Contributed by Eddie Jakes
Few can argue that the 80’s was a comic renaissance. Comic artists were coming off the heels of legends like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The artwork was at its peak and with it came even better stories. During this time, I found myself pulling away from DC comics and entering a love affair with black and white independent comics. I would read as many as I could get my hands on. I was drawn in by the more relaxed interpretation of the comic code. I was seduced by the foul language and even sex (gasp!) oozing from every issue. Cry for Dawn, The Crow, and Sin City to name a few.
There was a series of comics that I had been following since I was old enough to acquire them. A little-known franchise you may or may not have heard of. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT).
While everyone today knowns about TMNT through the animated shows or the new Michael Bay-produced action schlock (Jaded, I know), few remember the classic comic books that created the phenomena that have become an iconic part of the 80’s. This was a unique and edgy kind of hero comic that had a tragedy, some humor, and intense action like no other I was reading at the time.
Now there were a lot of great stories in all those comics, but the one that always grabbed me was the “Return to New York” series. This was a story arc so good that it’s been recreated in almost every incarnation of TMNT cartoon and the very first live-action motion picture.
Before you can dive into this three-comic arc, it’s important to reference the arc that came before it as it deals with the return of the Foot Clan, and its leader the Shredder, who was killed in issue 1 of the TMNT series. He had proven to be such a favorite villain that Eastman and Laird had no choice but to bring him back, and it pays off in spades. The whole story begins with Leonardo #1 micro series where Leo is attacked by the foot clan to near death, and the Shredder is revealed to be alive. The turtles fight their way out and escape with April O’Neil who ends up losing everything because of the Foot. While always an ally to the turtles, the character was never truly vested in their fight until these issues, which is one of many reasons these story arcs are so crucial to the development of the comics. It’s also the issues where the Casey Jones character is really allowed to shine having only been introduced in the Raphael #1 micro series up to this point.
Most of this will be familiar to most of you. The turtles escape to a farm, Leonardo is healed back to health and each one the characters deals with the defeat in their own personal way.
The first issue deals with leadership and a breakdown in the turtle’s bond. Raphael wants to return to the city to get revenge, but Leonardo isn’t convinced that they are ready. There is a vicious fight between the two before Raphael decides to leave on his own. Soon after the others relent and go after him.
The second issue deals with the bothers regrouping and cleaning house in NYC which has become a violent cesspool of crime. They are joined by a Triceraton who helps the ninja’s find the hideout of the Foot Clan, and that’s where the real action begins.
Issue three is an all-out war from the start, and it’s handled brilliantly. Without too many spoilers, the turtles become separated during the fight with the Foot, and at one point, each of them fights a version of the Shredder with Leonardo engaging in a duel with the original. The writers managed to combine a perfect action piece with a story of self-discovery that ends with the turtles defeating their enemies while retaining honor.
In summary, I have been in love with this story arc since I first read it back in 1989 and after refreshing myself with the story for this piece, I can still say that I enjoy these characters and this writing more than anything else I’ve read since. With some possible exceptions to The Walking Dead comics which have some fantastic storytelling in their own right. However, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is still my favorite comic book superhero group on par with the Avengers and Justice League in my opinion and the Return to New York is a timeless classic that continues to be embraced today.