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Looking Back at Mirage Studios Volume Four

by Dan Gehen

With the third volume of TMNT comics currently being reprinted and recolored by IDW as TMNT: Urban Legends, a wrench has been thrown into my plans to walk down that portion of memory lane. However, not all is lost, as we will move onward to the next chapter of TMNT comics history: the bizarre and (as of today) unfinished fourth volume published by Mirage Studios. Not only did this series see the Turtles back in the capable hands of artist Jim Lawson, but also under the stewardship of original co-creator Peter Laird.

With Laird back at the helm, this new series took the opportunity to right a couple of perceived wrongs committed in the past. The first, and most superfluous, is the correction of Michelangelo’s name from “Michaelangelo.” Personally, I always saw the typo as a fun quirk befitting the character. However, if Laird saw it as something that needed to be fixed, who am I to argue? The second was to do away with all the changes made during “Volume 3” over at Image Comics. Those who read the first issue of Urban Legends know that Gary Carlson and Frank Fosco made big changes in their [at the time] unfinished series. Laird did not see these changes as aligning with his vision for the TMNT, and so that part of Turtles history was stricken from the official canon.

What readers were given with TMNT Volume 4 was a quirky character study that focused less on action and more on the souls of its protagonists. It may have been more appropriate for the series to be called “Mutant Ninja Turtles,” because they were no longer teenagers. Rather, they were full-fledged adults, living life independently and on their own terms.

The assumption of Volume 4 is that the Turtles have aged in real time, in part to reflect the changing demographics of comic readers, which continues to skew older with the passage of time. Rather than cater to the tastes of teenagers, Laird’s story is slower and more methodically paced. With the characters spread out, he takes the time to ensure they are given their due. However, unlike Volume 2, readers do not feel like the series is wasting time getting through certain plot points. Each element of the story has its purpose. And unlike Volume 3, certain things like the physical alterations to the Turtles are earned after issues of setup rather than rushing because of a desire to differentiate them other than their weapons.

In addition to Peter Laird’s return, readers are also treated to the return of artist Jim Lawson, who turns in arguably the best work of his career. This is not the Lawson who turned in solid but unremarkable artwork over the course of Volume 2, but a wiser, refined version of the “City at War” artist. His imagery now has more definition and depth of field, which the characters are much more expressive and fluid in their movements. As the Laird’s script grows weirder by the issue, Lawson manages to straddle the line between believable and absurd. It is his work alone which makes tracking down this volume worthwhile.

Of course, the current legacy of Volume 4 is that it remains – as of the date of this article – unfinished. Despite a deal that allows Laird to publish 18 issues of his own TMNT book per year, a new issue has not been published since 2014, which itself marked the end of a four year gap between issues. Laird has stated on his Blogspot page that he hopes to one day finish up the storylines of Volume 4, but has no clear timetable.

For now, the fourth volume of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exists as a peculiar part of the property’s history. Though there are other stories that take place chronologically later, Issue #32 is currently the final story within the Mirage Studios continuity, ending with several major plot threads still open. And while the lack of a final, official resolution is frustrating, the 32 issue journey is worth every minute of it. The story is character driven, tragic, funny, and weird. So basically, it is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in its purest form.

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