Review – TMNT: Best of Rat King (IDW Publishing)

Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer(s): Jim Lawson, Ryan Brown, Dean Clarrain, Kevin Eastmen, Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz
Artist(s): Jim Lawson, Ryan Brown, Gary Gields, Mateus Santolouco, Mark Torres, Cory Smith
Colours: Barry Grossman, Ronda Pattison
Lettering: Steve Lavigne, Gary Fields, Shawn Lee
Release Date: 18th May 2022

As we head into this summer’s ‘Armageddon Game’, IDW are giving us something of a refresher course in Rat King, one of the most interesting TMNT villains, and one who promises to feature prominently in the upcoming event.

For my money, IDW’s “best of” releases to this point have been a bit of a mixed bag, mainly due to the sheer volume of material out there and the difficulty in selecting a relatively small amount of issues that constitute the “best” for a particular character.  That said, I’m a big fan of Rat King and I’m loving the idea of an entire event focused more or less around him, so let’s see how this latest release measures up:

Up first, rather fittingly, we have the first appearance of the character from 1988’s Tales of the TMNT #4.  Written and illustrated by Jim Lawson, this is a thoroughly entertaining issue, even if the Rat King featured here doesn’t even remotely resemble the Pantheon member that newer fans will be familiar with.  This version of RK is a decidedly mortal man living in an derelict building and gradually going insane, convincing himself that he’s some sort of monster.  Lawson’s scratchy artwork and haunting narration gives this story a decidedly unsettling vibe, that stands out from the rest of the TMNT offerings at that time, and presents a fresh new threat that would ultimately never really be capitalized on – in this form, at least.

Up next, we have TMNT Adventures #11 from the 1990 Archie Comics run. Honestly, the inclusion of this issue feels a little pointless, given the fact that Rat King, now going by Ha’ntaan, only appears in 6 of the 27 pages.  As I said above, it can be tricky selecting key issues to shine a light on a particular character, but quite why this one made the cut is a mystery to me.  As a kicker, I’ve always hated the black ‘Stump Arena’ suit version of Raphael, so even the remainder of the issue – which features the brothers fighting a jacked-up Foot Soldier and trying to track down Shredder and Krang in the sewers – is a fairly joyless experience.

Finally, and thankfully, we jump ahead to IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #36 from 2014, a thrilling issue that features the familiar Pantheon version of Rat King prominently as he plays some games with Leo and Splinter when the inadvertently stray into his sewer lair. If new readers were looking for a perfect snapshot of the character, you probably couldn’t do much worse than this issue.  Written by the familiar Eastman/Curnow/Waltz triumvirate and illustrated by the iconic TMNT artistic partnership of Mateus Santoulouco and Ronda Pattinson, this is the menacing, mischievous and manipulative Rat King we love to hate, and watching him toy with two our heroes so effectively is a real treat.

While the inclusion of the middle issue drags this collection (and my final rating) down considerably, it is bookended by two really high quality offerings that serve to showcase the growth of the Rat King character over the last 30-odd years, as well as his innate appeal as we head into Armageddon Game. These offerings alone already make this one of the most essential of IDW’s TMNT “best of” releases, and the first issue in particular almost justifies the cover price on its own.

Rating: 3.5/5.


The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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