Beginning in 1988 and continuing right up until they ceased publication of TMNT comics in 2010, Mirage has given us snippets and glimpses of a bizarre and thoroughly depressing future for their Ninja Turtles. Like all good cryptic peeks at one’s fate, the view is non-linear, muddled, confusing and mysterious, but fascinating all the same.
With Mirage no longer publishing Turtle comics, and therefore all the pieces of the puzzle that are ever going to exist now spread out on the card table, I’m going to attempt my level best to fit them all together into something approaching a coherent narrative.
Yeah, good luck with that, Mark.
Important things to note:
These snippets of the future era of the TMNT were written over the span of twenty years, by multiple authors, out of chronological order and I don’t think it would be too offensive of me to assume that a concrete concept of what that future was like was never actually specified but “made up as they went”.
So bearing that in mind, not all the pieces of the puzzle fall perfectly into place, be it conflicting dates, the appearances of the Turtles given their ages or even story points involving such minor things as Armageddon. For a rationalization in regards to these incongruities that works within the fictional confines of the Turtles universe, Renet has made it clear that the future is not set in stone, but every decision made can alter its outcome. So, basically, “Back to the Future” rules.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #45 (April, 2008), “Rocks”
During the six months in 2001 when the Utroms were establishing themselves on Earth and aliens began integrating with human culture, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello decided to take advantage of their newfound ability to walk amongst surface dwellers and go for a camping trip. Mike is captured by hideous man-creatures and taken deep within a cave where he meets a Lovecraftian god. The god tells Mike that for every lie man tells, the rocks of their planet crack. Very soon, their world will crumble from the weight of their lies and he must escape its destruction. But first, he’s gonna eat Mike.
Don and Raph rescue Mike and seal the god deep within his cave alongside his army of man-creatures. Mike thanks Raph for saving him, but Raph just brushes the praise off, promising Mikey, “If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that we will always be there for each other”. As he speaks those words, however, a large rock begins to crack.
Notes: This story takes place early in TMNT (Vol. 4), during the six month gap within TMNT (Vol. 4) #5. Though not yet within the future era, it foreshadows its events in a few ways. The Lovecraftian god warning that Earth will soon crumble beneath the weight of man’s lies will prove true when man’s neglect of the environment causes a worldwide ecological catastrophe in just a few years. The cracking of the rock at Raph’s words also foreshadows the imminent splitting of the Turtles, who each go their separate ways sometime around the great disaster.
“Several years” after the Utroms revealed themselves to the world, they discovered that Earth’s environmental problems were unsalvageable and a massive global climate change was about to trigger Armageddon. As sea levels rose, the Utroms initiated a planet-wide evacuation. Many Earthlings chose to stay behind, however, including the Jones family and the TMNT.
At some point around this time, the Turtles split up and went their separate ways.
Notes: The Utroms came to Earth in 2001, according to TMNT (Vol. 4), with this back story taking place only “several years” after that. We see Shadow watching the Utroms leave the planet with the evacuees and she is still a teenager close to how she appeared in TMNT (Vol. 4), indicating that by “several years”, they meant “not many”.
Plastron Café #1 (December, 1992), “Old Times”
In the “early 21st century”, Donatello has moved to the Honda Province of Japan, to an isolated home far in the mountains. With his computer, “Chet”, Don initiates a simulated holographic battle program, fighting the Shredder and the Foot on a New York rooftop, circa 1985. Don forcibly ends the simulation when “Chet” includes circa 1985 versions of himself and his three brothers. Moved to tears, Don informs “Chet” never to do that again.
Notes: The glimpse of Japan we receive paints it as a beautiful, unspoiled landscape, contradicting the flooded end of the world scenario in the “Dark Shadows” back story. It could just be that only parts of the Earth were ruined by the global climate change. Exactly why the sight of his brothers brings him to tears is uncertain, only that they have already split up for reasons unknown. Also, Don still has his eyesight (that's about to become important in a second).
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #69 (April, 2010), “Dark Shadows” (main story)
Many years have passed since the flooding of Earth and Shadow has become a hardened ninja, traveling the globe in search of Raphael, who scarred her face in a previous encounter. She tracks Raph down to a swamp after beating the information out of the remains of the Foot Clan, led by Cha Ocho.
She confronts her former “sensei”. We learn that Casey has passed away and Raph and Shadow became bitter enemies after Shadow did something awful to Donatello. Raph refuses to make amends and the pair fight. With her katana, she slices out Raphael’s left eye. She chooses not to finish him, opting to leave the fight, instead.
From a vantage point, Renet shows this battle to a younger Raphael plucked from the past, letting him know what fate will befall Shadow should he chooses to become her sensei. Raph is distressed, but knowing that if he doesn’t, Shadow will die young at the hands of Foot Ninja, Raph chooses to go through with her martial arts training.
Notes: It is never clearly stated what Shadow did to Donatello and what caused her to do it. When we later see Don, he is blind, so the implication would be that Shadow was the one who blinded him. Raph refers to her as a “traitor”, though the extent of her treason is unknown beyond hurting Don. Casey is apparently dead, and Shadow refers to April in such a way as to indicate she may be dead, too.
TMNT (Vol. 3) #25 (February-March, 2012), “Christmas Past”
On Christmas, Shadow finishes slaying several old mobsters. She thinks to herself how she used to refuse to believe that her biological father was the murdered mobster Albert Puzorelli. However, now that she has lost everything, she has only family vendettas to keep her going. She then reflects on a particular Christmas, many years ago, right after Michelangelo had rescued her from her biological grandfather, mob boss Tony Puzorelli. As the memory fades, Shadow knows that no matter what her journey through life takes from her, she will always have her memories of better times and the lessons she has learned from them.
Notes: From Shadow's perspective, this story could take place either before or after "Dark Shadows". However, considering how she reflects on everything in life being taken from her, I think it fits best after she has burned her last bridge with Raphael and is left truly alone.
Michaelangelo (microseries) #1 (2nd printing) (December, 1990), “A Christmas Carol”
When the Charles Dickens-based Spirits of Christmas decide to teach present-day Raphael some holiday spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Future takes Raph to the swamps where he encounters his future-self. The one-eyed Raph of the future leaps down from the treetops, snarls at him like a wild animal, gets distracted and scampers off into the murk. Realizing what’ll happen to him if he forsakes the love of his family, Raph returns to the present having learned a valuable lesson.
Notes: The future-Raph seen here seems to have "gone feral", snarling and barking like a wild animal and getting distracted just as easily. Seeing as how he doesn't look as elderly as in his later appearance, "Choices", I like to think of this as happening right after his eye-gouging in "Dark Shadows". Hey, you'd be pissed, too.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #41 (December, 2007), “Swan Song” (main story)
While in San Francisco, Leonardo hooks up with Radical. They travel America together, eventually returning to the dilapidated ruins of Casey’s old farm in Northampton. At their next stop, New York City to visit the other Turtles, Complete Carnage returns after years of being unaccounted for and kills Radical in a single motion. Leo and his brothers bury Radical in Northampton and Leo begins a quest for revenge. He eventually stumbles into a secret monastery at the base of Mt. Fuji, and after many years, learns the fruitlessness of revenge and attains inner peace.
Much older, Leo returns to San Francisco and hunts down Complete Carnage, who has taken several women hostage. He attempts to forgive him for murdering Radical, but Carnage shows no remorse and begins murdering his hostages. Enraged, Leo chops Carnage in half, killing him. Leo then swears off killing and hurls his old katana into San Francisco Bay.
Notes: All four Turtles appear at Radical’s funeral, causing some continuity hiccups. Raph is missing his eye, which would place this story after “Dark Shadows”, though he seems to have mellowed out from his appearance in "A Christmas Carol". However, Mikey is present, which would put it before the epilogue seen in “A Day in the Life”, where Mikey is unaccounted for. Don is wearing goggles, which would be a weird thing for a blind guy to wear, but it’s only one panel and his eyes are closed, so there’s no saying that he isn’t blind (the goggles could also be a device he built to compensate for his blindness). The world Leo explores, however, appears pristine (if futuristic) wherever he goes, as opposed to a post-Apocalyptic Hellhole. I suppose one could just argue that only parts of the planet were ruined by global warming… just not any of the parts Leo decided to visit.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #55 (February, 2009), “A Day in the Life” (epilogue)
After recalling a day in their youth, when all four Turtles and Splinter were a family living in the sewers, Raph is interrupted by a malfunctioning April O’Neil robot. Raph (wearing an eye-patch) grumbles that Don said he fixed the bugs in the robot-April and attempts, and fails, to repair her himself. Raph then picks up his old childhood teddy bear, Brown Bear, and quietly says, “Good night, Mikey… wherever you are…”
Notes: In this epilogue, Raph is seen sitting on a rooftop in a flooded city with crumbling skyscrapers collapsing all around, tying into the end of the world setting seen in “Dark Shadows”. Raph speaks of Donatello as if he had spoken with him at some point within recent memory, so even though the Turtles are separated, they still remain within contact (as previously indicated in "Swan Song"). The April robot is a bit strange, though “Dark Shadows” seemed to imply that April was dead (or faded into the Kirby world, since she is actually a magic doodle). Kind of a morbid gift, Don. Raph’s words about Mikey indicate he’s either lost or dead, a mystery that is never resolved, as future-Mikey is never physically seen again after this point.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #40 (November, 2007), “Silent Knight”
It is the year 2060. After finding a baby in the sewers of Tokyo, Raph attempts to protect it from a horde of Foot Soldiers and what appear to be radioactive zombies. Raph loses the baby in the brawl, but enlists the help of a band of laser-toting punks to help fight his way through Foot Headquarters to the throne of Karai. The withered Karai explains that the baby is her great-granddaughter Motoko, and that she set the whole thing up, herself. When Raph demands an explanation, Karai explains that she just missed “the good old days”. Disgusted, Raph and his gang of punks leave Foot Headquarters.
Notes: As with “Old Times”, Japan seems to have been spared the global devastation seen in “Dark Shadows” and “A Day in the Life”. Tokyo is presented as a “Blade Runner”-esque futuristic urban Hellhole, though, rather than the scenic beauty seen in “Old Times”. Raph says to Karai, “The world’s become a harsher place”. He could be referencing the global disaster or just the urban decay. Cha Ocho was previously seen in charge of the remains of the Foot Clan, though its possible the Clan had split up at some point.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #38 (September, 2007), “Triptyche” (framing device)
In his training and meditation chamber, an elderly Leonardo looks over the old wooden bokken that he and his brothers used to train with as children. Kneeling down before a photograph of Splinter, Leo recalls one of his earliest adventures, when he and his brothers (unknowingly) encountered Leatherhead in the sewers. Concluding his meditation, Leo places the bokken back on the rack and takes a look at another photo, this time of Splinter and all four Turtles when they were very young. Leonardo muses that his father, his brothers and his family are all history, now, and that his memories are all that he has left. Exiting the chamber, he walks out onto the balcony of a futuristic building and observes the sunset over the ocean.
Notes: It is hard to place where this fits in Leonardo’s future timeline. His cybernetic bokken (the bokken in this story are just plain wooden ones, not related) is not shown, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist at the point this story takes place, it’s just a good indicator of whether the story takes place before or after his hundredth birthday. His home is also a new one, as it is neither the Japanese temple seen in “Loops, Part 2” and “Swan Song” or the treehouse in San Francisco seen in “Swan Song”. At best guess, I’d say this story takes place between the main story seen in “Swan Song”, after Leonardo vanquishes Complete Carnage and swears off killing, and his appearance in “Loops, Part I” where he lives in the Mt. Fuji temple. I suppose he just decided to live in a futuristic apartment between those stories.
The Puma Blues #20 (1988), “Choices”
As a hunter in a swamp attempts to shoot a flying manta ray, mysterious shuriken first knock away his rifle, then sink his raft. The hunter looks through his scope and spots a geriatric, one-eyed Raphael, concealed in the trees, taunting him with a fistful of shuriken. As the hunter gives up and storms off, the one-eyed, elderly Raph relaxes in the trees, petting the flying manta ray he rescued before setting it free.
Notes: Raph, as seen in this story, is about as wrinkled and old as he’s ever been drawn, which makes me want to put this at the end of his timeline. The flying manta rays were staples of The Puma Blues comic, but their presence here fits with the end of the world stuff we’d been seeing, with lots of weird monsters lurking about (“Dark Shadows” featured a strange sea serpent or massive tentacle in the sea around Shadow’s raft, while radioactive zombies appeared in “Silent Knight”).
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #13-14 (July-August, 2005), “Loops, Part 1” and “Loops, Part 2”
(Part 1) The mystical monkey, Pai-Doth Noor summons four versions of Leonardo from across the time-stream to aid him in a task: Leonardo at ages 8, 15, 45 and 100 years. He sends them to ancient Egypt to deliver a crystal to a specific place. 45 year-old Leo is cynical, hard-edged and more no-nonsense than ever before. The 100 year-old Leo is more contemplative and wise, with a demeanor closer to Master Splinter’s, and wielding a cybernetic katana. The four Leonardo enter an ancient city and are attacked by cat-people.
(Part 2) 100-Leo eventually reveals to 15-Leo that his cybernetic katana, his “bokken”, was a gift to him from Donatello on his one-hundredth birthday; it channels electricity through the blade by force of will. As he dispatches an opponent, 100-Leo remarks that he swore never to kill again many years ago. They complete Pai’s task; delivering a magical crystal to his infant-self, allowing his older spirit to enter his infant body, thus permitting Pai to live forever via a “loop”. Pai returns each Turtle to their proper time, though without the memory of the adventure. 100-Leo is the only one who recalls it, as he reflects upon the quest in his home in Japan.
Note: 100-Leo may very well be older than 100, but a specific age was never given for him, just that he received his bokken from Don on his hundredth birthday. Leo swore off the killing of others after killing Complete Carnage, putting his appearance here well after that future era story. The Japan he returns to is only barely glimpsed in one panel, where it appears to be a hybrid of “scenic” Japan with futuristic elements (a flying car can be seen).
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #41 (December, 2007), “Swan Song” (framing device)
The year 2099, an elderly Leo exits the forests of Mt. Fuji and reenters the futuristic, cyber-punk cities of Japan. He travels the globe until he reaches San Francisco, where he sits down by the Bay and remembers the death of his love, Radical, and the revenge he took on Complete Carnage for murdering her. Leo then picks up his bokken and enters a tree-house in the city. He remarks that he is at last ready for “the next life”, and lays down to sleep.
Notes: The implication at the end is that Leo is laying down to pass away peacefully in his sleep, which of course would mean this must take place after his appearance in “Loops”. 2099 is the furthest concrete date we’ve gotten for any of the stories. If the timeline remains static and Leo was 15 in 1985, that would make him 129 years-old in this story.
Tales of the TMNT Original Vol. 1 Treasury Edition (2007), frontispieces and epilogue
In his lab, a blind and elderly Donatello begins reminiscing about many of his greatest and weirdest adventures. He is eventually joined by his three brothers and the Turtles recall their adventures as they visit numerous strange locals, including the grave of Casey Jones, a vault containing the unconscious body of Complete Carnage, the Bayou and even the age of dinosaurs.
It all turns out to be nothing more than a holographic simulation from Don’s computer titled “Reunion”. Don ends the program and his brothers vanish into the ether, having only been projections. Don feels his way to his bed, and laying down, asks his computer to play John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” album until he has fallen asleep for half an hour. Renet watches Don, who doesn’t even know she’s there, and begins crying. She then uses her time scepter to go back to a “better time” and joins all four Turtles, Splinter, April and Casey for a picnic, wiping away her tears.
Notes: The implication I got from the end of this story is that Don won’t be waking up again, much like the end for Leo in “Swan Song”. The presence of an elderly Mikey in Don’s simulation is suspicious, as we do not know what happened to Mikey after his brief appearance in the main story from “Swan Song”, but he was nothing but a simulation here, after all, and the program was titled “reunion”. Holo-Mikey speaks very eloquently, with a great handle on vocabulary and alliteration, as would befit someone who has made a career out of writing (something Mikey was seen attempting in the series). It is doubtful Don fabricated this older and wiser personality, so we at least know what Mikey might have behaved like in his old age.
There are other stories that take place in the future of the Mirage Turtles, but they either don’t directly relate to the timeline of the Turtles themselves or are so contradictory that they must take place in an alternate future.
In TMNT (Vol. 2) #1 (October, 1993), both Splinter and Donatello share a vision in which an unknown Turtle murders Splinter. At some point in the future (there’s a flying car in the sky), an older Don travels to the Japanese village of Chihaya, the place of Splinter’s birth, to bury his sensei. The meaning of this cryptic dream (the issue was full of em) is unknown, as Splinter dies of a heart attack in TMNT (Vol. 4) #10, not at the hands of a Turtle, and is cremated in a funeral pyre in Central Park, not buried in Japan in the near-future. Although Don was seen taking a sample of Splinter’s fur in issue #11, and as we've seen, he later moves to Japan, exactly what these events mean in relation to the cryptic dream is uncertain.
The story “Road Hogs”, published in the Palladium Books “After the Bomb” supplement, features Raph in a post-Apocalyptic future, mentoring a new generation of mutant turtles to protect villagers from marauding cycle gangs of mutant animals. While the post-Apocalyptic setting would fit with what we saw in “Dark Shadows”, the explanation for the end of the world is completely different (nuclear bombs destroyed everything and the radiation mutated ordinary animals into anthropomorphic monsters). Raph, though old and senile, is seen with both eyes, too, thus ruling this story out.
Gizmo & the Fugitoid #1-2 take place firmly in the Mirage Turtles universe, but do not have much of anything to do with the Turtles-themselves. It’s a space adventure where Gizmo and Fluffy try to help a wayward Professor Honeycutt (alias, the Fugitoid) return to the Utrom Homeworld. The only evidence placing this story in the future is the fact that that’s where all of Gizmo’s adventures from his own comic series take place, and with the Fugitoid being a robot, he’s pretty much immortal, anyway.
Well, it’s all very depressing, isn’t it? For all their fun and wacky adventures, none of the Turtles really get much of a happy ending.
The world ends, all four Turtles go their separate ways and their lives seem to fall apart from there.
Mikey vanishes and we never know what becomes of him. He could either be dead or simply unaccounted for. If it’s the latter, there’s no indication his brothers ever find out where he went before they die. It’s nice to know, even if only in a holographic glimpse, what he might have acted like as an old man, and maybe even have been a successful author. But we’ll never know the truth, I guess.
Raph falls out with Shadow, gets his eye gouged-out and goes to live in a swamp for the rest of his days (though he apparently does do a little globe-trotting). He still keeps in contact with his brothers, at least after he got over being monstrously pissed, and eventually finds peace protecting the animals of the swamp. A pretty relaxed ending for the Turtle I always expected to wind-up bleeding to death face-down on a barroom floor.
Leo turns into a middle-aged jerk, then mellows after getting some action with Radical. Then she’s murdered and he spends the rest of his life in solemn meditation, trying to attain inner peace. Once he gets it, he says his spiritual goodbyes to his loved ones and crawls into a tree to die. Well, at least he didn’t die a virgin.
Donatello is blinded by Shadow, which pretty much destroys the relationship between the Turtles and the last living member of the Jones family (Casey and April being dead through means unrevealed). Just why, even before he was blind, Don was so saddened by the sight of his brothers is uncertain, though they had gone their separate ways at that point, so maybe he just missed them. This might indicate that they split up on unpleasant terms and the memory of their parting was very upsetting. Don appears to die alone in his home, remembering the good times he had with his beloved family.
Leonardo seems to receive the "happiest" ending, having come to terms with all the tragedy in his life and dying peacefully. Well, I suppose that isn't exactly "happy", but it’s a damn sight better than vanishing into thin air, going crazy in a swamp or passing away blind and full of nostalgic regret.
Everyone thinks that the Turtles’ battlecry is “Cowabunga!”, but so far as the Mirage universe goes, I think the quote from Donatello (microseries) #1, “Life at best is bittersweet,” fits a heck of a lot better. Poor guys. Now I’m gonna cry whenever I eat pizza.
UPDATE: For Mirage staffer Dan Berger's thorough run-down of my timeline as presented in this article, check out his response here!