Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1 – Change Is Constant Review
IDW has rebooted the TMNT franchise with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Change Is Constant, establishing a new origin story and continuity for the anthropomorphic martial artists. This book is an excellent read, calling back to the original comics and establishing a gritty tone while updating the franchise for a modern audience.
TMNT: Change Is Constant tells its story through a series of flashbacks, switching between present day and fifteen months prior, before the Turtles and Splinter were transformed. There are a few readily apparent changes to the established continuity. April O’ Neil is no longer a reporter, but rather a student and lab tech – working with none other than Baxter Stockman (who looks a lot like his current incarnation on the new Nickelodeon TV series). April herself names the four turtles – she’s currently taking History Of Renaissance Art 101. Splinter is named by the other lab techs due to the psychotropic drug tests he’s currently undergoing, which “splinter” the instinctual animal state from a capacity for human-like cognition. It’s all a bit of clever re-imagining, but the one problem I had with this version of the story is that – at least so far – there is no explanation for how Splinter learned martial arts. In previous incarnations, Splinter was either the pet rat of a ninja named Hamato Yoshi, or Yoshi himself transformed by mutagen. Casey Jones has an interesting new backstory – his father is a major alcoholic and extremely abusive to Casey – who takes out his aggression on the street punks at night. A scene in which Raphael breaks down the door as Casey’s father is beating him, and proceeds to give him a taste of his own medicine, was quite satisfying.
There’s a great new character here named Old Hob – a cat that had a bit of a rivalry with Splinter going back before their mutagen-fueled transformations. When ninjas raid April’s science lab to steal the mutagen and the Turtles, Splinter manages to stop them, breaking open the mutagen canisters in the process. He drags a bag containing the turtles and the mutagen down into the sewers, where Old Hob grabs hold of one of the turtles and runs away. Post-transformation, Splinter teaches the remaining three – Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo – ninjutsu, only allowing them out at night to attempt to find their long-lost brother, Raphael. It’s interesting that, prior to being reunited with Raph, Donatello exhibits some of the his character traits – getting into some heated arguments with Leo and questioning his orders and leadership.
The Turtles all don red masks in this incarnation, just like in the original Eastman and Laird comic books. It’s a nice nod to the past, but in my opinion the four brothers are not drawn differently enough to distinguish them in shots where they’re not wielding their weapons. It seems as though the editors noticed this, as every time the turtles are talking to each other they make sure to name-drop. In the new TMNT cartoons, every turtle has a different body type and facial structure. I’m not really a fan of this, as the turtles I grew up with all looked quite similar – but now I realize how necessary the color-coding was.
Dan Duncan’s artwork shines throughout the book. His style is a bit rough, but it suits the story, and becomes a bit more refined along the way. Ronda Pattison does a great job on the colors, and it should be noted that she is the only woman in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ 25 year history to work on the series in any artistic capacity.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1 – Change Is Constant, Master Splinter tells the turtles that “change is the only constant”. Luckily, the changes made for this reincarnation of the beloved TMNT franchise feel fresh and inspired. Here’s hoping the series continues to shine.