In 1996, Erik Larsen got the rights to the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and with Gary Carlson, turned the Turtles world upside down. The story picks up right where the previous Turtles series end, but quickly flips everything on it's head. From issue one you know that this series is going to throw surprise after surprise at you. It isn't just the shocking physical and emotional trauma the turtles go through. There are a bunch of surprising guest stars, some from the Mirage universe and a lot from the Image universe. Carlson ties in Savage Dragon's supporting cast into a handful of issues.
While there wasn't a drastic personality shift, there were drastic physical shifts in the Turtles. In the first issue Donatello is shot repeatedly by cyborgs, kidnapped and thrown out of a helicopter, paralyzed and then turned into a cyborg. Not drastic enough? Well Raphael gets his face burned, which blinds one eye, he starts wearing a patch, then Casey Jones spare mask and finally dons the Shredder’s armor and becomes leader of the Foot Clan. Leo looses a hand. Oh and Splinter is transformed into a giant rampaging bat creature very early on. While this may all seem shocking, and it is, this book is fast paced, action packed, and for the most part well written. It's a forgotten gem in the Turtles world.
Once you get past the physical damage that is done to the Turtles. It has a lot going for it. There is good action, great character development and really great (at times) art by Frank Fosco. Fosco's art is reminiscent of a bit of Kirby mixed with Buschema and a bit of his own magic thrown in. He is able to capture emotions on the faces of the Turtles well, even if it is hard to tell them apart occasionally, but that has always been a problem with the black and white books. Though once Donnie becomes a cyborg and Raph looses an eye, you really only have to worry about figuring out who the other two turtles are if you can't see weapons.
One of my favorite stories in the series revolves around Mikey who while baby sitting Casey and April's adopted daughter, falls asleep and their daughter, Shadow, is kidnapped. The rage and sadness that Casey experiences as well as Michelangelo’s grief over loosing his friend's daughter is one of the best emotional gut punches in the series. It's moments like these that make me love the series. Sure there are some great fights with ninjas, but seeing Mike break down was an emotional gut punch.
I first discovered this series when I was in high school. I was already familiar with the Turtles from TV and the comics. Seeing the characters I had grew up with and loved mutilated on the page killed me. But I kept coming back. Month after month I plopped down my hard earned money and read each issue wanting to know what was going to happen next. This iteration of the Turtles is what made me first realize that it didn't matter what happens to a character I love, as long as it was a compelling story, moved the plot along, and provided room for the characters to grow. It also helped that the Savage Dragon and a few supporting characters showed up from time to time.
This series is worth checking out if you are a fan of the Turtles and want to see something new done with them. Unfortunately this series has been retconned out of continuity. In large part due to Peter Laird not having much or any say in the direction the book went. Once this series was over and the next Mirage one started a few years latter I believe one of the Turtles makes an off hand comment about a bad dream in reference to this run. So while it isn't technically canonical, it is still fun and worth a look at.