6) Independent Comics
Where it all began! It’s certainly a jolt to go back to these comics if, like most people, you were introduced to TMNT through the cartoons. The Turtles are saying dirty words! And the foot soldiers aren’t robots! They’re people who bleed blood when the Turtles stab them! Hoooly [checks to see if parents are listening] crap!
Unfortunately once you get past the initial excitement of discovering the Turtles’ mildly taboo, violent past, you begin to realize that the original Eastman and Laird comics aren’t particularly good. They sit on this weird precipice between parody and serious storytelling — the plots are absurd and the writing is stilted, and it’s never clear how much of the silliness is intentional. If it’s all a joke, it’s not a particularly funny one. There have been a few good indie TMNT comics (they usually happen when Eastman and/or Laird hand the characters off to somebody else) but for the most part the Turtles’ black and white past is an interesting footnote you can largely skip.
5) Second Cartoon Series
A more serious treatment of our rude dude heroes, the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon added a more complex universe and long-term storytelling into the mix. This version of TMNT verged on being a genuinely top notch series at times, such as when the original black and white funnybook Turtles, goofy 80s cartoon Turtles and serious 2000s Turtles all met up in the pretty excellent Turtles Forever crossover. For the most part though, the show fell just short of cartoon classics like Batman: The Animated Series or Gargoyles and has already largely faded from the collective memory.
4) Animated Movie
The Turtles did the Pixar thing back in 2007 with TMNT, and the results were surprisingly good. Sure, the movie looked rather cheap stacked next to The Incredibles or Wall-E, but it successfully walked the fine line between fun and serious and it was probably the most successful the Turtles have ever been in terms of action. For a team of ninjas, the Turtles have been involved in a lot of pretty rote, clunky action scenes, but this movie was exciting stuff and the fight between Raph and Leonardo is the most epic showdown in TMNT history.