Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1984) #1
Writer: Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird
Artist: Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird
Published by Mirage Studios
If you were a child of the 80’s and 90’s it was practically impossible to escape the appeal of a little cartoon show called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Four pizza loving mutant turtles took kids imagination by storm, as well as their parent’s wallets, with their high action and comedic adventures. Hard core fans will know that before they were a global phenomenon, (with four TV series, three live-action films, one animated film and one of the most successful toy-lines ever) these surfer talking, fun-loving terrapins got their start in the comics.
Underground comic-books were big in the 80’s. It was an era that introduced the world to Savage Dragon, Usagi Yojimbo, and continued the success of the highly acclaimed series Cerebus. Being independently produced these comics were able to stand-out from superhero heavy DC and Marvel magazines. They were darker in tone, often containing heavy social commentary and violence. A more mature line of comics sparked an independent comic crazy that we’re unlikely to ever see again.
Aspiring artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman (founders of Mirage Studios which has now ceased operations but was once the industry leading independent comics studio) got together one evening and created, what they thought would be, a single-issue comic intended as a parody of Frank Miller’s graphic novel Ronin and his legendary run with Marvel Comic’s Daredevil. The “joke” was the absurdity of these goofy looking creatures set against a grim and moody backdrop. In fact much of the early turtle lore is based directly off of Daredevil. Their master “Splinter” is a parody of Daredevil’s master “Stick” and their arch-nemesis the “Foot” clan is a parody of the ninja clan the “Hand”. Using money from a tax refund and a loan from Eastman’s uncle, the two hoped the book would catch on; and catch on it did. Limiting the first run to only 3,000 copies the books soon became a highly sought after collector’s item trading at over fifty times the cover price.
From a fans perspective this is the turtles the way you always dreamed of. Every child was eager for the day when Leonardo would actually sink his blade into a foe (and not some crummy robot) and the turtles would get a more mature reworking. Reading issue #1 is akin to what Batman fans must have experience in Tim Burton’s 1989 film when the dark knight let The Joker plummet to his death. As fans get older they want their childhood icons to be in more mature, violent and challenging settings. For turtle fans I can assure you it doesn’t get any better than this.
The book unfortunately is difficult to find. A third printing put me back $20 over a decade ago and that value has only gone up. If you’re searching for a first printing (good luck) expect to say goodbye to thousands of dollars. Even the fourth and fifth printings are pricy for a 40-page book (it used to be available for free online read at the official ninja turtles webpage but after the 2009 purchase of all things ninja turtles by Nickelodeon it has been taken down). It you’re a fan and you manage to hunt down a copy I couldn’t recommend it higher. It’s not a trip down memory lane, it’s the turtles the way you always wanted them to be. Who would have guessed that’s how they got started in the first place.
– Matthew Younker