Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Usagi Yojimbo

TMNT and Usagi have a long and storied past.  Both creations first appeared in 1984 as black and white, creator owned, anamorphic characters, with asian influences. By 1989, the Turtles’ franchise was picking up steam, and a conversation between Usagi Creator Stan Sakai and TMNT co-creator Peter Laird resulted in Usagi being released as part of the TMNT Playmate Toys line. Since then, the two properties have crossed over in comics, toys, and television, as well as cheeky references to rabbits in the 1993 and 2014 Turtle films.

This month the world gets to see these amazing characters meet yet again in not one, but two, mediums. There will be three episodes of Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles CGI cartoon, as well as the one shot comic from IDW Publishing (with Dark Horse Comics) that we are looking at here.

This one shot is written, drawn, and lettered by Stan Sakai and coloured by his long time collaborator on Groo, Tom Luth. It opens with Usagi rescuing a group of travelers from a gang of bandits. The group thanks him, saying they were told he would come by the “old one” who was awaiting him in the nearby grotto. When he arrives in the grotto he discovers his old acquaintance Kakera, who holds a striking (and creatively intentional) resemblance to TMNT’s Splinter. Kakera informs Usagi that he requires not only his help, but the help of others as well. Kakera then uses the bodies of four ordinary turtles to summon everybody’s favorite heroes in a half shell. Not recognizing Usagi or Kakera, the confused turtles attack the pair, until Kakera manages to explain that these Turtles were not from the same reality as the Turtles that he had previously summoned years ago.

[Stop for a moment. Casual or very old school TMNT fans may need a fast catch up at this point. Over the past 30 years, TMNT has seen multiple comic publishers, 6 television series, 3 film franchises, a live concert tour, video games, and more. In recent years (I’m not scholarly enough to say exactly when), it was decided that all of these iterations could be correct and cannon, and that they each took place in different parts of a complex multiverse. As a result, the Turtles have teamed up with other versions of themselves on several occasions. Stan Sakai revealed in a recent SyFy Wire interview that the turtles in this comic are a Nickelodeon version, compared to the Eastman/Laird version that previously appeared in Usagi. Got it? Alright, back to the book at hand.]

As the group travel, Kakera explains that they must return a fragment of the stone holding the mythical giant fish Namazu to the Kashima Shrine. Trying to stop them is Usagi’s nemesis, Jei, The Demon Spearman. Jei has gathered a small army of brigands to help him steal the fragment and release Namazu, who will destroy the country and the “evil” it is home to.

Suffice it to say, the heroes are victorious and Turtles are returned to their own reality as the story ends.

My first experience with the Turtles was Archie Comics’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, and my first Usagi was shortly after with the second Fantagraphics collected TPB. While I have never been a die hard shell head, TMNT hold a special place in my pop-culture-heart. Usagi, however, has been constantly one of my all time favorite characters. Basically, I had really high expectations for this story. I enjoyed what there was here, but it felt very rushed, with a bunch of plot cut out. It feels like Sakai wrote a 3-6 issue mini-series pitch and someone along the way said, “You have 40 pages. Go.”

Everything Stan Sakai does is gold, including this, and Tom Luth was the perfect person to bring it to color. The end result only gets a 3.5 out of 5, but could have easily been a 5 if there was more to it.

You can find TMNT comics from IDW Publishing online or on Facebook

Usagi Yojimbo is currently published by Dark Horse Comics who are online or on Facebook and had his own website as well.

Geek-o-Rama received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts, comments and opinions are those of the individual reviewer.

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