Out of the four original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it is likely that fans would assume Leonardo is the most heroic, given his leadership role on the team and his more focused and rigid nature, however, one comic essentially outright names which of the Turtles is the most heroic–and it’s not Leonardo.

Even though the Ninja Turtles were almost indistinguishable upon their first appearance, they quickly developed their own unique personalities and corresponding roles on the team. Leonardo was the leader, Donatello was the genius inventor, Raphael was the muscle, and Michelangelo was the perfect embodiment of the ‘teenage’ aspect of the TMNT. Under Leonardo’s leadership, and together as a perfect team, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have found themselves defeating ancient ninjas, interdimensional aliens, and even elder gods in battle, not to mention preventing the occasional mugging. These successes could arguably be attributed to Leonardo’s leadership, making him the most heroic of the bunch. However, as logical as that may seem, Leonardo’s leadership role is actually the very thing preventing him from claiming the title of the TMNT’s greatest hero, a role that is perfectly filled by Raphael.


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Raphael is TMNT’s Greatest Hero, Not Leonardo

TMNT's Raph and Leo arguing about heroism.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #86 by Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz, and Dave Wachter, the Utroms and the Triceratons (who are living on Burnow Island together in harmony) are under attack after the villainous Agent Bishop launches humanity’s secret military against them. When the Ninja Turtles get wind of this, Leonardo immediately decides that they need to help the Utroms and Triceratons, so he calls in his brothers to discuss the situation before they go. Out of the three brothers Leonardo contacted, Raphael is the last to arrive at their hideout. Raphael explains that he was in the middle of his patrol of the city, and when he got the message, he was in the middle of saving an elderly woman from being mugged. In response to Raphael’s tardiness, and the justification that he was in the middle of serious business, Leonardo says, “I don’t think beating up a bunch of thugs with your friends counts, Raph”, to which Raphael replies, “Really? Tell that to the old lady we saved from gettin’ mugged”.

In this context, Leonardo is right to prioritize the lives of two separate groups of people whose species are in danger of being wiped from existence, over preserving the contents of some old woman’s purse, but that’s not the most heroic thing. Leonardo is a leader through-and-through, and because of that, he isn’t able to be unbiased when it comes to who he saves. Leo needs to make the tough calls, he needs to let that old woman get mugged to save the Utroms and Triceratons, because that’s the position he’s in. He can’t afford to be a hero, Leonardo has to be something more. Meanwhile, Raphael is free to prioritize the safety of the neighborhood and ensure that even a seemingly insignificant person being harassed gets the same level of protection as an entire species–two entire species–on the verge of extinction, because that’s what heroes do.

Raphael is a classic example of a crime-fighting vigilante while Leonardo is more akin to a wartime general, which is why Leonardo is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ leader while Raphael is their greatest hero.

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