***This year marks the 10-year anniversary of IDW Publishing’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. In celebration, we here at Primary Ignition will be looking back at the book as a whole. For some, this has emerged as the definitive version of the TMNT. Here is why…***
TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #38-44
AUTHORS: Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman
ARTISTS: Mateus Santolouco, Cory Smith
COLORIST: Ronda Pattison
LETTERER: Shawn Lee
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
COLLECTED IN: TMNT: The IDW Collection, Vol. 5 (shown right)
RELEASED: October 2014 – March 2015
***New around here? Check out Primary Ignition‘s TMNT Deep-Dive Review archive!***
By Rob Siebert
I was about halfway through these issues when I noticed things were feeling bigger. We had a big bad guy with a big bad plan for his big terrible fortress. So our heroes made their own big plans, got in some big fights, and in Donatello’s case, took a big risk. A risk that came with big consequences.
Naturally, with big things come big visuals. Slash using only his massive body to shield Michelangelo from an airborne car. A friggin’ building collapsing on Bebop and Rocksteady. Krang looking into the sky with glee as his Technodrome begins to terraform Earth in his home planet’s image. And lest we forget the intense ground battle between the Foot Clan and the forces of Dimension X. It’s all here in these seven issues.
But before we get into all that, let’s talk about Old Hob, shall we?
Before IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series brought us its take on classic villains like Shredder and Krang, there was Old Hob. He was there from the very first page of the very first issue. My initial impression of this mutant cat with an eyepatch was that he was what I’ll call a “starter villain.” In essence, a one-note bad guy for our heroes to fight while we as readers learn about them and their world. Under a different creative team, we might have been done with Hob as early as issue #4. Having served his purpose, the character could have been cast aside.
Instead, the crew at IDW Publishing has consistently found a place for Old Hob. We’ve seen him evolve from gang leader to would-be mutant revolutionary. Issues #38-40 represent a big step in that evolution, as we see Hob has started using mutagen to create his own mutant army. But calamity ensues when Bebop and Rocksteady catch wind of it. It’s all the mass chaos and destruction you could hope for.
Hob has two new recruits who we meet in issue #38. The first is Mondo Gecko, a TMNT legacy character and skateboarding lizard. The second is Herman, a hermit crab with a knack for heavy artillery (shown above). What I appreciate more than anything about these two is that, like the Turtles, they’re tonally versatile. More often than not they’re funny characters, Herman in particular. But when it’s time for a fight, they can pose a serious threat.
Less versatile, yet undoubtedly priceless, is Pidgeon Pete, who we met back in issue #35. Pete is a dim-witted, boundlessly enthusiastic slice of pure cheesy comedic joy. As much crap as I’ve given Mateus Santolouco about how he draws the Turtles, his dumb anthropomorphic pidgeon game is on point, and should never be tinkered with or changed. Ever.
Santolouco is indeed back for issues #38-40, before Cory Smith tags in for #41-44. Interestingly, their stylistic approaches to the Turtles and their world are very similar, to the point that it’s difficult to differentiate between the two at times. Whether that’s good or bad depends on one’s personal tastes. For yours truly, the upside is that it offers a comforting consistency between Santolouco’s issues and Smith’s. Both are good at high impact fight sequences and turn in a tremendous amount of detail. The downside? I’m still not in love with how Santolouco draws the Turtles. Smith’s, while slightly better, have many of the same traits.
If there was any doubt, it becomes pretty clear in issue #40 that the book is gradually working toward a romance between Raphael and Alopex. The idea of one of the Turtles having a genuine love interest hasn’t been explored much over the years. So I’ve been curious to see how the IDW crew develops this. At the same time, there’s an awkwardness to it that I’ve never quite been able to get past. One is a turtle, the other is a snow fox. One a reptile, the other a mammal. So how to they “match up?” Physically, I mean…
Y’know what? Let’s just change the subject.
Moving into the “Attack on the Technodrome” story, one thing becomes damn clear: Cory Smith draws a hell of a Krang. The sheer amount of detail he puts into this tentacled alien blob makes it genuinely look like it could exist in the real world. The last three pages of issue #40 are a thing of beauty.
Writers have a habit of keeping all four Turtles in their respective character “lanes.” Leonardo the leader, Raphael the rebel, Michelangelo the fun one, and Donatello the brain. One thing this series has been great at is blurring those lines and not giving us cookie cutter characters. One small example: in issue #38 Mikey actually says, “Just ’cause I’m not a genius like Donnie doesn’t make me dumb.”
To that end, Donatello is a character to watch during this stretch of issues, and not just because of what happens to him at the end (no spoilers!). Early on we see him stand up to Splinter, calling him out for his fixation on stopping Shredder, insisting Krang and the Technodrome potentially terraforming the Earth are more urgent. We then see him take initiative and a real risk to try and thwart Krang’s plan. He winds up making a tremendous sacrifice for his family, and for the world at large. There’s no mistaking it: These ain’t cookie cutter Ninja Turtles.
It all comes down to a battle at Krang’s base on Burnow Island. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance as the Technodrome begins to terraform the Earth, the Turtles infiltrate the massive moving fortress while Shredder and the Foot face Krang’s forces on the ground. Sadly, because we only have about two issues to left by the time they get to said ground battle, it isn’t as satisfying as you’d hope.
What is satisfying is the one-on-one fight we see between Shredder and Krang. And shockingly, the right guy wins!
The most interesting thing about the Shredder/Krang tandem on the ’80s TV show, at least for yours truly, is that their modus operandi are so different. Shredder is an Earth-bound ninja master, and Krang is an intergalactic warlord. They shouldn’t work well together, but somehow they do. In the IDWverse, however, Shredder and Krang are not partners (yet). In this story, they’re actually at war with one another. And while Shredder is very much the arch rival of the TMNT, when you stack his forces up against Krang’s, it should be no contest. Krang’s space age weapons beat Shredder’s blades and shurikens any day of the week. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so given their awesome track record, that’s exactly what this book gives us. It doesn’t inflate Shredder’s power based on his arch villain status. The world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t really the place to look for realism. But I appreciated that little pinch of it.
One character who’s easy to overlook in all of this is Baxter Stockman. Like Old Hob, he’s been around since issue #1 and has big plans of his own. In these issues we find him working alongside the reluctant robot Fugitoid (see the Neutrino story arc) as Krang’s servants and Technodrome tech aficionados. But as ever, Stockman has his own agenda to undermine Krang. When confronted by the Turtles, Stockman unveils an army of “flyborgs.” They’re half cyborg, half insect zombies. God help us.
Stockman is a TMNT legacy character that dates back to the original comic book. But fans of the ’80s cartoon may remember him as the evil scientist character who turned into a mutant fly. As the ’80s cartoon is obviously one of this book’s main influences, I was ready for them to turn him into a fly pretty quickly. But to their credit, the IDW crew held off and gave the evil scientist time to shine. The flyborgs are a pretty nice hold-off, though. I love their design, which originated in a Micro-Series issue drawn by Andy Kuhn. It’s a wonderful sci-fi/horror blend, and Smith’s execution of it is great.
It’s no accident that the series feels like it’s moving toward a crescendo. The stakes are getting higher, the cast is growing larger, and things do indeed feel like they’re getting bigger. All roads lead to issue #50, and one more epic showdown…
Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us out on Twitter.