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After a long hiatus, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Peter Laird, relaunched the original comic series that was, at one point, arguably the most successful independent comic of all time. Bringing it back to its roots — gritty, violent, emotionally complex, with black-and-white interior art — Laird wanted to continue backing away from the sillier, kid-friendly version that dominated the culture in the 80s and 90s; he personally retook the reins as writer of the series to set the characters on the course that perhaps only he as creator was qualified to. In that sense, Volume 4 has been a success, with the new stories radically diverging from what’s gone before while still keeping the style and sense of the early stuff — the Turtles have grown up and mostly gone their separate ways; even their rat sensei, Master Splinter, has died of old age. But sales figures for Volume 4 were never high, and Laird suspended the series yet again so he could oversee production of the new TMNT cartoon series and CGI movie (which are awesome, by the way) while trying to figure out a new distribution method that would make sense for the sort of company that Mirage is and the sort of readership that TMNT has. What he came up with is particularly novel and totally in the spirit of independent publishing that Laird (and co-creator Kevin Eastman) started out in: the issues will be available in full for free, as a pdf through the website or as lower-resolution jpgs from; limited-edition hardcopies of the book can be ordered by snail-mail. It’s a fantastic step towards the increasing legitimization of digital media distribution, and Mirage should be commended for breaking away from the centralized corporate model for comics and disseminating the book on their own instead — and for free, no less. Didn’t leave myself a lot of space to review the actual comic, did I? Okay, briefly: the Turtles’ human pal Casey Jones drowns his troubles at a New York bar packed with aliens trying to integrate into Earth society now that the existence of extraterrestrials has been publicly revealed (the whole scene is a hilarious callback to a very early TMNT issue where the Turtles themselves did some underage drinking when accidentally teleported to a Mos Eisley-esque establishment in deep space); Leonardo is trying to solve the mystery of the interdimensional arena known as the Battle Nexus; and Michelangelo is on the run after escaping imprisonment by the Triceratons. It’s a lot for forty pages, and I sort of wish that they’d stick to focusing on one aspect of the ongoing storyline per issue. But that’s a minor complaint. The writing and the art are as dynamic, funny and familiar as ever, and the action sequences are exciting and beautifully rendered. Peter Laird and Jim Lawson know these characters and their world better than practically anyone, and it shows. (Richard Rosenbaum)

Peter Laird (writer) and Jim Lawson (illustrator), Free/$15, 40 pages, Mirage Publishing, P.O. Box 417, Haydenville, MA, 01039, USA,

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