Our first installment of the greatest moments in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle history contained entries #25 through #11. Feel free to scope them out, click the nice links to watch several of the episodes on your computer, and then come back here for the Top Ten. Ready? Let’s do this:
10. Welcome back, gritty. We missed you (Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2 #36)
The second volume of Tales of the TMNT was a book intended to tell a variety of Turtles stories by multiple creative teams, both known for their work on the franchise or new to it entirely. Unfortunately, having been published after Peter “sci-fi all the time” Laird took full creative control of the franchise from Kevin “I like em gritty” Eastman, what we wound up getting was primarily Donatello in space adventures, dimension-hopping and giant monster battles.
Previous attempts at initiating dark, ninja-centric story arcs (such as Ross May’s criminally overlooked “Change of Power” in issue #22) were promptly ignored or cast aside in favor of more supernatural or sci-fi stories.
Suddenly, issue #36, “To Serve and Protect”, exploded onto the scene with its down to earth story featuring organized crime intrigue, classic ninja action and dark, gloomy god damned gritty atmosphere. It successfully broke the series out of its funk of lame sci-fi adventures and brought the Turtles back to their roots as alley-crawling ninja asskickers.
Naturally, it only took twenty issues to be deemed worthy of a follow-up by the editorial team, but that’s neither here nor there.
The point is that Tristan Jones, in his grand Ninja Turtles debut, proved that the Turtles are at their best when they’re prowling around the shadows of an urban setting, kicking the s--t out of mobsters and Foot Ninja while playing vigilante with the local police force. Kicking off the “Gang Wars” story arc which acted as something of a sequel to the critically beloved “City at War” arc, “To Serve and Protect” built upon established continuity, weaving a fascinating story about an organized sect of the Foot separating themselves from Karai and the Japanese-controlled division with the Turtles along for the ride. Told as much from the point of view of a pair of New York detectives as much as from the point of view of the Turtles, it’s a bit like CSI or “Se7en” meets TMNT and is all the more refreshing for it, giving the series a more darkly realistic veneer than it had ever had before.
Perhaps even more impressive than Jones’s story is Paul Harmon’s artwork. Dark, detailed, brutal and all-around frightening, it looks like something out of a classic issue of “Creepy” or “Savage Sword of Conan” than the usual Lego-inspired block people we’d been getting from Jim Lawson for so much of the series.
A tragedy that the editorial department at Mirage failed to see the potential in the story and its creative team until the end of the series’ run, we may now never get to see the “Gang Wars” arc seen through to its conclusion. But even with that nugget of disappointment about it, “To Serve and Protect” gave Tales Vol. 2 the kick in the ass it needed, showing what the book was capable of if it would just live up to its own potential.
9. Raph wins the Two-Face lookalike contest (TMNT Vol. 3 #1)
Gary Carlson’s Volume 3 of TMNT for Image Comics was all about shaking up the status quo of the franchise in as many ways as possible. When the very first page of the very first issue opens with Donatello getting shot pointblank by a laser cannon and reduced to a bloody heap on the floor of the sewer lair, then right there you know that you’re in for a very different sort of Turtles story.
But even with Donatello getting shot, kidnapped and thrown out of a helicopter, the real shocker came toward the end of the issue. Raphael, never having been the type to take good advice to heart, ignores the warnings of a headless cyborg body that went something along the lines of “If you try to stab me with your sai, I will shoot you in the face”. Raph attempts to stab the cyborg with his sai and it shoots him in the face.
The reaction shot afterward, however, is a thing of horror. Showcasing Frank Fosco’s gruesome and gorgeous art, Raph turns to the audience, half his freakin’ face melted off, and basically says “I don’t feel so good. Maybe I oughta take a nap and sleep it off.”
The panel basically makes the entire Image run for me and is just a shocking moment in the franchise history, as you’d never expect one of the Turtles to be disfigured in such a grotesque way, least of all the one all the fangirls keep writing their self-insertion fics about.
8. Never look up “TMNT Slash” on Deviant Art. Trust me. (TMNT Adventures #23)
The early issues of Archie’s TMNT Adventures weren’t all bad, despite my earlier description of them as being pretty dire. No, amidst the endless pages of shameless toy-shilling and intellectually-offensive monologues about the evil of big oil and styra-foam packing peanuts, a few genuinely good issues managed to escape unscathed.
Among them was issue #23, the first installment in the fairly amusing “Slash Trilogy”. You all remember Slash, right? The Evil Turtle from Dimension X? Chances are, you remember him from the Fred Wolf cartoon where he had big buck teeth, a metal headband with a weird one-eye scope thing and was basically a quasi-functional mongoloid. You probably sat there staring at your kickass Slash action figure from Playmates, with its torn-up black headband, razor-sharp gauntlets and psychotic facial expression, wondering why the Slash on screen can’t be as cool as the Slash in your hand.
Well, that’s because the cool version of Slash was living it up in the pages of TMNT Adventures. Having been dumped on the toxic waste world of Morbus because he was a serial murderer, Slash teams up with an oddly adorable-looking Krang and a weirdo named Bellybomb (and later, Bebop and Rocksteady) so he can go to Earth and steal all its palm trees. Yeah, this book was kind of weird. Along the way, Slash hacks to pieces the various alien guards that get in his way and eventually throws down with the TMNT during a battle so epic it took three artists to draw it in one issue (and only one of them was any good).
But of the three parts comprising the “Slash Trilogy”, it’s the first one that deserves all the fuss. Because this issue introduced us to the most iconic artist behind TMNT Adventures: Mr. Chris Allan. The previous main penciler for the series, Ken Mitchroney, introduced a fun and whimsical style to the book. Allan, however, took that cartoonish sense of absurdity and tempered it with a more mainstream action comic style, producing a unique and dynamic look for the series that probably went a long way in keeping it in publication for over seventy issues (making it the longest running TMNT comic ever).
When Slash first storms the scene on Morbus, he’s everything the Fred Wolf version wasn’t: awesome and frightening but with his own goofy quirks. And Slash would never have been this cool if it weren’t for Chris Allan.
IDW recently put together compilations of the Archie’s Comics run, starting with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures Volume 1. At a little over $10 for 120+ pages, it’s not a bad deal at all.
7. Casey teaches us a valuable lesson about job interviews (“Corporate Raiders from Dimension X”)
The version of Casey Jones that appeared in the Fred Wolf cartoon, like everything else that appeared in that show, was all sorts of wacky. This Casey was a violent maniac that talked like Clint Eastwood and administered the same beatdown to a jaywalker as he would a serial rapist. The guy was lovably berserk and appeared in far too few episodes.
Perhaps the best of his appearances, though, was in the season 3 episode “Corporate Raiders from Dimension X.” In this episode, a bunch of Corporate Raiders from Dimension X come to New York to set up a corporation for the purposes of raiding. Or so I believe. The Turtles have to find some way to infiltrate “Octopus Inc.” and find out their deal, and that means getting one of their human friends to get a job there. Since making coffee and getting slapped in the butt all day isn’t going to get them anywhere, they decide that April’s a wash-out and go for their only male human friend: Casey Jones.
Of course, to attract Casey Jones, they have to break the law. So for about ten seconds, Raph shakes a vending machine back and forth. Casey immediately appears and begins wailing on him until they subdue the psycho and convince him it’s time to get a real job.
The best scene comes next, as Casey enters the lobby of the building in a suit and tie…and a hockey mask…and wearing his golf bag full of weapons. He actually succeeds in making it past the secretary and to the employment officer for an interview. When the interview starts to head south, Casey removes his bat and begins smashing up the employer’s desk.
He gets a job in the mail room.
That scene pretty much encapsulates just how awesome the Fred Wolf cartoon could be when it was trying to be absurd in the most amusing way, not simply phoning it in with “fill in the blank” scripts about doomsday devices and stupid mutants of the week. The entire episode is one of the funniest in the series, but the whole interview sequence is just a riot.
To watch this episode and others from Season 3 of the Fred Wolf cartoon, you’ll want to take a look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Original Series (Volume 4).
6. Kwissmiss iz wuined fowevuh! (Tales Vol. 2 #65)
As you can see, my qualifications for “greatest moment ever” extend further than just bitchin’ fight scenes, gory deaths or hilarious gags. TMNT is a series more about action than anything else, but when all the right qualities converge, it can result in a genuinely moving story. Dan Berger’s “Cold, Cold Ice” is one of those.
“Cold, Cold Ice” gives us a rare look at the Turtle/Foot rivalry from the other side of the coin. Here, a Foot Mystic named Mamoru has been stealing money from the organization so that he can send his daughter away, hoping to provide her with a life unspoiled by organized crime. He gets caught, of course, and is given the death sentence along with his wife and daughter by the Elder Oroku. In a last ditch effort to please the Orokus and lift the death sentence on his family, Mamoru attempts to kill the Turtles with a kamikaze spell involving Ice Oni (giant snow monsters).
The Turtles, being the good guys that they are, triumph against the Ice Oni. Mamoru dies, his mission a failure and the fates of his innocent wife and infant daughter sealed. Thanks to a vision from the Rat King, Splinter realizes this and, in the touching final scenes of the issue, laments what will become of those Mamoru has left behind. Meanwhile, the spirit of the Rat King holds in his hand a rose (significant in that it represents Mamoru’s daughter), and looks down in sadness as its petals wither and die.
It’s a very bitter ending, putting into perspective the entire Foot/Turtle rivalry. We often forget that beneath the faceless bugeye masks, the Foot Soldiers are actual people, presumably with families, loved ones and circumstances that drove them to the life they’re leading. The Turtles, in a way, become the villains in this issue, as their victory would ensure the death of an entire family. The final scene shows you the horrible repercussions on the innocent that their various victories against the Foot entail.
You may feel a bit emptier inside, the next time Mike bludgeons a Foot Soldier to death and hollers a triumphant “Cowabunga!”
5. All they’re missing is a redhead to fight over (“TMNT”)
The Leonardo/Raphael rivalry isn’t exactly the most original of conflicts within the TMNT series. Pretty much a blow for blow carbon copy of the Cyclops/Wolverine rivalry in X-Men (albeit sans a telekinetic redhead to come between them), their arguments usually go the same way:
“I’m the leader of this team, so you better shape up and do what I say!”
“No way! I’m a loose cannon rogue who plays by his own rules!”
“Get in line, mister! Don’t force me to have personality! I mean it!”
And so on.
To their credit, the rivalry between the Turtles has a little more substance to it due to their status as brothers, I suppose. At the very least, its lead to some entertaining moments in the comic, such as during “Return to New York” and “City at War”, and the only thing worth a damn about Imagi’s mediocre feature film, TMNT
TMNT was a humdrum flick that pretty much went ignored in the box office. Purdy animation aside, the whole “thirteen monsters” storyline, ancient rock soldiers, burp and “your mom!” jokes and, worst of all, a painful Kevin Smith cameo basically made this the second best Turtles film ever made. And if you think that’s a complement, keep in mind that its competition includes a Vanilla Ice musical number and the worst costumes this side of the “Coming out of their Shells” tour.
But it did give us one thing worthy of adoration: a drop dead gorgeous battle between Raphael and Leonardo. The rooftop confrontation is the result of building animosity between the brothers; Raph wanting to be an individual and Leo being the bossy, overbearing “leader” he always is. Leo only proceeds to escalate things, first by cracking jokes at Raph’s technique (when he’s still “disguised” as the Knight Watcher) and then laying down a line with the most dickish delivery I’ve ever heard: “And. I’m. Better. Than. You.”
Raph kicks the ever-living s--t out of Leo for that and I think everyone who was sick of Leo’s Mr. Perfect routine applauded that outcome. The fight is a beautiful piece of animation; the pair trading blows atop a rain-soaked roof with neon signs flickering in the background. We’ve seen Raph and Leo fight before, but this was a medium that really did their duel justice.
4. Casey’s a bad drunk (TMNT Vol. 1 #49)
At times, the TMNT comics are as much about Casey as they are the title characters. He isn’t just a supporting character, he’s a main character and just as entitled to whole spotlight arcs as any of the green guys.
As I’ve gone over in a previous article, Casey has problems beyond his anger management issues and meager intellect. The “Shades of Grey” two-parter (and his subsequent arc in “City at War”) brought all his inadequacies to light and forced the guy to man up to them in perhaps the worst possible way.
In issue #48, Casey goes on just another routine vigilante’s night out with the Turtles and encounters some teenage thugs with guns. They fight, Casey defends himself and, by accident, kills one of his teenage attackers. Suddenly, Casey’s bouts of rage and self-destructive “badass” vigilante antics didn’t seem so cool anymore.
The follow-up issue, #49, though, may be one of the most awkward and uncomfortable Turtles stories ever written. Attempting to drown his sorrows in booze, Casey gets insanely drunk while hanging at his farm in North Hampton. He stumbles out into the woods and comes across Donatello, just minding his own business by a stream. Casey, completely wasted, picks a fight with Don for no reason other than he’s completely drunk. For page after page after uncomfortable page, Casey keeps pushing and pushing Don, while the Turtle tries his best to be the bigger man and refuse to sink to Casey’s level. Casey just keeps at it, though, eventually crossing the line and promptly getting beat with ease by the sober intellectual.
It’s a weird moment that no one reading the book thought they’d ever see. Despite what the first live action TMNT movie might have told you, Casey and Don have next to nothing in common. They hardly interact on any sort of chummy level and are, at times, more of acquaintances than solid friends. This meeting between the two just shows how they hardly really get along, as Casey accuses Don of trying to talk down to everyone and refuses to let him get by without a fight. Casey’s embarrassing defeat puts both of the characters into perspective for the audience; maybe the soft spoken nerd is, in fact, cooler than the hard-drinking, bar-brawling “badass.”
At any rate, the scene wakes Casey up and forces him to face his own demons in a long and fascinating arc within “City at War” which allows the character to redeem himself before the audience. The entire argument and fight with Don, though, is a scene you won’t find in most TMNT comics and is all the more amazing for it. A great character spotlight and proof of what the TMNT comics are capable of in the storytelling department.
3. This is a kid’s show? Really? (“Return to New York Part 3”)
You Mirage-lovers are going to kill me, I know it.
No, I chose the 4Kids version because it shocked me more than the Mirage version.
The 4Kids TMNT cartoon was, yessiree, for kids. It had some compelling and intelligent stories, a lot of daring moments and a more epic scope than Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island, but at its core it was still a children’s show meant to be suitable for the Y7 crowd.
So when Leonardo chopped the Shredder’s head off in full view of the audience and with the full intent of dispatching his foe’s life, I nearly dropped my remote. I knew how the fight ended in the comics, of course, but I had never expected it to end the same way in the cartoon. This was Y7, after all. You can’t cut off a guy’s head, on camera, in a Y7 cartoon. But they did.
Now, I know what you’re going to say next. “But c’mon, the Shredder just turned out to be an Utrom in a robot body so he didn’t actually cut a person’s head off”. You’re missing the point. The point is that Leonardo went into that fight with the full intention of murdering the Shredder, chopped off his head in an attempt to kill him and left the battlefield content that his enemy was dead and decapitated. Leo didn’t know the Shredder was an Utrom in a robot body at the time and neither did the audience. For all we knew, Leo had just chopped off a human being’s head in a children’s television show and that, sir, is the point.
The moment is shocking, even after the truth is revealed, as it displayed a killer instinct not seen in a Saturday morning cartoon since the days of Batman the Animated Series. Maybe even more-so than that, as this scene featured a hero resorting to killing to end the threat of a villain. Batman would never do that and neither would practically any other good guy in a kid’s show.
The 4Kids cartoon may have been meant for children, but it had balls. And Leo’s on-screen decapitation of the Shredder, robot body or not, is proof of that.
Check out this episode from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season One and more from the 4Kids series by clicking the link.
2. Sayonara Splinter (TMNT Vol. 4 #10)
Not everyone goes out in a blaze of glory. Not everyone dies in an epic duel with their arch nemesis. Not everyone dies while rescuing a toddler from a collapsing building. Some people just grow old and die of natural causes.
Such was the case with Master Splinter, when in the tenth issue of TMNT (Vol. 4), he simply had a heart attack while brewing tea and collapsed, dead.
It’s a heart-crushing scene, as the old sensei goes about his day normally for several pages, only to suddenly clutch his heart and call out for his sons, the spectre of the Rat King watching ominously in the background. For several agonizing pages, Splinter hobbles about the house, as any helpless old man would while having a fatal heart attack, and finally passes away.
The entire sequence is almost painful to endure, as you don’t watch Splinter die in some contrived, adrenaline-pumping action adventure, but dying in a way any one of us could when we’re eighty. It was depressing, it was permanent and, in its own way, it was tragically perfect. Splinter may have been a warrior, but he deserved to live out his final days on a quiet farm and die a peaceful death. If Splinter had to kick the bucket, I can’t imagine a way more satisfying or appropriate.
1. Leonardo goes all out (Leonardo microseries #1)
It’s hard to believe that the Foot were ever anything more than a joke, I know. We see them in cartoons, movies, comic books and video games all the time as these disposable thugs that can be defeated with one good punch to the stomach. Ineffectual and nearly skill-less buffoons, constantly being shown up by the superior ninjutsu of the Turtles.
But way back when, before the first volume of Mirage’s TMNT series had even reached ten issues, the Foot Soldiers were a force to be reckoned with. They weren’t gutless thugs, but real ninja: highly trained, expertly skilled and no easy opponent to knock down. Nowhere is this more evident than in Leonardo (microseries) #1.
The newly reanimated Shredder coordinates an all-out assault on the ninja who killed him, first by separating Leonardo from his brothers and pitting him against the entire Foot army. Leonardo may not be the most interesting Turtle, but he is quite possibly the most skilled, and his badassery is put to the test as he holds his own against dozens of swarming Foot Soldiers.
The running battle is epic, as it moves across rooftops, through alleyways and eventually dead-ending into a snow-filled construction site. And throughout the entire, bone-crunching brawl, Leo holds his own against insurmountable odds. He is defeated, of course. That’s pretty much a forgone conclusion. But like a one-man army of Spartans, he refuses to give in no matter how many legions of ninja the Shredder throws at him.
The image of his broken, battered and thoroughly beaten body getting hurled through the window of April’s apartment is terribly grim conclusion to his amazing battle and the perfect lead-in to the next part of the story in TMNT (Vol. 1) #10.