Most people wouldn’t consider the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) franchise a well of emotional complexity, but after 30 years, these characters have become more than children’s novelties and evolved into fully realized people. Their world has also significantly grown over the years, with IDW’s TMNT comics introducing new concepts over hundreds of issues spanning the main ongoing book and assorted miniseries. When there’s so much material to absorb, it can feel intimidating jumping in for the first time, but IDW has given new readers an exceptional jumping-on point with Sophie Campbell’s TMNT Reborn Vol. 1: From The Ashes (IDW).
Collecting TMNT #101-#105, From The Ashes finds the titular heroes at their lowest point, divided after the death of Master Splinter six months earlier. Meanwhile, an airborne mutagenic agent has transformed thousands of Manhattan residents into humanoid animals, prompting the federal government to build a giant containment wall around “Mutant Town.” While three of the brothers mourn at their Northampton farm, Raphael assumes the role of brooding urban vigilante, patrolling the streets with his pet baby dinosaur. Campbell knows how to write challenging group dynamics—see her Oni Press graphic novel series, Wet Moon—and the specificity she brings to the relationships grounds this story about warring factions of animal people in honest emotional reality.
By the end, From The Ashes turns into a full-on tearjerker, reaching a poignant catharsis made all the more satisfying because of the legwork Campbell puts into defining the new status quo at the start. This is still a TMNT comic, though, and Campbell balances out all of the serious threads with plenty of fun. There’s a lot of humor here, and it makes the large cast of heroes immediately likable and engaging. The action moves with intense speed and force, and Campbell makes the most out of each animal’s unique physical attributes to add cleverness and flair to the fight choreography.
Colored by Ronda Pattison with letters by Shawn Lee, From The Ashes features lush, crisp visuals that make this fantastic cityscape come to life with a lot of personality. Mutant Town gives Campbell the opportunity to come up with an endless amount of animal-inspired characters, and a big part of the thrill of this book is seeing new mutants, even if they’re random figures in the background. Pattison matches the expressive qualities of Campbell’s linework in her coloring, specifically with muted colors for the scenes in Northampton, where the characters are struggling with an overwhelming sense of numbness.
Campbell understands how setting informs character, filling environments with details that reflect the current headspace of these heroes. Donatello’s workshop full of toys and model figures, Leonardo’s garden packed with different plants, April’s extremely messy apartment—all these spaces tell you something about their inhabitants and pull the reader deeper into the narrative with a rush of visual stimulation. That attention to setting is important, because the turtles are discovering a place that they’ve only ever experienced in the shadows. They don’t need to hide in a city full of other mutants, and Campbell sets them up for a future full of exciting possibilities that were never available to them before.