Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Where Do I Start?

Although the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles originated in comics, I’d wager that most iFanboy readers know them more from their movies, cartoons and toy collections. Birthed out of the then-nascent independent comics front, the four turtles became game-changers for the way comics – and indie comics – were perceived. With IDW taking up the publication of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last year, they carry on a tradition in comics that’s often overlooked and misunderstood.

Created in 1984 by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman as a parody of New Mutants, Cerebus and Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil and Ronin, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became serious as it turned into the unlikely flagship of a black-and-white comics boom. Four mutated turtles and their rat mentor became a lynchpin of 80s comic-reading, switching between seriousness and comedy unlike any comic before or since. Although it’s success in other media overshadowed its source material somewhat, Eastman and Laird used that success to fund a long and creatively unique run of comics that saw them bring in notable talent from across the industry to participate.

With interest in the turtles surging after a few years in the doldrums, we’ve put together a list of four story-arcs to better know the turtle clan and see just how diverse it was. IDW is in the process of reprinting some of these, but be warned: some can only be found in back issue bins or online sources. Unless IDW gets the hint and reprints these too.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1: You can’t go wrong with the original comics that birthed the phenomenon. Recently reprinted by IDW, this hardcover includes the first seven issues as well as the Raphael one-shot in black-and-white as originally published. This shows a more adult-oriented turtle origin than you might expect if you’ve only known them from cartoons and movies, but all-in-all this is a must have for anyone considering themselves a TMNT fan.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The River: Originally published in the mid-80s during the title’s original run, this storyarc by Rick Veitch shows the turtles in the countryside early on in their tutelage under Master Splinter. The story has a lot of nuance, from the gang finding four baby turtles of their own to a river monster that brings the book squarely into horror territory. An overlooked part of TMNT lore, and something worth reading for yourself.

Bodycount: If the turtles ever had their Dark Knight Returns moment, this would be it. Original co-creator Kevin Eastman teams up with hyper-violent painted artist Simon Bisley to take Raphael and Casey Jones on one of the longest fight scenes in comics as they match up against the police, spies, gangsters and even street thugs.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Attack of the Mousers: If you’re more familiar with the quartet from the animated series or movies, or just want to see a more all-ages take on the Turtles in comics then this is for you. Writer Peter David and artist LeSean Thomas deliver a imaginative adaptation of a early 00s TMNT cartoon series but you don’t need to see that ‘toon to understand the book. This relives the gang’s first meeting with April O’Neil amid her abduction by Baxter Stockman and his Mousers.


  1. I read a couple of issues of the new series. They were okay.

  2. I also have to recommend the “Return to New York” storyline as a definite high point of the original run. It starts out with the Turtles hiding out at their famous Northampton farmhouse (similar to the one seen in the original film); the Shredder has mysteriously returned from the dead and kicked their asses. Raph wants to go back and fight, Leo wants to stay and heal. You know what happens next, and it is glorious. As the story moves on you’ll find the more grounded, realistic TMNT, while the plot still introduces some crazy sci-fi elements that fans of the cartoon will appreciate.

    The latest incarnation from IDW is just ok, in my opinion. The new continuity they’ve created is a bit heavy with backstory, and isn’t as timeless and elegant as the original origin. But I’m still going to give it a chance to find its footing (no pun intended).

    The bright spot of the recent reboot has been the one shots written by screenwriter Brian Lynch, each issue focusing on a different Turtle. They still tie into the new continuity, but capture the tone of the characters very well.

    • I haven’t read them in a while, but second the recommendation for “Return to New York”. The B/W Turtle books were some of the first comics that I followed on a regular basis and the counteraction of ridiculous and gritty was perfect.

      However the Ultimate collection Vol. 1 is severly lacking because it doesn’t go as far as issues 10/11 where the Turtles have to flee NYC in the first place. This is preceeded by one of my favorite single issues (of any book), the mostly silent Leonardo one-shot where Leonardo is trying desperately to get home to warn his brothers who are setting up for Christmas. Great characters and books that are often surprisingly dark but funny.

  3. While I’m not the biggest Turtle fan I do have to sat that the new series is good and I find myself looking forward to reading the next issue. Glad to see TMNT: The River included on the list. At the time I’d only heard of Veitch from Swamp Thing, but was blown away by his take on the Ninja Turtles.

  4. I am new to TMNT as a comic and I think the new series is great and a perfect point to start. It piqued my interest enough to purchase the new ultimate collection hc, which was very enjoyable. Anyone know where I can find Bodycount? After reading this article I really want it. EBay has it going for around $300! Maybe IDW can reprint it?

  5. I can’t find The River either…. Gonna be hard to start with some of these.

  6. When I was a kid(and WAAY to young to be reading the TMNT comics) I had a trade collection where the Turtles are searching for Splinter and get sucked into some dimension where the place is run by triceratops people and they team up with a robot. Fun stuff.

  7. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the current ongoing series, which is great!

  8. Question to anyone, are these digital anywhere?

    • Sadly, no. I spoke with IDW’s Chris Ryall via Twitter a while back, and he says they’re still working on digital distribution. My speculation is that since Nickelodeon now owns the rights to the TMNT, IDW has to negotiate separate deals for print and digital (since Nick probably has those two branches of their corporation in very different departments).

  9. If it weren’t for the TMNT 00’s cartoon I probably wouldn’t be as interested in comics as I am.