"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Volume 1 Deluxe Limited Edition - Red Label" isn't a comic the casual reader or TMNT fan is going to pick up this week from their local comic shop, but it is certainly something the most dedicated Turtle fans will want to seek out and add to their collection. From the IDW Limited division of IDW Publishing, this collection reprints "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Volume 1" released in December 2011 and comes in three variations: Red Label, Black Label and Blue Label. Each of those variations is limited in quantity and (naturally) increases in price, but carries with it an extra incentive.
The Red Label is the base package, presented in a sturdy slipcase that showcases new art by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator, Kevin Eastman. The Black and Blue Labels come in a traycase and include full-color illustrations by Kevin Eastman. Signed by Eastman, this book features a vellum overlay printed with a beautiful green and black duotone of Raphael and Donatello battling Shredder's warriors directly behind the title page bearing Eastman's signature. In the copy reviewed, Eastman's autograph actually bleeds through the page a bit, virtually thanking the vellum for blocking a nasty ink blot on the next page.
After that, this book presents oversized reproductions of the first seven issues of the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" series as well as the Raphael one-issue micro-series. Each of those issues clocks in well over the current-day standard of twenty story pages (in the case of the first issue, you get double that and the pages are full) followed by notes and page annotations. Some of the backmatter notes are culled from Peter Laird's blog, but the words of insight and page annotations from Eastman are collected and presented fresh for this volume. Consider them DVD extras or nerd nuggets, but the additional reading following the "real" read makes for a nice collection in and of itself.
The package is incredibly well crafted. I could not find a printing location for this book and the slipcase anywhere in the collection, but that didn't preclude me from being able to enjoy the heavier stock on the matte-finished pages. The matte finish seems primed to keep the pages from gaining unwanted moisture or tackiness as sometimes happens with similarly-sized volumes featuring glossy pages. Given that most of the art in this volume is grayscale (excluding the occasional full-color images of some covers included), matte just lends itself to a better read.
The story itself is a collection of artistic progression. Covering two years, the material gives fans a reinterpretation of when the Turtles went from parody to viable property and when the creators went from energetic amateurs to more refined artists, pacing out their stories and taking greater advantage of the page real estate available to them. On the flip side, the collection can also be viewed as a time capsule, dropped into the twenty-first century to remind humanity of big hair, boom boxes and VW buses. These stories bring readers up to speed with the turtle quartet, their rat sensei and allies and adversaries as luminous as Casey Jones, Shredder and the Triceratons.
Packaged in the aforementioned slipcase, this collection holds up nicely compared to DC's Absolute line of collected editions. I would actually go so far as to say this volume exceeds the standards of DC's collections. The slipcase box is much sturdier and the binding is comfortable and welcoming. Reading this book I didn't feel like I was forever "ruining" a collector's edition as I set it on the table to better absorb the entire presentation. It laid flat nicely and retained its crispness that was present when I first took it out of the slipcase.
Not to be overlooked, this 319-page collection boasts a red satin bookmark ribbon. Sure, some fans are going to just sit down and blaze through this book, but for those discerning fans taking a more studious stroll through 1980s nostalgia, the bookmark is certain to be a lifesaver.
While this collection is very similar (if not identical) in size and substance to previous collections of this material, enthusiasts who missed those other offerings or held out waiting for the "perfect" package are sure to find a worthy investment. I caution owners of those previous collected editions to seriously consider the upgrade offered here. Although this is a sturdier, higher-quality, signed version of the hardcover collection offered up roughly one year ago, a slipcase and some new artwork may not justify the investment for every consumer. For completionists and those needing to fill that turtle-sized hole on their bookcases, however, this book is something to consider.
This limited edition currently has a pre-order event on IDW's website and dedicated fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will want to track it down. While IDW has recently produced a hardcover collection of the core material present in this collection, the convenient and robust nature of this package makes those versions fairly obsolete. I can't personally justify the price jump from Red Label to Black or Blue, but the bang for the buck from the Red Label collection is spot on, especially for shellheads needing to scratch that turtle itch. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans might want to be a little more well-behaved this holiday season because this sure as heck beats a lump of coal.