty of story left to tell, but so far, Last Ronin avoids the pitfalls of “the warrior who forsakes his violent ways until he is forced to use them for good” clichés. Like Dark Knight Returns, this series presents a damaged hero returning to the fray older and wiser.
It is fitting that “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is not on the title page of this engaging, personal story. On the contrary, this is not a teenage Michelangelo. The final remaining ninja turtle has been forced to grow up, and Last Ronin #2 begins to pull back the veil on the traumatic events that shaped Mikey into the warrior he was destined to become.
ASCENSION OF AN OLD CHARACTER
It is fitting that Michelangelo is the last of the turtles. From the early days of the mainstream TMNT, Mikey was the embodiment of childhood innocence. Of all four turtles, he was the true teenager of the group. He was the jovial, pizza-obsessed kid in all of us. Every new turn for the turtles saw Mikey as the lovable comic relief and inept ninja. As TDKR matured Batman from the 1960s and ‘70s schlock, Last Ronin matures Michelangelo into a fully-formed, round character.
After Last Ronin #1 focused on the mystery of the last turtle and his failed attempt at revenge, Last Ronin #2 is a more intimate look at the origin of this new character, the Last Ronin. Essentially, that is what Eastman has created here: from the ashes of TMNT emerges Mikey as a ronin, a warrior with no family and master. Make no mistake, Eastman and Laird are laying waste to those childhood memories of the happy-go-lucky TMNT. They are burning down the house they built and creating something better in its place.
DEATH AND LIFE
When it comes to those ashes of the TMNT, Raphael and Splinter’s violent ends are only the tip of the iceberg in this story. Mikey discovers April O’Neil, whom Mikey had presumed dead, as she clings to the vestiges of her old life and even resides in the turtle’s former underground lair. She is not alone, living in the sewer with her daughter with Casey Jones, Casey Marie Jones, who is being positioned as Last Ronin’s Carrie Kellie.
Last Ronin is proving to be more than just a revenge tale; it is truly Michaelangelo’s final journey and bringing his character full circle. So far, it is a beautiful story of emotion and brutality that paints a portrait of a protagonist with whom readers can sympathize and identify. He has lost his family and even his soul, and he wants one last chance to redeem himself in the spiritual eyes of his brothers.
After the first two issues, I cannot praise Last Ronin enough.
Because of TMNT’s hold on pop culture for the past nearly-four decades, it is easy to look at Eastman as being a kid’s writer. Last Ronin truly has become his canvas to showcase his matured and refined talents in much the same way as Last Ronin Mikey.
This is a landmark story that is unfolding before us. Last Ronin has the potential to become a true comics milestone if it can keep up the high standard set by the first two issues. Even if you are nor ever have been a TMNT fan, Last Ronin will strike all the right chords.
This week’s music choice is the perfect accompaniment to such dark and heavy themes: Gojira’s “Born in Winter.” The mournful vocals followed by an intense rhythm match Last Ronin’s revolving door of emotional turmoil and violent frames.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.