***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 #21–28
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz
ARTISTS: Mateus Santolouco, Eastman
GUEST ARTISTS: Dan Duncan, Andy Kuhn, Ben Bates, Sophie Campbell
COLORIST: Ronda Pattison
LETTERER: Shawn Lee
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
COLLECTED IN: TMNT: The IDW Collection, Vol. 3 (shown right)
RELEASED: April 2013 – November 2013
By Rob Siebert
One of the really amazing things to me about this stretch of TMNT issues is that the series is still relatively young at this point. . When issue #21 came out, the book was only in its second year. And yet, Tom Waltz, editor Bobby Curnow, and the rest of the TMNT crew had such a solid handle on these characters and their world that even at that early juncture they were able to tell one of the more ambitious and impactful stories the property has ever seen. This, my friends, is “City Fall.”
Kevin Eastman, one of the co-creators of the Ninja Turtles and their world happens to pencil and ink issue #21. Eastman can be credited with the creative spark that launched a global juggernaut, having famously doodled a “ninja turtle” for friend and eventual TMNT co-creator Peter Laird in the early ’80s. Fast-forward to the early 2010s, and Eastman has top-billing on this new, ever-expansive TMNT comic book. My understanding is that to this day Eastman acts more as a consultant for the series than anything else, pitching in on story, character design, and drawing variant covers for each issue. Despite all he’s given us over the years, in my estimation he shouldn’t be the first name mentioned when talking about all the success this series has had. I’d absolutely rather have him aboard than not, as he’s obviously very creative with years of expertise to offer. He also gives the series a certain credibility for die-hards like me who are forever in his debt. But let’s keep Eastman’s role in the proper perspective as we move forward…
For those familiar with Eastman’s art, TMNT #21 is more or less exactly what you’d expect, and perhaps even hope for: Something in the vein of a classic Eastman and Laird TMNT issue. It’s dark (though not grim), though as expected Ronda Pattison’s colors accent things beautifully. It’s got the trademark scratchy texture, and the figures are a little bit blocky in that Eastman sort of way. It’s a nice artistic interlude in an issue that ultimately serves as the calm before the proverbial storm of “City Fall.”
Issue #22 marks the beginning of what wound up being a pretty extensive run for Mateus Santolouco as the artist for TMNT. Santolouco is very talented, and as we’ll soon see brings us no shortage of memorable moments. But for yours truly, the success or failure of a TMNT artist largely hinges on the way they draw the Turtles themselves, and I’ve never been a huge fan of how Santolouco draws the boys in green. They’re very expressive and emotional, which is a great thing. (For evidence, look no further than Raphael’s “acting” in issue #22.) But the way Santolouco proportions the bandanas on the Turtles’ heads has always bothered me. That, and the certain puffy “inflatable” quality he sometimes brings to their frames. Indeed, Santolouco turns in a career performance on “City Fall.” But that’s not to say it’s a flawless one.
The first chapter of “City Fall” sees Casey Jones abducted by the Foot. Fast-forward several pages, and Shredder does something genuinely shocking: He stabs Casey in the stomach in front of the Turtles and Splinter (shown below). It’s drawn and colored for maximum impact, and is one of the images that immediately come to mind when I think of “City Fall.” The red background packs a hell of a punch when you turn the page. Even the sound effect they use is enough to make you shudder.
By this point in the series, Shredder was already well established as a villain. But in “City Fall” he ups his game and truly earns his status as the Turtles’ arch rival. Not just because of what he does to Leo (more on that in a moment), but because of the sheer cunning and viciousness he displays in these pages. Here is a man who’s trying to conquer an entire city, and destroy the Turtles’ family in the process. More over, he’s flat out stabbing people to get what he wants. He makes damn effective use of those gauntlets. We see what he does to Casey, and later on we see him straight-up murder someone with them. This guy is playing for keeps.
The stabbing of Casey turns out to be part of a ploy to capture Leonardo. Kitsune brainwashes Leo, turning him against his family and into the waiting arms of his new master, the Shredder. The subsequent hallucination sequence, which is given several pages in issue #23, sees a number of familiar faces tag in for portions of the artwork: Dan Duncan, Andy Kuhn, Ben Bates, and Eastman. There’s also Sophie Campbell, who we’ll see more from in future issues. Story-wise, it’s not the most logical thing in the world. But it does manage to be powerful, as everything Leo values come crashing down around him.
Thus, we’re introduced to who the IDW crew would dub behind the scenes as, “Dark Leo.” Years later, Santolouco would say in an interview (see the back of issue #94) that Dark Leo ultimately isn’t that different from the Leo we know. He makes some interesting points…
“Leo is disciplined. A real soldier if you will. Once you change who he is responding to, you change his relation to the world around him. In essence he is still the same person, loyal and faithful to his duty as second-in-command of a ninja clan or army.”
We get what may very well be the book’s dramatic highlight in issue #24. Splinter attempts to bargain with Old Hob for Leo’s location. Of course, it’s a trap. Splinter and his remaining three sons wind up confined in a shipping container with Shredder and a small army of his Foot minions. It’s here that we get the big reveal (shown left): Leonardo has turned against his family. It’s an edge-of-your seat sequence, and your stomach drops when you see all that awaits our heroes.
In the grand scheme of things, Leo isn’t under Shredder and Kitsune’s control for that long: About five issues. But his brief conversion to the dark side and the events surrounding it create a ripple effect that touches virtually every area of the book. Not only does Splinter make a faustian deal with Old Hob, but Raph goes on a violent rampage looking for answers, a jealous Karai creates her own mutant henchmen, Casey Jones’ father becomes the villainous brute Hun. The sheer scope of “City Fall” is massive. So massive in fact, one can argue it starts to become a problem.
Almost from its inception, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was accompanied by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series, a set of character-based one-shots published periodically to supplement the main book. Naturally, new characters and developments started popping up in those books that began to impact the main series. Whenever something like this would happen, the IDW team would simply include a caption box referencing whichever issue was being alluded to. No harm, no foul. The trouble is, there are so many characters and plot threads converging in “City Fall,” it starts to feel like we aren’t getting the full story without reading the supplemental material in Micro-Series.
The character of Hun is the most egregious example. In issue #25, Casey’s father Arnold Jones is devastated after learning that his son has been stabbed. Then in issue #27 he shows back up as Hun, the massive and muscled leader of the Purple Dragons street gang, just in time to have a showdown with Casey in issue #28. Arnold Jones’ transformation into Hun and all the circumstances surrounding it? That was all in the Hun-dedicated issue of TMNT Villains Micro-Series.
Mind you, the main series continues to cite the Micro-Series issues, and if you’re reading the IDW Collection books, said Micro-Series issues are included. But not everyone has the fortune of reading this series via those collections. The simple truth is, for better or worse, you need the Micro-Series issues to see the full tapestry of “City Fall.”
Bebop and Rocksteady, two staples of the ’80s cartoon, also make their IDW debut here, and like Hun are greatly supplemented by their own Micro-Series issue. By and large they’re exactly as we remember them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My only complaint about their big entrance? The head of Rocksteady’s sledgehammer is too small. It barely looks bigger than his fist. He’s a big dude. Let him have a big hammer.
I maintain that not all, but many of the best TMNT stories are, at their core, about family. Such is the case with “City Fall.” Yes, it is about a super villain making a massive power grab, brainwashing a mutant turtle in the process. But I think it’s also a story about what happens to people when a family becomes broken. Some, like Donatello and Michelangelo, remain steadfast in the face of heartbreak. Others, like Splinter and Raphael, give into their darker and uglier impulses. Some families, like the Turtles, are fortunate enough to heal and come back stronger. Others, like Casey and Arnold Jones, remain fractured and in fact grow further apart.
When you look at it that way, “City Fall” could just as easily have been called “Family Fall.”
Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us out on Twitter.