Once a franchise proves successful for any comic book publisher, it can often be a challenge for the company’s editors to figure out exactly how far to expand that franchise across multiple titles. Being too conservative can waste popular demand, while tossing out titles haplessly can lead to burn out. IDW Publishing technically are selling four semi-monthly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series. However, one of them is based around the current cartoon on Nickelodeon and another is merely reprinting (and colorizing) older Mirage Studios material from the 80’s and 90’s. There is one central TMNT comic being written by Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman which is its own version of the mythology of the franchise, and a secondary mini series which tends to run alongside it twice a year. These secondary mini series typically only last four to five issues each and there is usually a break between them, but for all intents and purposes it serves as a secondary comic with an title that changes. These minis tend to be character focused as well as helping to build up a particular subplot which will come in the following year. This issue concludes the latest of these series which gives the franchise’s two human characters – Casey Jones and April O’Neil – a chance to shine without having to support the Ninja Turtles. What easily could have been a simple action yarn has instead morphed into a more atmospheric and romantic tale written by Mariko Tamaki, drawn by Irene Koh and colored by Brittany Peer (with an awesome variant cover drawn by Sophie Campbell).
After a seeming never ending series of battles between the Turtles, their extended friends and allies, and the Foot, Casey and April have set out on a road trip for answers. April has done research on the Foot and found a scroll which hints of the existence of a race of immortal beings who have been manipulating things behind the scenes for a long time. Leonardo and Splinter personally met one, and another was the central antagonist in the recent crossover with the Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, time away from the Turtles and endless fighting has seemed to showcase the massive character and perspective difference that April and Casey have with each other, which puts their relationship in peril. The pair have also fallen into the trap laid out by two of these immortals – the malicious Rat King and his much kinder avian sister. In the previous issue, the pair made it past their own memories to escape a maze, and now meet the beings themselves. The Rat King seems more fascinated with stoking Casey’s endless rage, while April is given a sense of foreboding from the other. In the end, the pair emerge stronger, albeit more shaken and wary, than they began.
As with previous installments, this issue seems to have more in common with a “shojo manga” (“girls’ comic”) from Japan than many typical American ones. There is more of a focus on mood, emotions, and visual aids rather than action. Tamaki and Koh have chosen to use the story as an excuse to explore the pasts and emotions of their two troubled lovers rather than to promote action. This may be an unexpected choice, but it is wise since an action yarn would cater more towards Casey’s strengths rather than April’s. With less of a focus towards action, it caters more to April’s intellect and empathy while forcing Casey out of his comfort zone a bit. The artwork and colors are quite good and the series is greater than the sum of its parts. The only downside is that in the end it does seem that the actual plot of this series amounted towards spending four issues to tell readers that “dark dramatic things are ahead and these characters will react”, which was rather obvious.
As a final point, this mini series represents another positive aspect towards IDW’s handling of their new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle universe. Beyond a creative love for the series that the publisher’s editors and various writers have, there is a consistent drive to offer more diversity in terms of characters and creators. In particular, this includes the inclusion of women. One weakness of the “classic” TMNT franchise was a lack of many viable characters and creators who were women. The main TMNT series has undertaken many pains to include as many female characters from various incarnations of the franchise as they can while inventing new ones. And this side series has allowed an entire creative team of women (and one transgender variant cover artist) to focus on key supporting characters for a while and offer a perspective on them beyond “macho violence”. It is a sign that IDW isn’t simply seeking to create and sell these comics to boys and older nostalgic men, but to women and other audiences as well by catering to their perspective. Casey and April are the main “ship” of the franchise, so it has been interesting seeing a series play that to the hilt without going overboard. It would have been even better with a stronger plot which centered on something beyond long term foreshadowing, but it has still been an enjoyable romp as it is. Overall, this has been a great look at two of the Ninja Turtles’ long term lovers while also building momentum for the next year’s worth of comics.
Below is an honorable mention. It offers another delightfully quirky comic, which simply didn’t hit the goal as well as the above did.
Runaways #4: The Battleworld comics may be ending, but “Secret Wars” will continue to wage on. Noelle Stevenson and Sanford Greene (with colorist John Rauch) wrap up their four issue take on a very weird group of super powered teenagers on the run from an academy run by the currently omnipotent Doctor Doom. Having found out that their school’s “final exams” were secretly killing fields, a group of students led by Jubilee, Amadeus Cho, Molly Hayes and Delphyne fled to the other various “Battleworlds”, with Doom’s forces led by the cyborg Bucky not far behind. Much like many of the comics Stevenson created, the strength in this run has been on individual quirky lines and scenes more than the central plot (which is a simple chase). With this issue it all comes to a head, with the kids sorting everything out and avoiding Doom’s wrath. There are some laughs and at least one progressive romance, and easily the best version of Jubilee put to comics in many years (who seems to be both a vampire and have her traditional “firework” powers). Much like a serving of cotton candy, it is sweet when enjoyed but may not leave much filling afterward. Despite the title, the only connection to the “Runaways” franchise is the general theme and the presence of Molly Hayes; one can imagine it selling far poorer as “Night Witches” (the actual name of the group) or “Jubilee & Her Amazing Friends”. At the very least, this mini series offered a quick and amusing look at something a bit different from the norm, and in that it succeeded.