If you haven’t heard: In IDW’s current run of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which is fantastic and a must for all TMNT fans), Rocksteady took a sledge hammer to Donatello’s shell – killing him.
And according to all of the interview material I can find involving Waltz and Laird, the writers, Donnie’s death will not be a “Marvel death” akin to that of our beloved Agent Coulson. No, Donnie is dead dead; a distinction that seems odd to clarify, but is necessary in the world of comic books where everyone seems to have more live than cats are rumored to have.
In an interview with wethenerdy.com, Waltz stated:
“I’d say the one thing we’ve tried to do with TMNT at IDW from the very start is to keep the core of our stories grounded and as realistic as possible in such a fantastical world. This storyline was no exception. The TMNT are in a war, fought on multiple fronts against multiple enemies, so to think that they could come out of all that unscathed is more unbelievable than a weapon that can terraform the entire planet at the push of a button. Donnie, sadly, is a casualty of war… one of the good guys who has sacrificed his very existence to protect others. He’s a true hero and that won’t be forgotten by his family or his friends…”
And that statement is something I can appreciate, and long have given my affinity for Whedon who works projects with the same approach. Heroes ought not be untouchable lest all trials and threats become trivialized and stories lose their tension.
When I heard that a turtle had been killed, I knew it was Donnie. It kinda had to be, though I don’t believe his death has the most dramatic potential. I’ll explain by visiting each turtle’s possible death in turn.
The Death of a TMNT: Why It Had to be Donnie
My favor of Leo aside, I think his death has the most traumatic and dramatic potential. The team loses their leader; their rudder. Removing him from the picture would make for some interesting fallout amongst the brothers and Splinter. He’s the quartet’s glue. I’d have been pissed had Leo taken the hammer in Donnie’s stead, but absolutely intrigued to read everything that takes place in his wake. Most curiously: Does Raph explode with rage, or does he step up into the vacant leadership position? Or both? Raph is clearly upset at Donatello’s death to be sure, but although he and Leo clashed on more than one occasion, their relationship is mighty and Leo’s death would have absolutely rocked Raphael.
What if Raph had died? There was a small part of me that suspected he might have been the one dealt the death blow, but I dismissed it primarily because it seemed too easy. Raph is always running off or stepping out to blow off some steam and getting into trouble. If he’d have died on one of these excursions, part of me would have said, “Well, that’s what you get when you run off into a city absolutely crawling with foes that want you dead all by your lonesome.” Raphael is the strongest of the turtles, but strength can be overcome by numbers and the Foot have numbers in spades. They proved this in the first and second TMNT movies against – you guessed it – Raphael. His death stood too much chance of being met with a giant chorus of “I told you so’s” or feelings of inevitable comeuppance.
Killing Mikey is maybe the riskiest move of them all. I say that not because of the impact it would make on the other turtles and Splinter, but on the comic’s audience. Mikey is the class clown and mascot. Taking him out would be like killing the class pet. He embodies innocence and free spirit; you can’t snuff that out and get away with it. The public outcry at Donnie’s death came largely from shock value. How do you kill one of the turtles?! You kill Mikey, and the exclamations become, “How do you kill that turtle?!”
So it unfortunately had to be Donnie. It makes sense that he was alone at HQ for the setup; you don’t kill the leader, and you give him his most daunting task of all: leading the others through death and mourning; you leave an angry Raph in play as a plot device; and you keep the jokester alive even while crushing his joy – an interesting character development device. You still upset and shock the masses, but it is done, if I may say, with appropriate measure.
None of this is to say that Donnie is expendable. He’s not; none of the turtles are in my opinion. I accurately guessed Donatello was the deceased, but that’s not to say I wasn’t impacted by said death. But that’s exactly the point: Donnie’s death is huge. It means the heroes can die. Every battle hereon out, if not before, carries with it this reality, this gravitas. And you better believe Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo – along with friends and family – will not leave Donatello unavenged.