The Last Ronin’s final issue is a knock-down slobberknocker brawl that highlights the best, and most bleak, of the ‘80s grim n’ gritty style.
Warning: contains spoilers for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin #5
The blood-spilling has to stop somewhere, and, for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin, it stops here. There’s a point during the long-awaited final issue of The Last Ronin where the reader feels pity for Michelangelo, forced as he has been through a gauntlet of battle and loss. The title reaches its peak, a mesmerizing extravaganza that is not only a stand-out book but an amazing testament to the rock-solid foundation Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird built for their creation almost three decades ago. How did this team accomplish this feat? Simple; they allowed a sad story to reach its natural, tragic conclusion without sacrificing any of the action that made it great.
The Last Ronin ends as it began: with Mikey making a suicide run into Oroku Hiroto’s Manhattan stronghold, a task that nearly killed him before. This time, however, buttressed by his recent victory alongside April O’Neil’s resistance army in knocking out Baxter Stockman’s power grid, Mikey makes the decision to try again on his lonesome (with maybe a touch more finesse than last time), leading to what can only be described as one of the most brutal and magnificently sequenced comic book fights between the titular Last Ronin and Shredder’s grandson. A true free-form fight to the death, the sheer viciousness of battle is almost overwhelming, with bloody blow upon blow dealt against fan-favorite Michelangelo at the blades of a murderous tyrant at the end of his rope. This is the very definition of full-throttle action, and for a late-season masterpiece to come at the pen of the original creative team, the circumstance is nothing short of spectacular.
The creative team, with Eastman, Laird, and Tom Waltz on writing duties and Eastman, Esau & Isaac Escorza, and Ben Bishop on art put on a world-class performance, managing to concoct a dreamlike atmosphere that takes full advantage of the comics medium’s strengths. There’s real weight behind the emotion and action that is rarely replicated, no less a feat due to Last Ronin’s post-apocalyptic atmosphere, and of course the TMNT branding. Ultimately, this is due to a narrative paring of the mythos of TMNT to its barest elements: an honorable warrior turtle facing a mad ninja warlord with an obsession for robots and knives told at breakneck speed with deft presentation.
There is a statement being made by Eastman & Laird regarding their creation which speaks to its origins, namely the Frank Miller “grim ‘n’ gritty” style developed in the ‘80s through his series like Ronin, Sin City, and Daredevil the two originally drew inspiration from when conceiving of TMNT. Now, at the end, it’s only natural for the TMNT to go from Daredevil to Batman’s The Dark Knight Returns. Even through everything else, these stories were limited in their scope to children’s fantasies due to the constant need to generate violent conflict, conflict where living, breathing characters are often treated as the victimized toys of their creators. As commentary on this trend, the end of this story is no dream, but a nightmare where the hero Michelangelo, once the laid-back, easy-going brother of the four, has been forced to take on the role of dark avenger, a role he is reluctant to perform due to the sheer amount of death he has witnessed. It makes Michelangelo’s final revenge for his fallen brothers complex in a way that is rarely seen.
If this truly is the turtle’s final adventure, then at the very least, TMNT manages to conjure the magic of a true good versus evil duke-out with gusto, delivering a fitting, if tragic, finale to an atoning hero’s story. There are good comics and there are great comics. This is the latter.
Next: TMNT: Last Ronin Gives Michelangelo Epic Revenge for His Fallen Brothers
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin #5 is on sale now wherever comic books are sold.
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