Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant

In 2011, IDW Comics made a very exciting announcement: they would be publishing a brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, completely separate from the series that had been published before.

And I have to say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant is a promising launch for this new series. While the basic story of four ninjutsu-practicing anthropomorphic reptiles (tutored by a wise old rat) is there, Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman (yes, the guy who co-created the Turtles) add some new elements to the franchise even as they remix some stuff from previous iterations.

Every night, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo – search for their missing brother Raphael, and fight off the street gangs of the mutant cat Old Hob with their father Splinter. However, the Turtles are beginning to lose heart, and Donatello is convinced that their father’s quest for Raphael is motivated by guilt at losing one of his sons, and that Raphael is probably dead.

He’s wrong, of course. Elsewhere in New York, Raphael wanders the streets as a shunned vagrant, unaware that his brothers even exist, and rooting through trash for basic sustenance. Then he stumbles across a man beating his teenage son Casey Jones, and rushes in to the rescue. He and Casey strike up an instant rapport, but their nightly excursion takes them into a dangerous confrontation with Old Hob’s gang.

And through flashbacks, we see how the Turtles came to be what they are – as adorable little lab experiments at Baxter Stockman’s genetics lab, and given their Renaissance names by an intern named April O’Neil. But something sinister is afoot at StockGen, and the four Turtles – plus Splinter, who is smarter than any ordinary rat – are swept up in a bizarre attack that transforms them forever. Shockingly, it involves glowing green goo.

As a start for a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, Change is Constant is a good pretty good launchpad. It throws the audience right into the action and quickly establishes where the central four characters are and what they’re doing – which is particularly important when one of the Turtles has been separated from his brothers for his entire mutant life and doesn’t even know about his family. Why yes, it is really wrenching to see poor Raphael wandering the streets alone, looking like he’s about to cry.

And it smoothly introduces new versions of classic characters (April O’Neil, Casey Jones, Baxter Stockman) as well as a handful of new ones, particularly the vicious mutant cat Old Hob. The story unfolds both in the present and the past, and by doing so, Waltz and Eastman weave in a number of moments that either make you go “Oh, so that explains it” (such as why Old Hob hates Splinter and the Turtles so much) or lays groundwork for future plot developments. The latter includes a rather mysterious line of Splinter’s about how he is the Turtles’ father and sensei “as before.” Stay tuned.

It also does a pretty good establishing the Turtles’ personalities, rather than just relying on readers’ familiarity. Leonardo is the dutiful, filial one who does sword practice in his spare time, Donatello is a pragmatist and has a rather antagonistic relationship with Leonardo because of it, Michelangelo is the easygoing and peacemaking one, and Raphael is the lonely brawler who lights up when he makes his first friend.

Dan Duncan provides some decent artwork here – the art style is rough but decent, and character designs are lanky and weedy and, in the case of the Turtles and Hob, pretty muscled. The only flaw is that… well, for some reason he makes the Turtles’ eyes completely white… when their masks are off. They look possessed.

But despite the eyes of the demon disciples, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant is a pretty solid start to an excellent comic book series, whether for newcomers or longtime fans who can spot all the references.

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