By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
In an era where everybody wants to read a “dark” story with a dark tone, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations is truly dark in terms of both story and art. That comes with its share of pros and cons. I’d think twice before showing it to a kid who likes the Nickelodeon cartoon. But for adults following this series, this issue is pretty cool.
These Deviations one-shots are the IDW equivalent of an Elseworlds or “What if?” story from DC or Marvel. They change a few things within the timeline of a series, and show us how the story unfolds afterward. In the case of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations, we go back to City Fall. Early in the story, Casey Jones is stabbed in the gut by The Shredder, but survives. This time, he doesn’t. Subsequently, instead of Leo being brainwashed and brought into the Foot, it’s all the Turtles. When we open the story, they’re chasing a desperate Splinter, determined to capture him. But while his family may have abandoned him, Splinter will find allies in unlikely places.
I’ve been a Ninja Turtles fan most of my life. As such, the opening sequence in this issue is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s actually half the reason I wouldn’t put this issue in a young child’s hands, because it’s so emotionally brutal. The Turtles are mean, nasty, and blood thirsty toward their father. But he absolutely refuses to fight them. At one point Michelangelo, probably the most heart-on-his-sleeve of the boys, tells Splinter: “We’re not your sons.” In the next panel, we see a tear fall from Splinter’s eye. That’s an amazing character moment for him, amplified immensely by Zach Howard’s art. His eyes are very wide and expressive, almost dog-like. This entire sequence is the creative highlight of the book.
The Turtles and Splinter are hardly the only stars here. In this one issue, we also get appearances from Shredder, Karai, Kitsune, Alopex, Casey’s father Arnie Jones, Old Hob, and Slash. They’re not in minor roles, either. They all do their part in adding weight and emotion to the story. They also play a part in adding a significant amount of bloodshed to the proceedings. I won’t spoil things, but a lot of characters die in this issue. So much so that the last page contains a shot of the Turtles standing amongst all the bodies. From a logic standpoint, it’s almost too much. You’re literally left thinking: “Wait, they all died?” It’s a shame. I’d enjoy seeing this timeline revisited at some point, and now they’ve left themselves without a lot of supporting characters. Not all of them get the impactful deaths they deserve, either.
Conspicuous by her absence is April O’Neil. Waltz, Howard, and the creative team are somewhat hindered by the page count here. So I imagine it was just a matter of not being able to fit her in anywhere. But being such a close confidant, you’d think she’d have found a way to interject.
One character’s death is delivered by Arnie Jones. Again, no spoilers. But I will say it’s both very unexpected and very cool. It’s the kind of moment that reminds you that when you get right down to it, anything can happen in these stories.
Deviations, to it’s credit, doesn’t look like an average TMNT issue from IDW. Again, it’s dark. It’s much sketchier and more shadowy, especially in that opening sequence. Then at the very end, something happens and the brightness suddenly adjusts. It’s as if a light has suddenly turned on, and it’s very fitting given the events that unfold. It’s a great example of different art styles conveying different tones.
Chronologically, the first thing that changes in this timeline is the death of Casey Jones. This issue is hurt by the fact that we don’t actually see Casey die, or the Turtles’ reaction to his death. We also don’t see how the boys are captured, or how they’re brainwashed. This story is essentially missing its first act. Again, the scope of this story is much bigger than the page count allows. I imagine that’s why it seems like so many characters die so quickly. They had to hurry and wrap things up before they ran out of space.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations accomplishes its goal. It shows us a different take on the Turtles and their world. It’s not beautiful from a pacing standpoint, but it’s strengths in art and sheer emotional impact outweigh its flaws. They can, and should, come back to this if they can add something meaningful to it.
Consider this: How would the Turtles move forward without Splinter? Do they split up? Do they become more aggressive without their father’s guiding hand? Food for thought…
Images courtesy of comicbookresources.com.
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