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Interview: Tom Waltz Talks 'TMNT Last Ronin'

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Interview by Troy-Jeffrey Allen

"Who is that masked man?" That is the question everyone is asking in regards to IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin mini-series. The book teases that its title character is the last mutant standing in a dystopic New York City.

What happened to the other turtles? What has happened to the world? And, yes, who is "The Last Ronin," specifically? We've cornered The Last Ronin's co-writer, Tom Waltz, and try our best to get a few questions answered ahead of the book's Wednesday release. Keep reading... 

PREVIEWSworld: Who came to who with this concept? What is the story of how Last Ronin cam about?

Tom Waltz: When we were in the countdown to issue #100 for the main TMNT ongoing series at IDW, super-editor Bobby Curnow, Kevin Eastman and I began to contemplate what a post-100 world would look like for the three of us after working together on 100 consecutive issues. The general consensus was that issue #101 was a perfect time to bring in a fresh voice to write the series, which we ultimately did with the amazing Sophie Campbell. That said, both Kevin and I still felt we had TMNT stories to tell, so one day Kevin brought out from his vast personal archives a decades-old outline he and Peter Laird had produced in the late ‘80s -- a future TMNT story they were developing called “The Last Ronin,” which laid the foundation for a “final” TMNT adventure, told through the POV of the last remaining turtle. Kevin asked me to read it and I fell in love instantly -- not only with the greatness that was already there, but also with the vast potential it contained for a fresh take on the beloved characters and their future (and past) circumstances. A new TMNT universe, basically, but one that harkens back to all the TMNT iterations that have come before, much like Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS did for Batman. Familiar yet different in many ways, which we feel makes it doubly exciting.

What’s the setting here? Is this story more Mad Max? More Yojimbo? I Am Legend?

If I had to compare it to anything, I’d say it most closely resembles a BLADE RUNNER type future by way of Moebius and Frank Miller’s RONIN. Visually, it’s very bright and futuristic (without being overtly hardcore sci-fi), but with a dark underbelly, which will be exposed as the series progresses forward.

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So, without telling us which turtle it is, what factored into you deciding which turtle would be The Last Ronin?  

That was a Kevin decision, and one I whole-heartedly support. To say anymore would be like the Colonel giving away his secret chicken recipe.

What’s the opposition here? Who are the bad guys?

Lucky for you, this has already been spoiled, so I’m allowed to share that the main antagonist is named Oroku Hiroto, the son of Oroku Karai, and the grandson of Oroku Saki (aka The Shredder). However, Hiroto’s not the only adversary in this dark and gritty tale… sorry, no more spoilers!

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In terms of process, what was it like working with Kevin Eastman? Whenever I see two or more writers I’m always curious how they navigate around each other.

As it turns out, not only is this a new kind of TMNT story, but it’s also a whole new way for Kevin (whom I consider my brother from another mother) and I to collaborate.  Over the last decade, the process had been Bobby, Kevin and I meeting to plot out story arcs, etc., and then me sitting down to script out each issue.  For THE LAST RONIN, Kevin and I began by working from the outline he and Peter produced, finding all the parts that we felt still made sense (you need to remember, the outline was written in 1987 -- as amazingly prescient as Peter and Kevin were, the reality remains that some of their future predictions no longer feel futuristic in our modern world, so we had to come up with some new future predictions). From there, we discussed overarching plot points, and from those initial discussions, I produced general outlines for Kevin (who is doing layouts for the series) to work from, leaving a lot of room for Kevin to do his own storytelling (particularly in the many extended action sequences) through his amazing visual choreography. Once Kevin has his layouts complete, he passes them along to our art team, Esau and Isaac Escorza, and I put together a first-round script to match the art. Then, Kevin and I meet to offer each other suggestions/revisions to make sure we’re both happy with all the dialogue and captions. This back-and-forth process can require multiple rounds sometimes, but it ensures the end product is something we are both satisfied with, which makes this a truly collaborative project from beginning to end.

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Eastman also does layouts, right?

He does indeed, and they are a marvel to behold. I expect IDW will publish them in special director’s cut versions someday… fans, old and a new, will eat them up. I know I do!\

And Peter Laird’s involvement stems from the original 1980s concept? He’s credited on the cover.

Yes. Cut and dried, pure and simple, there is no The Last Ronin without Peter Laird.

What makes artists Esau and Isaac Escorza the right art team for this book?

Look, I can say all kinds of nice things about the Escorza Brothers… uber-talented, professional, flexible, diligent… but the best thing I can say to anyone reading this interview is to see for yourself because their art (as well as superstar-in-the-making Luis Antonio Delgado’s fantastic colors, and letterer-extraordinaire Shawn Lee’s balloons and text) truly speaks for itself. All egos aside, Kevin and I feel pretty confident we’re telling a damn good story, but we’re 100% certain THE LAST RONIN looks good.  Really, really good. Really!

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Can readers expect more Last Ronin stories in the future?

Time will tell, but I will share this much -- working on this first story has sparked something in both Kevin and I, and we’re already talking about both sequels and prequels we’d love to share with the world. It’ll most likely boil down to reader and critical reception… and sales, of course. If all the stars and planets line up the way we’re hoping they will -- and if the fan and retailer demand is there -- we’ve definitely got a whole new TMNT universe ready to rock and roll

Finally, you have a long history with TMNT yourself. The Turtles have gone through many iterations and this is the latest. What about TMNT makes them so malleable? So adaptable?

It would seem a complicated question to answer, but over the years, I’ve found it to be quite simple. Despite all the weird sci-fi/ninja/action/adventure trappings and settings that surround them, the TMNT, at their core, are a family of MILLIONS… and family is forever.

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TMNT: The Last Ronin (JUN200557) is available on October 28, 2020 at your local comic shop.

(W) Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Tom Waltz (A/CA) Kevin Eastman, Esau Escorza, Issac Escorza
It's the TMNT event of 2020! Springing from the minds of TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird comes an epic like you've never seen before! In a future NYC far different than the one we know today, a lone surviving Turtle goes on a seemingly hopeless mission to obtain justice for his fallen family and friends. Kinetic layouts from Eastman, inks from Esau and Isaac Escorza and a thrilling script full of surprises from longtime TMNT scribe Tom Waltz all combine to make this one of the most memorable TMNT stories you will ever read!
Oversized in both format and page count, this is a perennial TMNT tale that can't be missed!"
In Shops: Oct 28, 2020
SRP: $8.99
PREVIEWS Page #118

Troy-Jeffrey Allen is the producer and co-host of PREVIEWSworld Weekly. His comic book works include BAMN, Fight of the Century, the Harvey Award-nominated District Comics, and the Ringo Awards-nominated Magic Bullet.

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