(w) Kevin Eastman, David Avallone (a) Ben Bishop (c) Brittany Peer, Tomi Varga
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hold a very special place in pop culture, having landed at the perfect time and making their co-creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, very wealthy gentlemen. Despite the success of their collaboration, the two ultimately had a falling out not too dissimilar to that of Spider-Man’s co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. For a while, Laird was the property’s shepherd, keeping the comics alive through the (still unfinished) fourth volume at Mirage Studios and being actively involved in the 2003 animated series, but he has since followed Ditko’s path of becoming increasingly reclusive. On the other hand, Eastman has been the TMNT’s vocal cheerleader and public face for decades. However, that role has come at the cost of his own creative output. An original Kevin Eastman property is a rare thing, but thanks to collaborators David Avallone, Ben Bishop, and Brittany Peer, readers get to experience something different in Drawing Blood.
While Drawing Blood is marketed as “the story behind the stories,” readers shouldn’t go into this expecting a recap of Eastman’s experiences in creating the TMNT and the problems sudden success may have caused him personally. Yes, the main character – Shane “Books” Bookman – bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Eastman, until the man himself makes a cameo. But like Eastman, he is a successful comic creator who spawned a billion-dollar franchise about anthropomorphic heroes, among other amusing anecdotes. With that said, Drawing Blood ends up being a surrealist thriller that borrows from some of Eastman’s real life experiences, but fully stands on its own.
This is a very difficult book to actually review, because many of the events seem ridiculous at first, only for them to be based on real events. There’s the controversy of a “gritty” movie adaptation that changes the origin of the Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls (the stand-in for the TMNT) from mutants to aliens, which sounds familiar. There’s the movie producer Morgan Harbor, who is clearly meant to be Michael Bay. There’s mention of the old-school indie comics, a “kidified” animated series, and so forth. The mission statement of Books’ publisher, Tundra Productions, mirrors Eastman and Laird’s Mirage Studios, as well as Eastman’s work in pushing for creators’ rights. But unlike Eastman and Laird, Books’ life is perpetually unraveling.
From toxic relationships to failing endeavors, Books seems to be on a spiral towards an psychological rock-bottom. At the center of Drawing Blood is his Broadway adaptation of the classic film Metropolis, which is plagued by a variety of setbacks. Funny enough, this fiasco is eerily reminiscent of another high-profile Broadway disaster, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Throughout the story, Books is accompanied a pair of documentary filmmakers – one of which is dress conspicuously like April O’Neil from the 1987 TMNT series. Their presence allows Books to confess his feelings and drop some exposition to the reader in a manner that differs from the typical dialogue boxes. It also allows the reader to better identify with Books, demonstrating his vulnerability and fragile state. This in turn allows readers to better identify with Books as he embarks on his emotional journey.
It’s a good thing that the groundwork of readers to identify with Books is laid early, because there are several instances when the story goes off the rails, and it’s not always for the better. There are flashbacks to various moments in Books’ life that that further flesh out his character and give perspective to what drives his decision-making. Throughout, he often refers to the RRRR as his co-creation, which is a nice touch. And then there are the moments when Books is completely off his rocker, hallucinating his billion-dollar creations and having conversations with them. For a story that is so intent on being grounded, this is so out of place and just doesn’t fit. It’s a shame, because otherwise the story is very good. But these moments of hallucinations are sprinkled throughout, meaning readers are frequently taken out of the narrative.
Drawing Blood is a book that largely satisfies, held back by its desire to shoehorn in some anthropomorphic characters that have been a significant part of Kevin Eastman’s career. The art by Ben Bishop, Brittany Peer, and Tomi Varga is fantastic, and David Avallone does a great job in providing polish to the story that he and Eastman developed. If not for a couple minor things, this first volume of Drawing Blood would be great. But for now, it’s just a good read, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.