The phrase, “nothing will ever be the same again”, has long been worn into the ground by endlessly overzealous comic book advertisements and promotional schemes. Marvel and DC Comics in particular seem to promise (or threaten) such things about their beloved characters every other week. Yet as with many things in both fiction and life, it isn’t always the strategy which is the problem, but execution. After the jaw dropping action spectacular that was issue fifty, the creative team behind IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic made such a vow, and it was easy to dismiss it in hyperbole. If this issue proves anything, it is that writers Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman, and Bobby Curnow were more than willing to make good on their promise to deliver something different, yet both logical and suspenseful. All of this is done while welcoming a new artist for the next couple of issues in Ken Garing (of “Planetoid” fame).
The Foot Clan as we know it is gone. Due in part to efforts by Karai to restore honor to the ancient clan, their ancient leader the Shredder has fallen in battle against Splinter and his sons, the Ninja Turtles, in their latest definitive battle. The big twist is that Karai handed authority of the clan over to Splinter (who is the reincarnation of the ancient Foot ninja Hamato Yoshi), who accepted it. Such a move caused a schism within the ranks of both groups, as some mutants left over conflicting loyalties and morals. Now, Splinter and his remaining sons are seeking to protect the city from yet another “power vacuum” within the underworld by using the Foot to control organized crime from within. It’s a fascinating set up for the Turtles with both advantages and disadvantages. In this issue, the Turtles lead the Foot against a crew run by a local thug named Lupo, and wind up interrupting a deal with some mysterious “street phantoms” using advanced technology. Once again Leonardo is the second in command of the Foot, only this time he’s not being brainwashed nor is he overly zealous (and at least one Foot ninja dislikes this). Meanwhile, April O’Neil keeps an eye on Kitsune, the immortal Japanese “fox demon” whose manipulations helped lead to Shredder’s downfall while Michelangelo finds himself alone and trying to find a place to fit in. The mystery behind the “street phantoms” leads to the reintroduction of another franchise figure, Darius Dunn, as the Turtles find themselves stalked by another figure as well!
Part of the magic of this run has been entertaining, suspenseful, and exciting reactions to every action within the plot and/or the characters within it. The war between the Turtles and Shredder had taken many twists and turns, but it seems like removing him has hardly done them any favors either. Dramatic shifts in the status quo of a serialized comic are perfectly fine when they seem organic rather than like a gimmick, and when they evolve from the course of the story rather than a sales executive’s spread sheet. This is a fact that most mainstream comics have forgotten but which IDW’s TMNT series has mastered for years. It’s fascinating seeing all of the Turtles trying to steer the Foot into clearer waters without anyone being mind controlled, much as the angle of Mikey being alone and joining up with other characters having loads of potential. The human supporting characters get plenty to do, with April proving she’s no fool and more about Harold’s past being revealed. Rather than fretting about taking certain characters off stage for a bit, the comic’s creative team continue to delve into the wealth of material within the TMNT universe to recreate new antagonists to replace them. Darius Dunn originally appeared in the 2003 era cartoon (specifically the “Fast Forward” incarnation during that series’ sixth season) where he was a corrupt businessman and the uncle of Cody Jones (April and Casey’s future great grandson). In this issue Dunn doesn’t do much, but his presence as an evil businessman there to fill some of the void left by Shredder and Krang is quite apparent. Another possible recreation is the mysterious “agent Winter” who is seen stalking our heroes. Alex Winter was a minor character from the eighth season of the well known 1987 era cartoon, who became a one off villain named “Megavolt”. It will remain to be seen if there are any other parallels between franchise incarnations, but this sort of speculation is the sort of thing that eagle eyed fans should love.
Ken Garing’s artwork may take some getting used to compared to the artists that have worked on the series lately, but is on the whole terrific. All of the well known characters from the Turtles to Splinter to April all look iconic, and he has a dynamic flair for action as well as moody atmosphere. Ronda Pattison continues her exceptional color work that she began with this series’ first issue. Her colors are absolutely on point for this issue, making Garing’s art look even better (especially the cover). He may only be aboard for two issues, but it appears obvious that both will be feasts for the eyes!
Reaching fifty issues as one of IDW Publishing’s top selling comics was an epic milestone, but it was clearly not the end of the journey. As this issue signifies, this series remains one of the best franchise comic books on the market today, with consistent quality month in and month out. The fact that it seems to get little publicity compared to the latest relaunch of yet another “big two” comic is a travesty, but a travesty which fans can correct. The Ninja Turtles aren’t just for kids or nostalgic adults, and this run properly mingles the old with the new to offer fans of all stripes an innovative, satisfying, and utterly terrific monthly comic. Every year, this series seems to top itself in new way, and that is exactly as it should be!
Below are honorable mentions. Some of them are still decent even if one is vastly disappointing. None of them could touch the shell backs this week!
New Avengers #2: One of at least two Marvel comics which double ship this month, Al Ewing and artist Gerardo Sandoval continue to kick off their relaunch of one of what seem to be a dozen different Avengers squads coming down the pipe. The angle with this incarnation is that they’re being organized by ex-New Mutant Roberto Da Costa as he seeks to use the resources he gained from a buy-out of the science terrorists A.I.M. towards supplying a superhero team to defend the world. It is an interesting idea in theory, even if in practice it simply means that yet another eclectic band of Avengers (which include heroes from previous Young Avengers, Mighty Avengers, and Thunderbolts comics) has a hi tech headquarters and doesn’t need to worry about money. As SHIELD seeks to oversee the activities of the team (mostly by announcing their intentions and demanding Hawkeye join the team), the team seeks to liberate Paris from a bizarre “outbreak” in which those who become possessed gain diamonds for heads. Ewing has a skill with juggling over a dozen characters and giving them strange threats to fight in creative ways, which he demonstrated over two volumes of “Mighty Avengers”. The art by Sandoval is over the top and full of exaggerated figures, which may either please or repulse those whose interests lie with such a visual look. For better or worse it does look like a comic which might have been drawn in the mid 90’s. Despite a lot of energy and plenty of creative ideas, the characters don’t seem to gel beyond fast paced one liners and the villain of the book isn’t nearly as unique as he seems. The notion of there being an evil counterpart to Mr. Fantastic from another universe may have been original back in the 1970’s with “the Brute”, but was run into the ground through years of Jonathan Hickman comics featuring “the council of Reeds” running alongside the version from the Ultimate universe who only grew more wicked by the month. It is the latter who is the main antagonist here, and despite some delicious dialogue, not even the Maker with the weight of a crossover behind him can make up for twenty years of previous versions of his central premise. At the very least, the first “arc” seems to be over after two issues even if the subplots will continue, and while it may not be a fantastic comic, it is at the very least enjoyable and inoffensive.
Spider-Man 2099 #2: Perhaps suffering symptoms of the same regressive storytelling elements which have been plaguing Spider-Man’s universe for at least seven years, this third volume of one of Peter David’s most memorable contributions to the Marvel Universe is quickly going off the rails. Beginning with a lot of potential and fundamental quality last year, it quickly became embroiled in various crossovers after its first five issues, and struggled to remain relevant as something other than a box to check on a list ever since. A relaunch promised to end all that and once again allow Miguel O’Hara to shine by offering something different from the main Spider-Man comic, especially since artist Will Sliney was once again along for the ride. Unfortunately, David has decided to roll out one of the most tired and well worn fictional tropes that exist – the murder of a hero’s lover for the sole purpose of motivating him back into action out of grim revenge. It was predictable in the stories of ancient myths as well as mercilessly parodied and criticized over the past twenty years as endless action movies have repeated it with the mindless repetition of a parrot hitting a typewriter key. Not only is Miguel’s new love Tempest blown up merely to anger him enough to don the tights again, she literally died an instant after revealing her pregnancy – a detail which is so blunt that it verged on being unintentional dark comedy. Rather than reap the seeds sown between Miguel and Tempest from stories going back to 2014 and present them as an interesting and dynamic couple – a rarity in superhero comics in general and current Spider-Man comics in particular – Peter David has chosen to sacrifice her at the alter of lazy motivational plotting. The fact that Miguel’s iconic costume is replaced by what can be best described as an overly detailed disaster for the sole purpose of a cheap gimmick is merely the icing on the cake. Peter Parker now remains one of Miguel’s sole supporting cast members from the previous volume, and his trite imitation of Tony Stark (as the pithy billionaire superhero with a company that makes an armada of armored costumes for him and his best friends) gets grating regardless of who writes it. Not even yet another retroactively inserted mentor of Doctor Doom can save this issue from being a well drawn, brilliantly colored disappointment. It is always a shame when great comics go bad.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1: The joke on the cover is one that Marvel Comics absolutely deserves, and the laughs don’t stop once the comic is read, either! Ryan North and Erica Henderson pick things up right where they left off in the previous volume with another delightfully zany and amusing romp featuring the titular heroine and her wacky pals. Using the relaunch gimmick as an advantage, the story begins during the second year of Doreen Green’s tenure as both a solo heroine and an Empire State University student. Her best friend and roommate Nancy Whitehead’s colored her hair, and she’s always flanked by additional pals and fellow heroes Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi (and of course, her squirrel Tippy-Toe). From fighting fires to visiting mothers to reprogramming old “Invaders” villains to those priceless jokes at the bottom of every page, this comic shamelessly offers laughs and quirky characterization with every page. Hopefully more fans give this series a read with the fresh number one than did the last time, because it will be a shame to have to bid a series that is always this much of a blast (visually and structurally) farewell before long.
Secret Wars; Official Guide to the Marvel Multiverse: The second official Marvel Handbook to come out this year, which is always a treat. Continuity wonks will love it, even though Marvel’s zeal for endless relaunches and rehashes makes the task of keeping their lore straight even in summary form a Herculean task. Still, the fun is in reading a dedicated cast of writers try, and at any price is always worth the cover price.