Tom Waltz Feels Turtle Power in "TMNT"

Five issues into IDW Publishing's relaunch of the evergreen "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" property, the creative team of Tom Waltz, Dan Duncan and "Turtles" co-creator Kevin Eastman have regrown the amphibious heroes from experimental ooze, introduced a new and deadly villain, established a cast of human allies and adversaries, and set one of the ninja brothers apart from the rest. "TMNT" has been through several incarnations throughout the years, beginning in 1984 as a black and white independent comic by Eastman and Peter Laird before rocketing to worldwide fame three years later. Nickelodeon ultimately bought the franchise in 2009, and IDW picked up the license for "Turtles" comics shortly after, bringing Eastman on board as co-writer and layout artist.

The new IDW continuity, still in its infancy, begins with the intelligent (though not-yet-humanoid) rat Splinter and four turtles Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael undergoing genetic experiments at a shady research facility. When ninja Foot soldiers break in to steal the lab's secrets, they take the turtles along. Splinter, already a fierce fighter, manages to free the captives, but in the process accidentally douses them -- and a nearby alley cat -- with a mysterious substance from the laboratory. The rat, the turtles and cat soon mutate into anthropomorphic forms, but Raphael finds himself separated from the others. The first arc of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" follows Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo as they search for their prodigal brother, while Raphael undergoes trials of his own.

With the first arc of the relaunched "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" behind him, series writer Tom Waltz expressed extraordinary enthusiasm for the title. "Honestly, this has been one of the best -- if not the best -- writing experiences in my career, and that's saying a lot because I've loved nearly every project I've been fortunate enough to be a involved with over the years," he told CBR. "I'm having an absolute blast working with crazy Kevin Eastman and the gang -- artist Dan Duncan, colorist Ronda Pattison, editor-extraordinaire Bobby Curnow and all the fine folks at Nickelodeon. I love the story we're building -- every time I finish a script, I'm ready to dive right into the next one. And the fans have been great! I've worked on a number of what I call fan-driven licenses -- things like 'Silent Hill,' 'Duke Nukem,' 'Dead Rising,' 'Ghostbusters,' etc. -- and I always do my best to be active in online forums, etc., not only because I like to see what the fans are saying, but because, first and foremost, I'm a fan myself. The 'TMNT' fans have welcomed me with open arms and, best of all, open minds. There is heated debate that takes place, but for the most part, it's civil and never boring -- I dig watching all the cool theories develop about what we're doing and what we might be up to.

"Also, 'TMNT' is something I can share with my entire family -- my lovely wife, my kids, everyone in my clan who has always supported my work -- which makes it even more special to me," Waltz continued. "So, yeah, awesome experience, and I really feel the best is yet to come."

In that first arc, spanning issues #1-4, Raphael was separated from the others as the Turtles' new origin story played out. Waltz said this allowed the creative team to highlight the traditional loner of the group, examining the ties that hold Splinter's students together. "The idea for Raph being separated from his family in the early issues was actually something that came to us from Nickelodeon in the initial stages of plotting. I think the thought process was, Raph's always been the rebel of the group -- the loner with a giant chip on his shoulder -- and we wanted to give a valid reason for why he is that way. Being lost and alone for what technically amounts to the first year of his life is something that would most definitely create that type of personality," Waltz said. "But, as time passes, readers will see that we have similar plans [to showcase] all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their supporting characters. We won't only show the TMNT's diverse personalities, we'll also show why they are as different and unique as they are."

The series has also introduced a new nemesis for the Turtles in Old Hob, an anthropomorphic cat with a special connection to the Turtles' origin. "It was actually IDW Chief Creative Officer and Editor in Chief Chris Ryall who gets credit for the existence of Old Hob," Waltz said. "We were in his office one day, discussing the early stages of the 'TMNT' plot, and he said something along the lines of, 'Maybe we should bring in a new villain for the Turtles to fight. Somebody cool and mean and street gritty. Like a mutated alley cat.' And, bang! The seed was planted in my brain for Old Hob. I threw ideas back and forth with Kevin and Bobby, then Dan did some character design work we all loved and Old Hob was born. Hob's got a lot of story left in him, too, with plenty of twists and turns yet to come. As Hob would say, he's friggin' fun to write!"

Following the initial four-part storyline, the self-contained issue #5 raised a number of questions about Splinter's origins and his connection with Hamato Yoshi, a samurai disgraced for standing against the wicked actions of his clan, led by Oroku Saki. "I'm extremely proud of the back-story we're building, the new origin, and I guarantee we'll be exploring it much more -- not just in the ongoing, but in our micro-series and miniseries books as well," Waltz said. "Issue #5 holds a special place in my comic book writing heart and I can't thank the creators who worked with me on it enough for all the beautiful work they put into it to bring my strange script to life. Nor could I be happier with the critical response, not to mention the outpouring of positive support and interest from the fans."

In the issues coming up, fans will see more of Baxter Stockman, and General Krang will finally make his presence known. Previous incarnations of "TMNT" have offered several takes on Baxter -- in the first cartoon, he was a human fly a la Jeff Goldblum -- while Krang usually is portrayed as a brain-like creature. CBR News asked Waltz how he is building from these characters' pasts to create new versions at IDW. "Well, I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say that fans will get to finally see General Krang in issue #7 and I think they will be very happy with what they see -- and very surprised," the writer said. "Like everything else we're doing with the series, there will be the familiar mixed with the new, and Dan Duncan's come up with some character designs in the second and third arcs that are gonna make readers squeal with delight -- I know I did when I first saw them! And just wait till we show who Krang is at war with!"

Continuing on the topic of supporting characters, April O'Neil, while integral to the Turtles' origin, has yet to meet the Heroes in a Half Shell in Waltz's story. Casey Jones, another human ally, has already fought alongside Raphael and has now been taken into the brothers' and Splinter's confidence. Waltz promised there are big plans for both non-mutant heroes. "April has always been one of my favorite popular culture characters. She's smart, feisty, brave, cute, loyal -- you name it! I'm a huge proponent of strong female characters in stories and April is one of the best and I'm absolutely honored to have the chance to write her. So, yeah, she will continue to play a big part in the ever-evolving storyline," Waltz said. "As for how she'll handle meeting the big, green, fighting machines, well, all I'll say is this (and Bobby C's gonna kill me for admitting this) -- make sure you buy issue #8 to find out! But, before that happens, plenty of other neat April moments in issues #6 and #7. Casey Jones, too!"

Artist Dan Duncan, working from Eastman's layouts, has given the series an interesting and distinctive look. Waltz said that he met Duncan through writer Scott Lobdell, who was writing the "Jennifer Love Hewitt's Music Box" miniseries Waltz edited. "He told me to check out Dan's stuff (which he loved). I did and, man, I was floored. Dan has a very distinct style -- indie and inky and exciting. He's not an artist to dwell on gobs of background details -- rather, he gives each panel a fun, open, kinetic energy, which works perfect for a story featuring giant turtles with a penchant for ninja fightin'!" Waltz said. "He just keeps getting better and better -- the pages he turned into us today for issue #8 were bombastic, man! And, I totally dig how he still finds ways to give each character -- including our heroes sans pupils -- so much emotion and character in their faces and their actions. I can't thank ol' Scotty Lobdell enough for introducing me to Dan and I hope to work with Mr. Duncan for a long time to come."

Waltz went on to further praise the rest of the "TMNT" creative team, including colorist Ronda Pattison ("She flat out rocks!) and, of course, Kevin Eastman, whom he described as "one of the nicest friggin' guys in the comic book biz and such a cool cat to collaborate with." "I'm here to tell you that I pinch myself every day to be sure I'm not dreaming, and remind myself that I'm very, very lucky to do this for a living," Waltz said. "I couldn't be happier to have my fellow fans right alongside for the ride. Turtle power, indeed!"

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