Sparing you any references to pizzas, cowabungas or Vanilla Ice, I'll say this: remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? They're back. In pog form.
I'm going to confess something to all of you: I actually prefer the Archie Comics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series to the original. Yes, the original series is a huge influence on modern independent creators and arguably helped kicked off the indie comics boom in full, alongside its likeminded peer Cerebus. Yes, it made a shitload of money for Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, so much so that Eastman went on to start up his own publishing company, Tundra and buy Heavy Metal while Laird started the sorely missed Xeric Foundation. But goddamn if those Archie adaptations weren't full of fun and awesomely batshit ideas, something the rather dour Eastman and Laird books didn't exactly fit.
That's mostly because the original TMNT was meant as a purposefully dark and tongue-in-cheek take on the then popular trend of shadowy ninja heroes that Frank Miller heralded in Daredevil and Ronin as well as the teen hero boom that brought massive sales to titles like Teen Titans and New Mutants. IDW's new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series is yet another attempt to return the Turtles to this style rather than the goofier, funnier characterization the characters are most known for now, with the added selling point of the series featuring the return of co-creator Kevin Eastman to the fold, albeit strictly for story concepts.
This new series is tied to the upcoming Nickelodeon series and is for all practical purposes a reboot, which can be problematic on its own, but what makes this first issue such a disappointment is that its creative team have taken the awkward approach of trying to tie together the two opposite spectrums of the Turtles' existence. Dan Duncan's interior art is wholly indebted to the original comics, with the decidedly Miller-like character designs and scratchy shading, but Tom Waltz's script is stretched between the goofy playfulness of the long running first animated series and the more mature storytelling of the first volume of the comics and the second animated series, which was itself co-produced by Mirage Studios.
The first issue kicks off with the Turtles and Splinter facing off against a new villain named Old Hob, a mutated alley cat with a bone to pick with the Turtles and their master. As if to make it clear to readers and parent buyers that despite the appearance of the art this is still a relatively kid friendly book, Splinter immediately tells the Turtles that in the battle with Hob, "None must die:"
The fight scene is relatively well choreographed and Duncan's art in particular does deserve praise, though the muted coloring of Ronda Pattison somewhat diminished the impact. Duncan takes some creative approaches throughout the fight, granting the violence an abstract expressionist vibe with its splatters of ink while choosing unique perspectives throughout.
The problems really begin when we get treated to a new take on the Turtles' origin, where they're part of a genetic engineering experiment for a shadowy sect of the military, an experiment Splinter is part of as well. In this new take, April O'Neil is a lab intern who takes a shine to the Turtles and gives them their names, though she's less fond of Splinter:
It would seem that the Turtles were meant to be aiding the military in developing Turtle-like armor for the troops (don't ask), while Splinter is part of an experiment to give animals cognitive abilities, which I'm guessing means the lab is attempting to turn animals into soldiers. Krang makes a first appearance here, fittingly from the shadows, but now he's a military general rather than a general of Rock soldiers and he doesn't yet appear to be a brain in a suit. But there's always time for that.
Tweaking origins is fine but Tom Waltz's scripting is often clunky and awkward, his characters all speaking with the same voices and not displaying much personality, outside of a hilariously dumb approach to a lab scientist that just finds Waltz randomly inserting "ums" into his sentences. Waltz also has a tendency to broadcast from a mile away what will happen next, whether it's April's discovery of the darker aspects of her new job (begin the countdown until she sets the Turtles free now...) or Krang's angry demands of the lab. Waltz also lazily shoehorns in the Turtles' defining personality traits in the sequence in which April names them:
Waltz's approach to the issue is weirdly artless, which makes since given that his other credits include adapting Silent Hill for IDW, but it's a pity since Duncan does such a fabulous job with the pencils. The structuring of the issue is less than stellar as well, jumping between timeframes without much reasoning and accelerating the plot in a way that can only be described as stunted. The opening fight sequence isn't given much weight and we leave it quickly anyway to get to that origin, and then the issue ends with Raphael randomly inserting himself into a domestic conflict that clunkily introduces us to Casey Jones.
It's hard to tell whether the story has these problems because it's an adaptation or because the series is a mindless cash-in or if it's just an issue with a lack of ability on Waltz's part. Hell, it could have been that Eastman's story itself was structured this way, for all we know. Leading credence to the cash-in aspect is IDW's crazy number of cover variants and the odd references to things like Michelangelo's "Cowabunga!" catch phrase. Regardless, this new series does nothing to convince me that I'm wrong in thinking the Turtles hit their high point in those Archie books, and at the least Waltz is going to have to put more effort in next time to win over Turtle fans.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.
This is about as close to the original as any Teenage Mutant Ninjaa Turtles book has gotten without it being the actual original. Obviously having Kevin Eastman co-write the story helps but the art has a lot to do with it, too. This wouldnít have felt so comfortable if the artwork was anything other than the dark and gritty, with an almost an indie quality to its work that Dan Duncan provides. If you go back and look at the original Eastman/Laird comics, the art is rough and angular. In no way is it overly stylized or streamlined, and to me thatís Ninja Turtles. There have been other TMNT books, but the art style is/was based on the most current cartoon series and geared towards the young'ns of today who watch those cartoons. As someone who grew up in the '80s, I couldnít relate to those Turtles, but this new IDW series is definitely aimed at a broad audience of both new and old fans -- but mostly the old.
I donít know how to classify this, is it a reboot or a retelling? I donít know, but this first issue simply skims over -- or really just shows -- part of the Turtlesí origins in flashback form. I think we all can assume from how itís told that there will be more to follow in later issues because it seems pretty plot-heavy, considering the characters involved and their development. April is definitely involved from the beginning - as in before the Turtles were mutated. General Krang also appears, somewhat, in the flashback and you know heís going to be in it for the long haul and his story is most definitely not complete yet. So, yeah, reboot, retelling, retooling? Are those all the same thing? Whatever this happens to be, itís fun and worthy of being Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The story starts off in the middle of a fight, so weíre immediately seeing the Turtles in action with Splinter, but thereís something wrong, someone is missing from the group. Herein lies the catch. Whatís happened? We see said character alone and unharmed but thereís no explanation as to why this situation is what it is. Anyone who knows anything about the story or history of the Turtles knows that they are a tight family of brothers. Why a member of this family is off wandering the streets is an interesting turn of events. See? Iím intrigued already.
You know, I think this is a definite must read for any and all Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans. Címon, Kevin Eastman is back on board, thatís worth a whole lot. Itís a good, honest work of comic fiction. Besides Superman and Batman, this is what comics are all about -- the fun, zany antics of ninja turtles.
Karyn Pinter has been writing for Comics Bulletin since 2008. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and was one of those kids who was raised by TV, babysat by the likes of James Bond, Mary Poppins and Darth Vader. In college she spent her days critically analyzing Dorothyís need to befriend a lion, scarecrow and man of tin and writing papers on how truth, justice and the American way ultimately lead to Supermanís death.
Karyn gladly accepts bribes in the form of carnitas burritos and/or Catwoman paraphernalia.
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