IDW Publishing continues to march towards their milestone 50th issue of their “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” relaunch with their usual creative and energetic flair. The company has been promoting this march for some time, with the added boost that a controversial (yet excellent) 44th issue brought them in terms of notice and sales. This latest issue is the continuation of the path to shell-backed excellent as written by Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, and Bobby Curnow which began in 2011 and hasn’t slowed down. As an added bonus, this marks the second issue reviewed this month!
As always with this run, the events follow a progressive path in terms of both narrative plotting and character growth. It may not be easy for newer readers to hop aboard an arc in progress, but it rewards both the long term fan and those willing to catch up on the series via trade collections, hardcovers, back issues, or digital issues. It is, in fact, the ideal way to approach serialized fiction, with a face front and fearless attitude. Having been mortally wounded as a consequence of his ambitious plan to both save the world from Krang and defeat the Shredder once and for all, Donatello has found himself “downloaded” into the robotic “Metalhead” as his physical body is set up for a potential recovery. Despite being the Turtle of science who has often dismissed some of the more “mystical” elements of his origins (such as reincarnation), Donatello now finds himself as a literal ghost in a machine relying on science to survive. The clash between the physical and the mechanical in terms of perception makes for as hazardous a thing as the wounds to his form. The rest of his extended family is on edge about the entire affair, as is the city itself. Karai has vowed to lead a smaller yet deadlier version of the Foot Clan in her grandfather’s stead. Casey Jones has to stand his ground against a renewed efforts by the Purple Dragons gang and their leader Hun (his abusive father) to spread their influence, as April’s efforts to discover more about their enemies’ history may prove to have fatal consequences. And behind it all, Baxtor Stockman is preparing his long slog from going from perennial servant to master of all with an army of minions and even the Shredder himself as a pawn.
Reviews of this series may seem repetitive on this column, but that’s only because the creative team always nail the same fundamentals month in and month out, issue by issue, with hardly any slip ups or missteps. While there are always the sorts of details that fans of the franchise expect, such as tales of ninjas, mutants, organized crime, aliens, robots, and family, it is the characters who naturally forge their own paths and make it all worthwhile. Donatello has often been given far more to do as a character in this series besides “do machines”, and this arc allows him to become one literally. Having always questioned things such as faith, he’s facing a conflict of identity atop of a crisis to save his own body. His scenes with the Fugitoid (who went through a similar transformation) are especially key here. But in truth, every character shines in their own way. Angel (or “Nobody” in her armor) and Alopex are becoming fast friends and sisters in arms, and one panel by Mateus Santolouco makes for a perfect homage to countless Spider-Man poses. Mikey has a quick yet hearty scene with his pal Woody, where he also gets to be more than “a party dude”. Casey has quickly forged ties with his new family while distancing himself from his old one. Even villains such as Karai and Stockman evolve and become more dangerous and nuanced with every arc.
Mateus Santolouco (alongside stalwart colorist Ronda Pattison) once again knock the art out of the park. They craft all of the characters and their world with full detail, yet allow them enough space to embrace the fantastic elements to them so they all gel as a whole. Not only a master of action sequences, Santolouco also nails facial expressions on both men, women, and mutants, which is critical for a series like this.
Month in and month out, this remains one of the gems of the IDW line (alongside the actual “Jem and the Holograms”). It is a run and series not to be missed, for which there seems to be no limits as to where things can go and no fear about blending the new with the old, as well as the innovative with the iconic. If only more franchise comics were even half as consistent.
Below are honorable mentions. They may be quite smashing, but they are not quite up to the Turtles’ snuff.
Big Trouble in Little China #11: Another “third party” series which nearly double shipped this month, this latest issue of the continuing (mis)adventures of Jack Burton and company isn’t quite as hilarious as the previous one, but is still quite entertaining. A great deal of the charm is the fact that John Carpenter and Eric Powell are taking full advantage of the comic book medium to present tales that go further over the top than any sane film budget (especially in the mid-1980’s) could have gone. Jack Burton remains in the underworld after haplessly defeating the immortal wizard Lo Pan again in the mortal plane. Unfortunately, the underworld has “a lot of hells”, and currently he’s stuck washing dishes to cover a bar tab alongside Lo Pan at “the last bar in Hell”. Wang and Egg Chen continue to seek alternate means to resurrect their friend, but it turns out that Jack’s allies from “the other side” may be more instrumental in helping him stumble against Lo Pan’s latest plot at villainy. Having Lo Pan (or one of his henchmen) be the antagonist for every arc may risk coasting on nostalgia too long as well making him appear as impotent as Saturday morning villains of his time (such as Skeletor or Cobra Commander). Thankfully, the laughs always make it worth it, as his banter against Jack is always good for a hoot. As always, artist Brian Churilla and colorist Gonzalo Duarte hit a home run with a fantastic looking issue which has all of the illustrative power of a MAD magazine spoof yet with a lot of the far out mystical details of an issue of a Walt Simonson issue of “Thor”. Next month will mark a year in print for ol’ Jack Burton, and the series has seemed to only improve with time.
Invincible #120: In addition to no end of other things, Robert Kirkman’s legendary series now remains one of few superhero series which has maintained its’ original numbering over the past decade as well as remained priced at under three dollars. While some may consider the series’ main cast leaving a shattered earth for space to be a leap over a shark, it has proven to be just the spice that the series had lacked for about a year. Mark and Eve not only have to adjust to being new parents of a daughter, but doing so on a completely foreign world and galaxy. Rather than fleeing from his series’ fantastic elements, Kirkman and Ryan Ottley hand built upon them. Times may be peaceful at least for these two heroes, but it likely won’t last with former Viltrumite leader Thragg having slaughtered the fan favorite “Battle Beast” and having led dozens of children into the cosmos. As always, the art and color are a wonder to behold, as Ottley has penciled well over a hundred issues of this series alone. After stumbling at times for the last couple of years, this series may once again be on sure footing.
Black Widow #18: As the annual crossover looms ahead, Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto wisely wrap up their long term story arc for this series in this quickly paced issue. Far too many series (such as Al Ewing’s two volumes of “Mighty Avengers”) seem to sink or swim amid the waves of crossovers, and this series is wise to wrap up its’ genuine plot in time for a third trade collection to be packaged. Having stumbled upon the schemed of an international cabal called “Chaos” and been swept up in its’ plans, Natasha found herself eventually recruited by their leader, a time traveling meta-human named “Prophet”. He seems to act as a physical avatar for Natasha’s graying morality, which has been hammered home throughout this volume’s run (often without being terribly subtle about it). However, ambiguous morals are still morals, as the Prophet quickly learns there are lines that not even the Black Widow will cross to create a better world. Much of the issue actually centered upon setting up a proper epilogue for Natasha, which is far more important in the grand scheme of things. She comes to terms with herself and where she wants to be in her world, and to her allies. Despite this series continuing on for the crossover, this issue feels very much like an emotional and creative finale for the character and her creative team. It may very much be so, depending on how the next two or so issues shape up. As single issues, this comic often read quite quickly, but as an overall story it has been nothing less than magnificent, and every bit the comic that as iconic a heroine as Natasha deserves. A shame that this run’s ultimate villain turned out to make for a better embodiment of Natasha’s character growth than a character unto himself.
Iron Fist the Living Weapon #12: Kaare Andrews’ strange, gritty, and ambitious volume of Marvel’s martial arts superhero (coming to a Netflix screen near you) comes to a close this month. The cover may promise a finale, but the climax was actually covered last month. It involved such craziness as seeing Iron Fist use his chi to transform a building into a giant kung-fu robot as well as spending five pages (that didn’t fold out) to punch a giant demon in the face. It’s hard for any issue to match that level of ambitious insanity, and this one can’t. Instead, it seeks what appears to be a satisfying finale, which sadly covers some old ground. Danny Rand is reborn, his legacy has been passed on to another who he is alive to train, and he slaps hands with his buddy Luke Cage in a fun cameo. The dodgiest ground is Andrews’ belief that revealing that Brenda is the daughter of the man who killed Danny’s father is some original idea which has never happened before; in fact, that plot was already done. That character was named Joy Meachum, and she already was a lover of Danny’s in the past, and as recently as 2011’s “Power Man and Iron Fist” series. Giving Harold Meachum yet another long lost blonde daughter doesn’t do the franchise much good, no matter how much she may toy with killing Danny or flip around. Aside for this drastic repetition, this is as solid a finale as this bizarre work could get. It may not be for everyone, but it will be for some.