***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. Or in this case, veering off and looking at a miniseries that showcased numerous talented writers and artists…***
TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time #1–4
AUTHORS: Paul Allor
ARTISTS: Sophie Campbell, Charles Paul Wilson III, Ben Bates, Dan Duncan. “A” covers by David Petersen.
COLORISTS: Bill Crabtree, Jeremy Mohler, Bates, Ronda Pattison
LETTERER: Shawn Lee
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
COLLECTED IN: TMNT: The IDW Collection, Vol. 5
RELEASED: June – September 2014
***New around here? Check out Primary Ignition‘s TMNT Deep-Dive Review archive!***
By Rob Siebert
Adapting video games into any other media, be it movies, TV, or in this case comics books, is tricky. So much of the fun of a video game is in the immersion factor. Being able to interact with and play your way through an entirely different world.
As far as pure fun is concerned, few games can beat 1991’s Turtles in Time from Konami. It was the best of the side-scrolling TMNT beat-em-up games, throwing a smorgasbord of enemies and settings at players. Tried and true locales like the New York City sewers and the Technodrome, and eras as far back as the prehistoric and as far ahead as a star base in 2100. We saw foot soldiers riding dinosaurs, Bebop and Rocksteady dressed as pirates, Krang flying in a spaceship, and finally…Super Shredder. Turtles in Time had it all.
So how do you supplant that story into comic books without losing the joy of being able to ninja-kick through the game yourself? You don’t. You can, however, use the strengths of the medium to present something different, yet still evocative, of the original product.
That’s what IDW does with it’s four-issue Turtles in Time miniseries. Each issue takes us to a different era, spotlights a different Turtle, and has its own artist to provide a different look and feel. As an added bonus, most of the artists had already worked on the main series by this point. But with that in mind, from an artistic standpoint Turtles in Time surprisingly doesn’t feel all that familiar…
Author Paul Allor and artist Sophie Campbell hit the ground running with issue #1, as the Turtles find themselves suddenly thrust into pre-historic times. It’s worth noting that the character responsible for the Turtles’ temporal displacement, an interdimensional time-traveler named Renet, had not been introduced in the main series yet. Issue #1 came out in June 2014, and Renet’s official introduction didn’t come until August. Whoops…
I’ve called Sophie Campbell’s approach to the Turtles “cutesy.” But her work on the main series also had a vulnerable, emotional side to it that made it a great fit for the “Northampton” story arc. This, on the other hand, is pure cutesy. “Northampton” wouldn’t have been nearly as effective had it looked like this.
Still, as with “Northampton,” we have to account for tone. When Campbell worked on the main series, she was helping to tell a four-issue story about a family coming together and healing after a devastating, costly battle. This is a one-off where Michelangelo rides a dinosaur. It’s much more playful, and somewhat akin to the 2012 Nickelodeon series that was airing at the time. So while still cute, Campbell is able to adapt her style to match a story with a much different tone than “Northampton.” Once again, she makes it work.
Also, Raphael also gets a pet dinosaur. So…that’s a thing.
In issue #2, author Erik Burnham and artist Charles Paul Wilson III take us to feudal Japan. Of course, in the IDWverse this is the time period the Turtles and Splinter originally lived in as humans before their murder and reincarnation in the 21st century. There’s a story opportunity gift-wrapped for them there, and Burnham takes advantage of it. Our heroes meet their past selves, Splinter’s human counterpart Hamato Yoshi, and their mother Tang Shen. A little convenient? Sure. But the resulting character moments are worth it. Specifically, Leo blatantly attempting to change the future while Raph acts as the voice of reason. It’s a really nice role reversal. Seeing the Turtles in samurai garb is pretty cool too.
As for Wilson, for me his style is comparable to that of Andy Kuhn. Generally speaking, I’m a fan of his work, but he struggles when it comes to the Turtles themselves. The word that comes to mind when I look at his take (shown above) is…gelatinous. I’ll leave it at that. Everything else, however, looks just fine. The action sequences in particular have a great kinetic energy to them.
Burnham stays on for issue #3, as Ben Bates returns to draw the Turtles on a pirate ship in the 18th century. As with Campbell, Bates’ work takes on a different tone for Turtles in Time. Less so because of his pencils, and more his colors. The palette is lighter and the look is a bit sketchier, which adds up to a windswept, sea-blown vibe. Combined with the largely white backgrounds he uses to depict the open sky, it highly effective.
From a writing perspective, I was impressed with how Burnham incorporated Krang as the hidden leader of the evil pirates. At editorial’s request, he also snuck the IDW origin of a TMNT legacy character on to the last page. Beyond that, between issues #2 and #3 Burnham is able to give us two very different stories. Issue #2 has its comedic moments, but airs on the dramatic side, while issue #3 is a lot more fun and comedic. Particularly with Michelangelo, who wins his pirate comrades over with his version of an “inspirational” speech.
Out of all the artists working on Turtles in Time, the name I was most excited to see was Dan Duncan’s. His work on the first 12 issues of the main series is some of the best the property has ever seen. Coming into the fourth issue of Turtles in Time, I was hoping for more of the same with the unique flavor of it being in a futuristic setting. Ronda Pattison, the colorist he worked with on the main series, being along for the ride only seemed to sweeten the pot.
The performance Duncan turns in is superbly creative, with Turtles that are as expressive as ever. But it’s not quite as evocative of those first issues as I’d hoped. Oddly enough, this issue once again looks like it was inspired by Nickelodeon show. It makes you wonder how much these creative teams were influenced by it, if at all. Still, Duncan has the tall task of drawing a Manhattan strictly populated by mutants, all of which he had to design himself. So this issue in and of itself is a tremendous achievement.
Issue #4, written once again by Allor, introduces us to an elderly Donatello. With his brothers now gone, he refuses to take part in a rebellion against an America ruled by the Foot clan. Donatello is an interesting choice for that role, as given the choice of all four Ninja Turtles, I doubt he’d the one many would bet on as the sole survivor of an apocalyptic scenario. It makes perfect sense, though, if you think about it. And of course, having Don meet an older, more jaded version of himself makes for great character development, which would soon be reflected in the main series.
When you get right down to it, Turtles in Time is perfectly skippable. It doesn’t add anything integral to the main series, and is just a fun little romp through different time periods. The latter, however, is also its greatest appeal. It takes the Turtles out of their element and lets a variety of talented people play around with them. Much like the video game, it’s an exercise in creativity and fun. At the end of the day, it’s hard to hate on that.
Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us out on Twitter.