The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just made its theatrical comeback with its latest reboot for the franchise, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem, and as you may very well know – the TMNT wasn't originally a cinematic franchise, but rather originally came from underground comic books.
Now the question is, which major studio owns the Ninja Turtles? Disney, Marvel, or DC?
In this article, we will take a deep dive into the comics and media history of the teenage mutant ninja turtles.
Hopefully after reading this explainer, you will have a more expanded idea of TMNT’s origins and adventures in recent years. So all together now – cowabunga!
Are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Marvel or DC? Who Owns TMNT Explained
To put it simply: no, the teenage mutant ninja turtles are not owned by DC.
The comics versions of our favorite green half-shell warriors were owned by Mirage Studios for three full decades, starting from 1984 until 2014.
Right now, there’s an ongoing TMNT comic book published by IDW Publishing, which had acquired licensing rights from Mirage Studios back in 2011, and as of writing this, the ongoing comics has already published a total of 141 issues.
Of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would make other appearances in other comics publications outside of Mirage Studios and IDW Publishing, as well as in other various forms of media, in the last few decades.
Are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Owned By Disney?
No, the teenage mutant ninja turtles are not owned by the Walt Disney Company, either.
But given the enduring popularity of these pizza-loving foursome among younger audiences, it is easy to see why a lot of people might assume that TMNT is just another Disney property.
After all, Disney not only owns timeless characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy, but also other mega-popular fare like the Star Wars universe (including The Mandalorian), the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies and shows, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and every short film and full-length miracle from Pixar.
It is possible though that folks might have confused Disney’s involvement with that of another kiddie-oriented media company – Nickelodeon.
TMNT, after all, was sold to Nickelodeon in 2009, although at that time, the comics creators had retained the right to continue publishing the comic books series under Mirage Studios.
For its part, Nickelodeon sure did make the most of its TMNT global rights. Three years after acquiring the TMNT brand, it released the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles computer-generated (CG) animated series for television, which ran for five seasons from 2012 until 2017.
Not content with that half-decade run, Nickelodeon followed the series up with the Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2D-animated show, which ran from 2018 until 2020, then later spawned a full-length feature film that was released on Netflix in 2022.
Are Ninja Turtles Superheroes?
Yes, the teenage mutant ninja turtles can be considered superheroes.
Sure, not one of them possesses typical superpowers like flight, Superman-level strength, invulnerability, energy projection, telekinesis, or telepathy, to name a few, but they do have fantastic and extraordinary skills and abilities in their own right to uphold their title.
See, before they became the world’s most fearsome fighting team, they were just four ordinary baby turtles. One day, they found themselves sent down to the sewers where they encountered two things – a mysterious canister containing an ooze with mutagenic properties and a really smart rat.
The former imbued them with human personalities and physiques, while the latter (also mutated into Master Splinter) gave them the ninjutsu training (and clever names) to become the teenage mutant ninja turtles we know and love today.
So how powerful are the ninja turtles? Let us start with their physiological makeup.
Due to the ooze that mutated their DNA, their muscular and bone structures combine those of humans and turtles. While they have retained mostly human internal organs, their musculature can resemble that of a running back or even a tight end.
And because they have been trained by a ninjutsu expert in Master Splinter, you can bet the ninja turtles are always in peak physical condition.
In the comics, the teenage mutant ninja turtles also have enhanced strength. This is due to a combination of the ooze’s mutagenic properties (which gave the ninja turtles extraordinary muscular physiques) and Master Splinter’s training.
On top of their enhanced strength, the teenage mutant ninja turtles are also extremely tough and durable. One big reason for that is their turtle shell.
Ordinary turtles already have formidable shells thanks to the carapace that makes up the domed outer part and the plastron that comprises the belly plate. Now imagine how strong those would be in mutated form.
The shell of a teenage mutant ninja turtle is bullet-proof, which practically keeps them safe from firearms and shrapnel, as long as they are not hit in exposed areas (arms, legs, and head).
And because they know their rears are well-protected, they are quite capable of taking on more than one opponent in close-quarters combat without having to worry about getting stabbed in the back.
The teenage mutant ninja turtles have been shown to employ various inventive methods in using their shells as both a defensive and offensive weapon. For obvious reasons, there are many advantages to having a bullet-proof shield attached to your back and front. But such a shield can also be used as a battering ram when some specific situations call for it.
And because they are trained as full-fledged ninjas, all of the four teenage mutant ninja turtles have enhanced reflexes, agility, and speed, not to mention well-honed skills in stuff that ninjas would typically do like scaling walls, performing acrobatics and gymnastics even from extreme heights, disappearing in the shadows, etc.
Speaking of well-honed skills, you might already be familiar with each member’s specialization.
Meet The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Leonardo is the blue-masked ninja turtle who wields a pair of katanas. He pairs his twin blades with his discipline and proven leadership skills (he is the oldest member and the de facto squad leader of the TMNT).
It might be easy to underestimate the purple-masked Donatello because he uses a mere bo staff. But if you have seen the second Matrix film, then you darned well know what somebody armed with a fighting stick can do to multiple opponents. Plus, Donatello is also armed with a genius intellect, which means he will be able to outsmart a foe he can’t outninja.
As for Michelangelo, he may be the youngest of the bunch, but there have been several references to the orange-masked ninja turtle in the comics as possibly the most naturally skilled of the four heroes in a half-shell.
For his signature weapon, he chooses a pair of nunchaku, which makes him (outside of the legendary Bruce Lee himself) quite possibly the most popular figure in pop culture history to wield dual-section sticks.
Here is an interesting bit of trivia:
Back in the 1990s (when the teenage mutant ninja turtles’ popularity was at its peak), the United Kingdom had to censor Mikey’s nunchucks from the American-made kiddie TV animated series, due to the fact that nunchucks are categorized as offensive weapons in Britain and just might give kids some funny ideas.
True to the red color of his ninja mask, Raphael is often depicted as the hot-headed ninja turtle. As the second oldest TMNT member (at least as told in the original comics), Raph is sometimes shown challenging Leonardo’s leadership and choices.
But like most big brothers, Raphael is fiercely loyal and protective of his siblings, and just like Wolverine, he will not hesitate even for one second to lead the attack or sacrifice himself to defend his brothers. His weapon of choice is a pair of sai.
While it is true that each ninja turtle has their specific specializations, all of them are actually quite skilled in various weapons.
Outside of ninjutsu expertise, some ninja turtles would also exhibit special talents. Michelangelo, for instance, might be the least serious of the ninja turtles, but unbeknownst to many, he is actually one hell of a chef.
Leonardo is not only an expert swordsman, he is also an ace archer.
Which Ninja Turtle Is The Strongest?
The strongest teenage mutant ninja turtle is Raphael, that is, in terms of pure physical strength. Interestingly, he became even stronger in the comic book series published by Mirage Studios.
As seen in Volume 4 (released in 2014), Raph gets bitten by a vampire creature. Infected by the bloodsucker’s blood, the hot-tempered ninja turtle undergoes a further mutation, turning into a T. Rex version of himself who loses control of his mental faculties, frequently going into berserker rages.
Fortunately for him, he gets some needed help and Zen guidance from the ever-reliable Master Splinter, and then recovers his wits to track the vampires who infected him and exact vengeance upon those ghouls.
So, okay, Raphael may be the strongest teenage mutant ninja turtle. But is he the best though?
In terms of fighting skills, Leonardo can definitely claim to being the better of the four half-shell heroes. It helps that Leonardo is the oldest ninja turtle, which gives him points for maturity and experience. And he uses those traits to great effect as the de facto leader of the gang.
He also has the discipline to continue to be the best fighter on the team. Any practicing martial artist can tell you that natural skill is only one part of the equation. The other part is discipline and practice. And Leo is always the one to train the hardest.
If you want proof of Leonardo’s awesomeness, look no further than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Best of Leonardo comic book special.
This is basically a collection of the most epic things Leo has done in TMNT comics, including that one time when he battled hordes of Foot Clan ninjas all by himself across the rooftops of New York City, while his brothers were at home preparing for the Christmas holidays.
Of course, any TMNT fan would readily nominate Leonardo as the best ninja turtle ever. But one other unexpected member of the gang might just give Leo and even Raph a run for their money.
We're talking about Michelangelo, of course, the least mature of the ninja turtles. As we might have mentioned earlier, Mikey is the most naturally talented on the team. Now, if he could only harness that natural ability, who knows how powerful and strong he can become.
What could possibly drive the ever-fun-loving Michelangelo to get serious about becoming the most bad-ass ninja turtle of all time? Well, we are going to discuss exactly that in the next section.
Did The Ninja Turtles Die At Some Point?
Yes, most of the teenage mutant ninja turtles died in the much-celebrated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin mini-series run. Before we dive into this comic book’s epic plot, let us tackle its publication history first.
The Last Ronin ran for a total of five issues from October 2020 until April 2022 under IDW Publishing. The story is credited to Kevin Eastman, Andy Kuhn, Peter Laird, and Tom Waltz, with the art done by Ben Bates and Kuhn.
The success of this miniseries would spawn a recent follow-up in the form of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin - Lost Years. This ongoing run is also published by IDW, with its first issue released in January 2023.
Like its predecessor, this new story arc is expected to consist of five issues. Eastman and Kuhn return to do writing duties, while illustrators Ben Bishop and SL Gallant handle the art.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin, so READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
With the publication-related information out of the way, let’s get to the plot.
The Last Ronin is set in a future wherein the Big Apple has been overrun by Foot Clan ninjas led by one Hiroto, who happens to be the grandson of the teenage mutant ninja turtles’ sworn enemy, Shredder.
Speaking of the ninja turtles, only one member has survived. Later in the miniseries, the identity of the sole surviving half-shell hero is revealed. And surprise, surprise – it happens to be Michelangelo (told ya he was good).
It turns out Mikey has been away from New York City for a number of years. And he has good reason to keep himself exiled from his hometown. For one, he has basically lost all of his family.
Master Splinter and Donatello were killed while attempting to broker a ceasefire with the Foot Clan. Raphael fought against Karai (the mutant lady assassin who works for the Foot Clan) and did not live to tell the tale, although he did manage to put Karai in comatose forever).
As for team leader Leonardo, he died (along with TMNT ally Casey Jones) in the hands of Baxter Stockman’s Mousers.
Racked with survivor guilt, Mikey was in the process of committing seppuku himself, but was saved by the timely intervention of April O’Neill and her daughter Casey.
WARNING: MORE MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin, so, again, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Which Ninja Turtle Is The Last Ronin?
As we might have hinted earlier, Michelangelo is the last turtle standing when the events of The Last Ronin start to unfold, making him the last ronin referenced in the comic book miniseries’ title.
As mentioned before, The Last Ronin imagines a New York City held by the Foot Clan under Hiroto’s iron fist. But Michelangelo has returned to the city after years of self-imposed exile and he has come prepared.
It is revealed that Mikey had spent all those years mastering his fallen brothers’ weapons of choice (Leonardo’s twin katanas, Raphael’s dual sai, and Donatello’s bo staff), while also improving his skills with his signature nunchucks.
Armed with an expanded set of skills, plus a renewed and steely resolve to exact vengeance upon those responsible for killing his brethren, he wages a one-man war against Hiroto and the Foot Clan.
At the end of the five-issue run, Michelangelo books a last duel against Hiroto. He succeeds in vanquishing Shredder’s evil grandson, but alas, he pays the ultimate price for his hard-earned victory.
Fully aware of the possibility that he might join his brothers soon, he gives his journal to the surviving O’Neills (April and her daughter Casey).
Decimated but imbued with hope, April and Casey hatch a plan to create a new generation of teenage mutant ninja turtles – a new foursome that should ensure the legacy of the original heroes in a half-shell will live on to fight against new forces of evil in the future.
Wait – if Michelangelo dies in the original Last Ronin miniseries, what happens in the 2023 follow-up run?
The most recent Last Ronin story has not concluded yet, but so far, it already promises to reveal to TMNT fans the events that happened during Michelangelo’s exile away from New York City. Of course, those events are presented as flashbacks.
But what happens in the present? Well, there is a new batch of teenage mutant ninja turtles.
Their names are Moja, Odyn, Uno, and Yi. Interesting bit of trivia: All of these names mean “one” but in different languages – Moja is Swahili, Odyn is Russian, Uno is Spanish, and Yi is Chinese. The names are meant to signify that all of the members of the second generation of ninja turtles must work and fight as one.
April and Casey Jones’ daughter, Casey Marie Jones, is the new Master Splinter, so to speak. She’s born a mutant, on account of her parents spending so much time with the turtle gang (thereby absorbing small amounts of radiation via the mutagen present in the bodies of the ninja turtles).
With Casey’s powers and abilities (enhanced strength, agility, and speed; not to mention being a martial arts expert herself), she’s the perfect candidate to train the second generation of ninja turtles.
Is The Last Ronin Canon?
No, The Last Ronin is not considered truly canon. In other words, it does not officially connect with the continuity of the existing and ongoing teenage mutant ninja turtles comic book series published by IDW Publishing.
Rather, you can think of The Last Ronin as the TMNT’s version of Marvel Comics’ Old Man Logan or DC Comics’ The Dark Knight Returns. These titles are all limited series runs that feature plots set in the distant future, but nonetheless do not skimp on delivering epic stories that might be celebrated by comics readers in years to come.
Still, it needs to be mentioned that because The Last Ronin‘s events unfold in the future, the present continuity of TMNT comics might potentially lead to that outcome. It can happen is what we are saying. But if it does not, it should not take away from The Last Ronin’s greatness as a TMNT story.
For more on the teenage mutant ninja turtles, make sure to check out our comprehensive TMNT fandom guide.