Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

A TMNT #2937 Deep-Dive – Cutesy Turtles

***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 #29-37
AUTHORS: Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow
ARTISTS: Sophie Campbell, Mateus Santolouco, Cory Smith
GUEST ARTIST: Mark Torres
COLORIST: Ronda Pattison
LETTERER: Shawn Lee
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
COLLECTED IN: TMNT: The IDW Collection, Vol. 4 (shown right)
RELEASED: December 2013 – August 2014

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I don’t usually go for what I call, “Cutesy Turtles,” i.e. the boys in green drawn in a cute and cuddly style. That’s not to say the Turtles shouldn’t have softer, gentler moments. But remember, the Turtles are martial artists. They’re ninja. They’re warriors. They should look ready and able to fight at any given time

Sophie Campbell provides a unique and rare exception to that rule. I’d classify her take on the Turtles as cute. But there’s also a sensitive quality to her take that made it perfect for the four-issue “Northampton” story arc in IDW’s TMNT series.

The whole “retreat to a farm” plot point dates back to the original Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird comic book and has been adapted into various TMNT media over the years. It always involves the Turtles recovering after getting beaten down by the Foot, and eventually making a triumphant return to the city. The IDW series presented it with a new twist: Leonardo recovering after being brainwashed by the Foot. It wasn’t just a matter of recovering from a beat down. It was about coming together and healing as a family.

I think one would be hard-pressed to debate that Campbell’s art in these issues has a cute quality to it. But there’s more to it than that. This is as emotionally transparent and as vulnerable as the Turtles have ever looked. Part of that is because of the “softer” look Campbell gives them. Another part involves her decision to draw them with eyeballs, as opposed to the white slits many artists use, eyes being a “window to the soul” and what not. The general autumn aesthetic of “Northamption” plays a role too. Campbell and colorist Ronda Pattison’s greater emphasis on fall colors is a subtle message that we’ve got a front row seat to a time of change and transformation in these characters’ lives.

From a writing perspective, it’s interesting to pay attention to each individual Turtle during these issues. TMNT #30 in particular. Each brother deals with the blows they’ve been dealt in his own way. Michelangelo narrates the issue via a letter to Woody. Thus, he reaches out to others while expressing himself creatively. Leonardo desperately seeks guidance from a mentor, in this case his mother (more on her in a moment). Raphael, perhaps predictably, seeks out confrontation with Alopex, who is on her own journey of self discovery. Understated but no less important is Donatello’s emergence as a healer. We see him tend to Splinter’s wounded leg and act as a friendly ear for Leo. This emphasizes that his contributions to the Turtle clan go far beyond that of a simple Mr. Fix-It.

On the subject of healing, not to be lost in the shuffle is April O’Neil, and her role in the saga of the Turtles. We learn in “Northampton” that her father, now disabled after suffering a stroke, was once a scientist who had a hand in testing and developing the mutagen that transformed the Turtles and Splinter into their present state. The O’Neil family will later learn that the “ooze” in question has miraculous healing properties. That’s a new spin on the green goo that’s become synonymous with the TMNT over nearly three decades. More than anything else, it opens up some interesting storytelling doors…

The Turtles have always had a father figure in Master Splinter. But rarely if ever had there been a maternal figure in the story. Historically, the closest thing to one came in the form of Tang Shen, who we’d see via flashbacks as a love interest for the future Splinter, Hamato Yoshi. She would always meet a bloody end thanks to the Shredder.

In the IDWverse, Shen is cast not only as Yoshi’s beloved wife in feudal Japan, but the mother of their four sons. Centuries later, Yoshi is reincarnated as Splinter, and his sons return as four turtles. Shen, on the other hand, becomes a spectral presence, and for the first time has a role in the ongoing story of the TMNT. We saw her briefly during “City Fall,” and we see her once again during “Northampton.” Campbell and Pattison’s presentation becomes downright tender, and also brighter during Shen scenes (shown left). Fittingly, it also has a bit more of an Asian influence. It’s a unique visual, seeing this woman behave in a motherly way with these anthropomorphic animals. And needless to say, her relationship to the Turtles and Splinter is unlike any we’ve seen in the series.

Family continues to be one of the central themes for the book heading out of “Northampton,” into issue #33. The relationship, or lack thereof, between Casey Jones and his father, now the massive brute called Hun, takes centerstage. Present since the very first issue, this plotline is one of the more prevalent byproducts of presenting a younger Casey Jones. In other media, the character has almost always been a grown adult. Making him college-aged allows us to see not only a young man whose identity is still forming, but a character that’s often much more vulnerable than our traditional hockey-mask wearing ass kicker. And thus, more interesting. The downside? A jacked up dude in a hockey mask is a lot more intimidating and formidable than some teenager walking around with golf clubs and a hockey stick.

The truly tragic element of the Jones family story is that by this point in the series, Hun does actually want to help Casey. He wants to do what, in his mind, is best for his son by giving him a bunch of cash and sending him off to start a new life for himself. All the while, Hun would be staying in New York working for Shredder, the man who stabbed Casey and put him in the hospital. Hun may want what’s best for his son, but it’s clear where his loyalties are. And when Casey refuses his offer, we get an all too grim look at just who Arnold Jones has become.

Issue #33 also sees Mateus Santolouco return on pencils and inks. My complaints from last time about Santolouco’s Turtles looking too inflatable and puffy still stand. But oddly enough, his renderings of Slash, another mutant turtle, are perfectly fine. Granted, Slash is a different species of turtle, and is larger than our four boys in green. He also has an entirely different texture to his skin, which Santolouco draws beautifully. All Santolouco’s mutant characters (the four Turtles notwithstanding) are very charismatic and expressive. Not just Slash, but Old Hob, Pidgeon Pete, the Rat King, among many others. So it becomes that much easier to get invested in these characters and their world.

And yes, I did say the Rat King (shown below). Another TMNT “legacy” character that’s appeared in various media over the years, his trademark is his ability to control rats. Naturally, that becomes a problem for Splinter. The Rat King of the IDWverse has a more supernatural, and frankly demonic quality to him. As one might expect, he’s hardly a one-off baddie, and has his place in the larger tapestry of this series. But for now, he simply puts Splinter and Leo through the ringer, content to play again another day…

This portion of the book also lays a good amount of foundation for things to come. We spend more time with tech genius Harold Lilja, who we met in Donatello’s Micro-Series issue. There’s also Nobody, a vigilante/superhero who’s loosely the TMNT equivalent to Iron Man. She emerges when Angel, a friend of Casey’s and member of the Purple Dragons, dons a tech suit created by Harold.

Harold’s latest creation is Metalhead, a turtle-shaped cyborg and TMNT legacy character who’ll serve a purpose the likes of which readers will never see coming. I was impressed with what the IDW team did with Metalhead, specifically his “four-legged” battle mode.

Issue #37 and a portion of #36 see Cory Smith take a turn on artistic duties. Smith’s style is somewhat akin to what Ben Bates turned in during his time on the series, with a touch of Dan Duncan thrown in as well. It feels very familiar. As always, Pattison’s work brings a wonderful consistency to it all.

Smith gets the tall task of drawing the series’ first meeting between Shredder and Krang. Or at least the first meeting we’ve seen, as it turns out they’ve met before. I don’t love that approach, as I think it would have been much more interesting to see these two would-be dictators and forces for evil meet for the first time and size each other up. But what we get nonetheless has intrigue to it. They meet for what’s almost a business negotiation. As one might expect, things break down.

The four “Northampton” issues are the real selling point for this cluster of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It puts our characters in a new environment and studies them during a period of vulnerability. It’s not a matter of the book dipping in quality. Rather, it’s about setting the table for things to come. And rest assured, big things are coming…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

A TMNT #2128 Deep-Dive – Broken Home

***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 #2128
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
Fanboy Wonder

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 primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

A TMNT #112 Deep Dive – Origins and Opportunities

***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 #112
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz
ARTISTS: Eastman (Layouts), Dan Duncan, Mateus Santolouco,
COLORIST: Ronda Pattison
LETTERERS: Robbie Robbins, Shawn Lee
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
COLLECTED IN: TMNT: The IDW Collection, Vol. 1 (shown right)
RELEASED: August 2011-July 2012

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

One can’t define IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series in one, or even a handful of ways. It covers so much ground. It’s a love-letter to decades of TMNT lore in comics, television, movies, video games, etc. It’s a masterclass in comic book storytelling in both the short and long term. It’s an explosion of often beautiful work from a number of different artists. It’s become, in some ways, the pinnacle of TMNT mythology based on not just it’s lengthy duration, but its undoubtable quality.

So for the uninitiated…who/what are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, TMNT for short, were created in a black and white comic book self-published in 1984 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The premise was pure comic book insanity: Four anthropomorphic turtles trained in martial arts by an anthropomorphic rat, who then proceed to defend New York City against extraordinary threats of all kind. Most notably an evil ninja clan known as the Foot, and their sinister leader the Shredder.

This bizarre concept exploded into an unlikely cultural phenomenon after it was adapted into a wildly successful cartoon show in 1987. During the peak of the franchise’s popularity in the ’80s and early ’90s, TMNT was a multimedia and merchandising juggernaut. There were toys, feature films, video games, licensed clothing of all kinds, Turtle-themed food products, a bizarre musical stage show, just to name a few. It might be tough to understand if you weren’t a kid in the ’80s or ’90s, but “Turtlemania” was very, very real.

After multiple iterations in television, movies, and of course comic books, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brand was purchased by Nickelodeon in 2009. Naturally, there were more TV shows, movies, video games, etc. But for sheer power of storytelling, little (if anything) tops the 2011 comic book series from by IDW Publishing that’s still running to this day.

That’s where we come in.

Almost right off the bat, TMNT hits us with what may still be the best two-page spread in the entire series (shown right). Certainly it’s one of them. Put aside that it’s beautifully drawn and colored. This image gives us the series’ initial hook using purely the visual language of comic books. Especially if you’re a longtime Turtle fan, though you don’t need to be one in order to get it.

Look at how Old Hob and his thugs are grouped compared to how the Turtles and Splinter are grouped. There’s a sizable gap in between our heroes, whereas the villains are drawn fairly tight. What does this tell us? That something’s missing. The Turtles are incomplete. The good guys have a problem that needs to be solved. Then, consider Dan Duncan’s masterful rendering of the Turtles (I appreciate Michelangelo’s toothy growl in particular), and Ronda Pattison’s beautiful smokey coloring of the scene, and you’ve got pure comic book awesomeness spread out over two pages.

Indeed, Raphael is missing. This was the big twist early on: Having Raph grow up on his own, separated from his family. As far as set-ups are concerned, this is a pretty good one. Raph has always been written as the moody and broody one among his brothers. Growing up on his own gives him a reason to be that way, as opposed to assigning him those character traits for no real reason. So in the larger sense, it’s a good idea…

What’s always puzzled me about this twist with Raphael is that in the short term it’s never effectively followed up on. There’s no story about Raph butting heads with his father or brothers as he struggles to acclimate to this family he’s never known. Between issues #4 and #5, we essentially jump from reunited to reacclimated. It’s the kind of missed opportunity the series would not come to be associated with as it continued. Let’s call it stumbling out of the gate.

The IDW crew gives April O’Neil a larger role in the formation of the Turtles’ identities. She’s an intern at Stock Gen (owned by Baxter Stockman) who grows attached to the rat and four turtles brought in for research. She even gives them their names (“I have History of Renaissance Art 101 this semester.”). This creates a a nice connection between the Turtles and Splinter early on, to the point that she’s essentially a part of the family.

These 12 issues are among my favorite artistic runs on any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book. Nobody draws the Turtles quite like Dan Duncan. It’s all in the way he does their faces. The big white eyes, the way the beak curves up, the larger-than-you-might-expect size of the teeth. Even the their bodies have a seemingly perfect turtle-to-human ratio. Drawn in his sketchy yet masterfully inked style, it all adds up to figures that are very expressive. His Turtles “act” as well, if not better, than any I’ve ever seen. As do virtually all his mutant characters.

Colorist Ronda Pattison’s contributions to the series should never be ignored. She’s been with the book since day one, and provided a really nice consistency throughout the series. Issue #5 is a particularly strong one for her, as she uses three different color palettes to convey three different settings and moods. We have a smokey looking city scene as a stealthy Splinter sneaks around buildings at night. Then we have a more sunny and colorful palette as we check in with our reunited brothers in their sewer home. Finally, we switch to a more sepia toned look as we travel back to feudal Japan to see the Turtles and Splinter in human form.

Duncan and Pattison also did the primary covers (as opposed to the variant covers) for these issues. It’s all good, strong work. But Duncan leaves the book after issue #12, just as the duo were starting to hit their stride. For my money, issues #11 and #12 were their best work cover-wise.

Indeed, IDW made a bold choice in going with a reincarnation angle for their version of the TMNT story. We see in issue #5 that Hamato Yoshi and his four teenage sons have been reincarnated into their current states after being executed by their Yoshi’s enemy Oroku Saki, the future Shredder, and the Foot Clan. Obviously nothing like this had been done with the origin story before. I’m not sure if any “purists” were angered by it. But for me it was a case of no harm no foul. It didn’t fundamentally alter anything about the Turtles, Splinter, or Shredder. They didn’t so much change the origin story, so much as add a new layer to it.

As much as anything else, I appreciate that these first twelve issues give the Turtles a more expansive gallery of villains to fight. Shredder (shown above) and the Foot Clan have been around since the beginning, and cast such a long shadow that they tend to monopolize the villain scene in Ninja Turtles stories. In contrast, this series leads off with a brand new villain: A mutant cat named Old Hob. From there, in addition to the Foot, we meet sinister scientist/business tycoon Baxter Stockman, who from there leads us to the intergalactic tyrant Krang.

Like a cover of a classic song, many of these are familiar notes played with a different sound. Most of these characters we’ve seen before. So it’s just a matter what the IDW “spin” will be. You’ve got the Turtles, Splinter, April O’Neil, Casey Jones, Shredder and the Foot Clan, Krang and Dimension X, Stockman and the Mousers, etc. Naturally, there are familiar story beats too. We’ve got Mousers invading the Turtles’ lair, the boys having to rescue a kidnapped Splinter, April and Casey’s budding romance, among others.

It all amounts to something two-fold. On one hand, we have a melting pot consisting of much of what worked for the TMNT in other eras (mainly the original comics and the ’80s cartoon). But on the other, our creators are using those elements to lay the foundation for their own stories down the line. These issues are essentially a garden filled with seeds for stories that would come to fruition in the over 100 issues that have since followed. The care and crafting put into these early issues was evident when they came out, and is even more so with the benefit of hindsight.

What it all comes down to in the first 12 issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I’d argue most of the really good TMNT stories ever told, is family. Not just the discovery of one’s family, and what they mean in the formation of your identity, but the family you choose for yourself. April O’Neil unknowingly plays a role in the Turtles’ story, but eventually embraces and accepts them. Casey Jones leaves an abusive father to find our heroes as his new surrogate family, most notably a surrogate brother in Raphael. There is no stronger bond than family, regardless of what form it takes. That, if nothing else, has been the prevalent theme that has kept these characters and their stories relevant, and will likely continue to do so for generations to come.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Weekly Comic 100s: TMNT #100, Dark Knight ReturnsSuperman

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Nothing too in-depth here. Just straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Word recently broke about Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird working together again after all these years for a Ninja Turtles story called “The Last Ronin.” How fitting then, that not only does IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #100 comes out this week, but we’ve also got a new Frank Miller book. It’s no secret that Eastman and Laird drew inspiration from Miller’s work in the early to mid ’80s.

Imagine what would have happened if it had the modern Frank Miller back then. Back then you had his work on characters like Daredevil and Wolverine. Now? We’ve got the Dark Knight sequels and Holy Terror. *shudders*

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #100
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz (Script)
ARTISTS: Dave Watcher, Michael Dialynas. Variant cover by Eastman.
SUPPLEMENTAL ARTISTS: Mateus Santolouco, Adam Gorham, Dan Duncan, Cory Smith
COLORISTS: Ronda Pattison, Bill Crabtree
LETTERER: Shawn Lee
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

TMNT #100 is more or less exactly what you want it to be. All recent plot threads converge, and as expected, we see the return of a major villain. Can’t say I expected that death, though. And make sure you don’t miss that epilogue…

The only real complaint I have is that I felt half a step behind because I couldn’t keep up on the Shredder in Hell mini. I suppose that’s the problem when you’ve created a world so rich and dense. You can’t always pack everything into one series. But that’s not necessarily a terrible problem to have.

TITLE: Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child
AUTHOR: Frank Miller
ARTIST: Rafael Grampa. Cover by Grampa and Pedro Cobiaco.
COLORIST: Jordie Bellaire
LETTERERS: John Workman, Deron Bennett
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

My impression when I closed this book was that Miller must either have a ghostwriter working with him, or the editors are heavily involved here. Because this is a surprisingly competent issue to have his name on it in 2019. But if it was mostly Miller? Good on him.

No Bruce Wayne here. Which is kind of odd, but fine with me. Carrie Kelley, Lara, and this Dark Knight universe Jon Kent are more interesting anyway. They’re taking on Darkseid here, and Raphael Grampa’s art looks amazing.

A really good start. But keep your expectations tempered.

TITLE: Superman #18
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTIST:
Ivan Reis
INKER:
Joe Prado
COLORIST:
Alex Sinclair
LETTERER:
Dave Sharpe
RELEASED:
December 11, 2019

Ugh. Why?

Yes, it’s exactly what it looks like. The same thing they did in 2015, in a storyline that, fittingly, was also called Truth.

It’s not that I don’t think Bendis and this team can do a good job with it. But we were just here. And inevitably, when you do this kind of thing you have to come up with some convoluted way to get the genie back in the bottle. So why even bother?

I will say, though, there’s a single silent page depicting the big moment between Clark Kent and Perry White that’s absolutely beautiful.

TITLE: Something is Killing the Children #4
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
ARTIST: Werther Dell-Edera
COLORIST: Miquel Muerto
LETTERED BY: Andworld Design
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

In this issue, we get a major revelation about the nature of the monsters devouring children in Archer’s Peak. Tynion takes what I’ll refer to as the “Do you believe in magic?” approach. It’s an interesting twist that I didn’t see coming, and for my money, helps separate this book from the pack. Hopefully he’s given the time to expand on it.

As cool as Erica Slaughter is, part of me actually wants to see her killed off so James can take her place and learn about all this monster stuff. Probably won’t happen. But could be cool.

TITLE: Detective Comics #1017
AUTHOR: Tom Taylor
ARTIST: Fernando Blanco. Cover by Tony Daniel.
COLORIST: John Kalisz
LETTERER: Travis Lanham
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

A nice little one-and-done. I like when they do these. In the context of Detective Comics, it reminds me of Paul Dini’s run all those years ago.

Our story deals with missing children at the Martha Wayne Orphanage in Gotham. Taylor shows us a more sensitive and empathetic side of Batman and Robin. Also, the art in this issue really stands out, as Kalisz uses a more saturated color palette, while our inks are darker. He even gives us a sort of saturated sepia tone for the opening flashback that sets the scene really well.

TITLE: Go Go Power Rangers #26
AUTHORS: Ryan Parrott, Sina Grace
ARTISTS: Francesco Mortarino
COLORIST: Raul Angulo
LETTERER: Ed Dukeshire
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

One of the big selling points of this book early on was it was set in the pre-Green Ranger days. Tommy, one way or another, inevitably pulls focus from the other characters. It’s a little sad that the emphasis has shifted that way.

But Parrott is still the best PR writer we’ve seen from this BOOM! Studios run with the license. Oddly enough, what I enjoyed most about this issue was a flashback to Tommy eating a meal with Rita at the palace. As a kid, I always wanted to see him in there interacting with the other villains.

TITLE: Dying is Easy #1 (of 5)
AUTHOR: Joe Hill
ARTIST: Martin Simmonds. Cover by J. Lou.
COLOR ASSISTANT: Dee Cunniffe
LETTERER: Shawn Lee
RELEASED: December 11, 2019

Cop turned stand-up comic. Now there’s something you don’t see every day.

If grim-and-gritty is your thing, this book is right up your alley. If there’s a seedy underbelly to the world of stand-up, this book is smack in the middle of it. Simmonds and Cunniffe do a tremendous job using the colors to create an ominous, foreboding vibe. Ultimately, that pays off on the last page…

Fittingly, the book also manages to be funny in a black comedy sort of way. I’m not totally sold yet, but I may indeed be back for more.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #65 Review – Sewer Christmas Party

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #65, 2016, cover, ChristmasTITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #65
AUTHOR: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz
PENCILLER:
Mateus Santolouco
PUBLISHER:
IDW Publishing
PRICE:
$3.99
RELEASED: 
December 14, 2016

***Need to catch up? Check out last issue!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I didn’t expect to like this issue as much as I did, primarily because of what happened in issue #61. I’ve called that “the meeting issue,” because it contains one of the oddest scenes I’ve ever seen in a TMNT book. It’s essentially a big war council scene with all the good guys talking strategy. The promise of all these characters being together for a Christmas party, along with my general distaste for “Christmas episodes” (bah humbug), made me nervous. Thankfully, this story about a Christmas party stays fairly upbeat, and weaves in some nice character work.

The boys in green are more in need of holiday cheer than ever. They now find themselves estranged from their Master Splinter after the events of issue #64. Mikey throws a Christmas party in an attempt to boost morale. But one question remains unanswered: Who invited the Mutanimals?

tmnt-65, pepperoniMateus Santolouco is back on the pencil for this issue. I’ve been a little critical of him in recent months. But given how long he’s worked on this series, his art does feel like a homecoming of sorts. Santolouco is also tremendous at injecting excitement and enthusiasm into his characters. Look at Mikey on the cover. Look at the way he draws Pigeon Pete. Cartoony? Yes. But also a lot of fun.

This issue was also my first exposure to Pepperoni, Raphael’s pet baby dinosaur. Having skipped Turtles in Time and Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything, I was woefully unprepared for this little pink creature running around. On the upside, Santolouco makes him an adorable addition.

While I’ll keep things spoiler free, Splinter makes a brief appearance in this issue. Tonally, it’s odd. We left things in a very somber, painful place with Splinter last month. This month he’s feeling rather…Christmasy. It’s a cool idea. But Splinter is the one character I would have kept immune to all this holiday cheer.

This issue also introduced Angel/Nobody to Woody the pizza guy. This had sort of a Steve-Urkel-meets-Laura-Winslow vibe to it. (Look it up, kids.) This could very well have been a one-off. But it was charming enough to merit a revisit down the road.

TMNT #65 was a nice bit of levity, and a break from the intensity we’ve had in the last few months. Though I suspect next month we’ll crank that intensity right back up. So we may want to enjoy this respite while we can.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A TMNT Universe #1 Review – “Your First Step into a Larger World.”

TMNT Universe #1, Freddie E. Williams II, coverTITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #1
AUTHORS: Paul Allor, Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz
PENCILLERS: Damian Couceiro, Bill Sienkiewicz, Eastman. Cover by Freddie E. Williams II.
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: August 31, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz, and the crew at IDW have been creating good to great TMNT comics for several years now. This new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe series opens the door for even more. If this freshman issue is an indicator of things to come, we’ve got mostly good things ahead of us.

The Turtles and April O’Neil are hoping they can make an ally of Baxter Stockman. But Agent Bishop and the Earth Protection Force are in hot pursuit of the boys in green. Our heroes will soon find themselves in a fight to survive. Then in our back-up story, Leo faces off against the Foot Clan by himself. Despite his skills, he may be hopelessly outnumbered.

Paul Allor is no stranger to the Turtles, having written a number of their adventures for IDW. His experience is evident here, as he writes a damn good opening page. We get a glimpse into Bishop’s psyche, and why he opposes mutants the way he does. It’s a misguided, though relatable sentiment.

TMNT Universe #1, sonic weaponAllor uses this first issue to remind us that the Turtles, and mutants in general, are isolated and at times hated. Though Bishop’s motivation, while villainous, is relatable in its own way. As one might expect, the most emotional reaction we get comes from Raphael, and it’s used effectively to close the issue.

Allor also isn’t bad with the repartee between the Turtles. Panels like the one above aren’t exactly dripping with wit. But they’ve got a nice charm to them that we don’t always have time for in the main TMNT series.

Couceiro, who’s on both the pen and inks for this issue, is a solid fit for the Turtles. He’s got a really nice command of light and shadow, which obviously bodes well for our shadow-bound heroes. He also doesn’t draw their bandanas too large, which I tend to chide Mateus Santolouco, and more recently Dave Watcher for. I do, however, have one thing to nitpick: His Turtles are very toothy. He draws toothy Turtles. Panels like the ones below actually take me out of the story, as I can’t help but stare at their teeth. On the plus side, they’re very white. Splinter must have gotten the boys good dental insurance.

TMNT Universe #1, back-up, LeonardoOur back-up story is about Leo trailing a Foot ninja, who as it turns out, has some friends. A lot of friends. When I initially read this story, I thought it was scripted by Kevin Eastman. Leo’s inner monologue reads like one of the original Mirage books. He seems more like an easy going teenager, and less like the disciplined leader we usually see. But the issue credits Tom Waltz for the script. I’m not sure why Leo is so casual here. It almost strikes me as out of character.

This is also a premise that’s been done to perfection in both the original Eastman and Laird series, and the IDW series. It’s Leo against a bunch of foot ninjas. This story is set to continue next issue, so hopefully they do something with this concept we haven’t seen before. Eastman handles the page layouts, slowing the pace a bit to take us into the action. Bill Sienkiewicz and colorist Tomi Varga are a good fit for the Turtles, providing the gritty, street-level feel the story needs.

Like many things in life, this issue reminds me of a line from Star Wars. In the original 1977 film, Obi-Wan says to Luke: “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” In a sense, that’s what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #1 is. Chances are good that this series will really enrich what IDW has created for the Turtles. Dare I say, cowabunga?

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #61 Review – This Meeting is Called to Order!

TMNT #61, coverTITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #61
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz
PENCILLER: Dave Wachter
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 24, 2016

***WARNING: Some spoilers ahead for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #61.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Putting Splinter and the Turtles at the head of the Foot Clan opened a lot of interesting storytelling doors. But I never expected those doors to lead to a seven-page council meeting.

But indeed, much of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #61 consists of our heroes sitting at a table, plotting their next moves. To be fair, they have a lot on their plate. Kitten’s attack from issue #59 caught them off guard, and now both she and Alopex are missing. The Street Phantoms continue to plague the city, prompting the creation of new tech. All the while, Michelangelo continues to sever himself from his family’s involvement with the Foot, creating an uncomfortable and unprecedented divide.

I used to be a beat reporter in the Chicagoland area. Part and parcel to that is covering board meetings. City council, park district, etc. I used to dread those meetings. They usually came on the heels of an eight-hour day, and they usually revolved around things that weren’t altogether very exciting.

TMNT #61, meetingWhile I’d much rather see the Ninja Turtles conduct such a meeting, that seven-page scene was a little too reminiscent of my reporter days. One of the major strengths of this book is how rich and dense the world created for it is. So much so that IDW is creating a separate series dedicated to TMNT‘s supporting characters. But if we’ve gotten to the point where we need to stop the story and spend multiple pages spelling out which characters are doing what, perhaps something’s wrong.

The upside is that we get some nice character work revolving around this meeting. Mike once again refuses to be part of the Foot, calling Splinter out for being more concerned about Alopex’s ability to fight in a war than her health. We also see Leo show kindness to Jennika. I’m a bit perplexed as to why we needed yet another character in this book. But if our creative team has earned nothing else, it’s the benefit of the doubt.

There’s also a really nice scene between Splinter and Casey Jones. It’s obviously important to establish Splinter is still the kind soul he’s always been, despite his new role. Casey asks if Splinter rejects killing the Shredder. He gives an answer about abhorring violence, but wanting to protect those he loves most. There’s an intriguing subtext here, considering Splinter may soon be in a position to kill many more as leader of the Foot.

TMNT #61, 2016, Dave WatcherDave Watcher has done fine on the pencil these last few issues. His style is sketchier than many of TMNT’s previous artists, which makes him a nice fit for street-level scenes, such as our opener with Donnie, Nobody, and the Street Phantoms. He also does some terrific cover work, especially next month’s with Casey Jones.

Major credit must also be given to Ronda Pattison, who’s been the colorist on this book since day one. We’ve seen several artists give their take on the Turtles since they came to IDW. But Pattison has given this series a great consistency, and a nice familiarity when we open each new issue.

I have a tendency to nitpick at the way certain artists draw the Turtles. That’s what being a fanboy for 25 years will do to you. Obviously there’s no textbook way to draw the boys in green. But both Watcher and TMNT great Mateus Santolouco draw their bandanas too big for my taste. It’s a little quirk to both artists styles, which are otherwise delightful. You could cut those suckers down a bit at each end and be perfectly fine. They tend to drape too far down over the “beak,” and go annoyingly high above the eye.

I’m hopeful TMNT Universe will allow this title be a little less inflated. IDW has something really solid with the world they’ve created in this book. It begs to be explored, as they’ve done in numerous minis. A second ongoing should allow them to do it on a more consistent level, and take some of the pressure off the main series.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Ninja Turtles: City Fall – Part 2 Review – The Brainwashed Brother

Ninja Turtles, Vol 7: City Fall Part 2TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 7: City Fall – Part 2
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz
PENCILLERS: Mateus Santolouco, Charles Paul Wilson III
COLLECTS: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #25-28
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASE DATE: February 12, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As a life long Ninja Turtles fan, I can’t even tell you how cool it was to see that last page in issue #27, where Bebop and Rocksteady finally make their IDW debut (a portion of which is shown below). Not only that, but they look bad ass. They’ve busted through a wall, and instead of holding ray guns like they did on the old cartoon show, Bebop is holding a friggin’ chainsaw, and Rocksteady’s got a sledgehammer. They look every bit like the sawed off (yet dimwitted) monsters you’d hope they’d be. Granted, it doesn’t really make sense for Rocksteady to have a sledgehammer, given that his fists are twice as big as it’s head. So he should really have the chainsaw. But you know what? Who the hell cares! It’s Bebop and Rocksteady, and they look bad ass!

And hell, that’s just one page of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 7: City Fall – Part 2.

As The Shredder tightens his grip on the organized crime factions in New York City, he has a new second-in-command at his side: Leonardo. Having been brainwashed by the witch Kitsune, Leo now believes his brothers to be dead, and Splinter to be a twisted manipulator. Now the Turtles must fight to bring their brother home, and once again face the Foot Clan head on. But in doing so, they’ll have to form an uneasy alliance with Old Hob and Slash. Meanwhile, Casey Jones sees a side of his estranged father he never knew existed. Sadly, father and soon seem destined to be on opposing sides.

Bebo & Rocksteady, TMNT: City Fall, Part 2The City Fall story feels like something the entire series has been building up to. Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz and the artists have had time to establish this version of the TMNT universe, who everyone is, etc. Thus, a story like this, which alters and shifts a lot of those relationships, is much more meaningful. Our climactic battle between the Turtles and the Foot successfully capitalizes on those high stakes, and is much better than the disappointing first encounter in Shadows of the Past.

The Turtles come into this fight shortly after losing two major battles to the Foot in the previous book, so we’ve got a good sense of just how merciless and powerful our bad guys are, and that it’s entirely possible for our heroes to lose again. Then, we crank up the intensity with the introduction of Bebop and Rocksteady, two enemies who are bigger and stronger than the Turtles, with Shredder, Karai, and a brainwashed Leo waiting in the wings. And all the while, we’ve got an entirely different battle happening elsewhere between Casey and his father, who has become the massive behemoth Hun. It’s a much better constructed, and because of the higher stakes, much more suspenseful than what we saw in Shadows of the Past.

The vision sequences between Leo and his mother Tang Shen are fairly strong, particularly the one at the beginning of issue #26. For one thing, the simple image of an anthropomorphic turtle walking beside a human woman, and looking up at her with such reverence, makes for a compelling visual. But in previous incarnations, we haven’t heard much about the Turtles having a mother. The reincarnation angle used in the IDW series opens up a new creative door in that respect. It might be compelling to see Eastman and Waltz play with this a bit more as the series progresses.

Leonardo, mother, Ninja Turtles, IDWThe biggest drawback in City Fall – Part 2 is that there are technically two fairly significant holes in the story. One involves Alopex, and the reasoning behind a major decision she makes during the book’s climax. The second involves Casey’s father, and how he makes the transformation into Hun. Both these things were addressed in issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseries: Villains, which runs alongside the regular series. Neither of those issues are collected here. It doesn’t necessarily ruin anything, and for Hun, an annotation is made referencing his particular issue. But it’s frustrating that we don’t get to see how and why these two rather pivotal events take place. It’s one thing for the microseries issues to supplement what’s happening in the main book. It’s another thing entirely to stick major events in there that readers should know about. Ideally, we should be able to get all of our pertinent plot points from the main series. That didn’t happen with City Fall – Part 2.

What I said about Mateus Santolouco’s art in the last volume still stands here. The way he draws their faces, with the beaks that are subtly framed like human noses, and the larger bandanas, they almost have a cutesy quality to them. Cute is definitely not what we’re aiming for here. Still, he does a fantastic job of injecting so many different emotions into not only our resident mutant turtles, but a mutant cat, a mutant snow fox, a mutant rat, etc. However, the best panels in the book are drawn by Charles Paul Wilson III, who handled the first exchange between Leo and his mother (a portion of which is shown above). The brief change in texture and color scheme lent a lot to the notion of it being a vision or a dream sequence.

Ninja Turtles #27, IDWWithout giving too much away, the last page of this story is encouraging. It seems to indicate that Eastman, Waltz, and Ross Campbell (the next artist in the rotation) are going to spend some time examining the consequences of Leo being brainwashed. City Fall tore this family apart, and it looks like the next chapter of this series will be about putting the family back together. Considering we didn’t get that kind of story when Raphael re-joined the team after Change is Constant, that’s good to see. It also looks like the events of this series will, to an extent, be mirroring certain events from Eastman and Peter Laird’s original series for the next several issues.

In the end, City Fall – Part 2 is the best we’ve yet seen from IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. By and large, it’s an emotional story about families being torn apart, and the lengths some will go to in order to bring them back together.

RATING: 8.5/10

Images from tmntentity.blogspot.com. 

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