***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead, and they’re coming up quickly!***
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
This one was a head-scratcher, and not the first one TMNT has turned in since this whole “Splinter leads the Foot Clan” thing started. What we have is an issue that starts out very strong, builds to fitting climax, and then veers off in an unexpected direction. It’s not necessarily a good direction, either. It’s almost like taking a swig of orange juice after brushing your teeth.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #64, our heroes storm the base of Darius Dun and the Street Phantoms, hoping to rescue their ally Harold. But in the process, things go south. Allegiances change, and more importantly, families are split apart.
Let’s jump right into spoiler territory, as that’s where my main point of contention with this issue is. During the climax, Splinter has Darius Dun killed. This leads Don, Raph, and Mike to immediately leave the Foot. Splinter tells Leo that the Turtles aren’t safe by his side now that he leads the Foot Clan, and he’s been resorting to drastic measures to break their loyalty and push them away. As you see below, the exchange ends with Leo saying he understands, and walking away.
Let’s unpack this: So Splinter’s end game, at least recently, has been to keep the Turtles safe. So why make this move now? Why not back when you were going against the Foot Clan? Why not when Donnie had his brush with death? Why not after they were reunited with Raph way back in issue #4? This entire ninja crusade was Splinter’s idea to begin with. But now that he’s in a position to control the enemy forces from within, he’s suddenly got cold feet about the whole thing? So much so that he’s willing to alienate himself from his sons? It all feels very forced. I can only assume there’s something else going on that we don’t know about. Otherwise, you’d think Splinter would know what the readers already know: This will only lead to the Turtles coming back to try and save Splinter from himself.
As it’s still so fresh, I’m hesitant to judge this development too harshly. But this feels like a case where an extra line or two would have done wonders. We can’t tell just how much Splinter is second-guessing himself at this point. But something like “I’ve gone too far” seems appropriate.
Adding to the awkward nature of this scene is the build-up to it, which is really actually really good. In the opening scene, Casey Jones explains Splinter’s plan to make him the leader of the Purple Dragons, “to help you guys run the city after we trash the phantoms.” The letterer emphasizes that word run, and for good reason. It’s rare that a single word literally makes a scene. But there you have it.
We also have some nice stuff between Harold and his estranged ex-wife Libby. Harold’s been around for awhile, and has been a nice supporting techie character. But I never expected they’d give him this sort of depth. It all comes about quite organically. It’s a pleasant surprise.
While I’m still picking on him over the whole bandana/beak thing, Dave Watcher has become one of my favorite TMNT pencillers in recent memory. His stuff has a sketchy quality to it, which for me evokes memories of the original Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird stuff. His renderings of Harold and Libby make the scene very accessible. He’s also very good at drawing TMNT tech. Look at what Libby’s wearing in the above panel. It somehow looks believable, doesn’t it?
I’m not much of a variant cover guy. But I almost always make an exception for the ones Kevin Eastman does for this book, such as the one shown above. I love the concept, and I love how shadowy and moody it is. The one thing I don’t love? Splinter’s tail. It’s curvature is too sharp, and it pulls you right out of the scene.
After all this time, I still maintain that this TMNT crew missed a huge opportunity by not taking advantage of what they established early on with Raph. Unfortunately, what we’re presented with in this issue could be just as big a misstep. We need more information on why Splinter is doing what he’s doing, or this story might lose a lot of punch. But I’ll give them this much: They’ve got me coming back for next issue.
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