However (and sorry to sound like a hipster), I’ve always scoffed at the versions of the Turtles seen by the public since they have always been so much different than their original comic book incarnation. Lest we forget, TMNT started off as an independent black & white comic that was rather violent to say the least. The first issue ends with Leonardo impaling Shredder with his sword for Pete's sake!
While that image is so far removed from the kid-friendly, comedy-oriented Turtles from the cartoons and movies, it’s not an entirely accurate reflection of the original TMNT comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. When the series launched in 1984 it was an homage to Daredevil, Ronin, New Mutants and Cerebus. The Turtles weren’t marketed or depicted as generic comic book superheroes because they didn’t have super powers. Additionally, they weren’t so much vigilantes as they were samurais engaging in gang warfare with The Foot Clan and other street gangs. And though it’s not a gory comic book per se (except for that panel shown above), the implication is that the Turtles don’t just incapacitate their enemies; they fight to the death.
The earliest issues of the series take the Turtles on a whirlwind of adventure, mostly in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. Though they have their encounters with mad scientists and street thugs, at one point they find themselves transported to another dimension fighting triceratops in a coliseum while helping a buxom babe escape from a time lord while befriending an android, and then go back in time and fight alongside Cerebus in an epic Lord Of The Rings-style battle.
However, the actual scripts leave much to be desired. These comics are clearly regurgitating Silver and Bronze Age tropes with the plots often seeming trite and contrived. The dialogue itself is quite cheesy at times. Still, these early issues are fun to read because you can tell how much enthusiasm Eastman and Laird have for their creation as well as comic book history (the comics are peppered with subtle in-jokes and references). It’s an interesting amalgamation of 1970s-style chop-socky martial arts movies and sci-fi/fantasy of the Conan and Heavy Metal variety.
It wasn’t until after the live-action movie was released in 1990 that I discovered the TMNT comics. A friend of mine had some trade paperbacks that reprinted the earliest issues in color. I remember being amazed at how different the comics were from the cartoon show, as well as being impressed by how closely the movie followed the comics rather than the animated series.