Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

A Turtles in Time Deep-Dive – This Ain’t No Game!

***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 #14
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
Fanboy Wonder

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

Posted in Toys

Toy Chest Theater: Bebop & Rocksteady Do Easter

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I can’t believe they sell these figures. It’s a testament to just how beloved that original TMNT animated series is.

This shot from tone.toys was done in Times Square in New York City. The funny thing? Two mutants in bunny suits probably isn’t the weirdest thing you’d seen in Times Square on a given day.

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

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, Weekly Comic 100s

Weekly Comic 100s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #115

***This is where we keep it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #115
AUTHOR: Sophie Campbell, Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz (Story Consultants)
ARTISTS: Campbell, Ronda Pattison (Colorist), Shawn Lee (Letterer). Variant cover by Eastman.
RELEASED: March 17, 2021

Wow. Apparently a lot can ride on a good ol’ fashioned battle of the bands. Like, a lot

I imagined this Bebop and Rocksteady vs. Tokka and Rahzar fight would be pure comic book violence. But Campbell actually casts one side as sympathetic, thus skewing readers’ loyalties. Not the approach I expected. But I can’t complain.

You know what Sophie Campbell has turned this series into? The comic book equivalent of a young adult novel. Again, not the approach I expected. But I can’t complain.

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 #1320 Deep Dive – Classic Characters, New Layers

***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 #1320
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman (Story), Tom Waltz (Story & Script)
ARTISTS: Andy Kuhn, Ben Bates
COLORIST: Ronda Pattison
LETTERER: Shawn Lee
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
COLLECTED IN: TMNT: The IDW Collection, Vol. 2 (shown right)
RELEASED: August 2012-March 2013

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Open Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #13, and it’s evident a pretty big change has occurred. It’s very much the same series. But it looks very different.

Issue #12 had been Dan Duncan’s last as regular penciller (Though he would continue to do cover art for the IDW Collection TMNT books.). His were large shoes to fill, as he’d been with the series since its beginning. He’d introduced us to almost all the characters (not counting the ones introduced in the TMNT Micro-Series issues) and their world. Throw in that he just happens to be one of the best to ever draw the Ninja Turtles, and virtually any artist to pick up the pencil in his wake would have a daunting task ahead of them.

The responsibility ultimately fell on Andy Kuhn, who for the record, is quite good. That’s evidenced by his scenes between Shredder and Karai, Baxter Stockman and the Utroms, and his renderings of Slash later on. But the transition between Duncan’s take on the Turtles and Kuhn’s toothy, inky renderings of the boys in green is a jarring one. As such, his work in TMNT is an acquired taste. Still, he’s more than capable of telling compelling stories in his own right.

Compelling stories continued to be the M.O. for TMNT as it entered its second year of publication. As we discussed last time, the best Ninja Turtles stories often center around themes of family, both the ones we’re born with and the ones we choose. That continued to be the case in issues #13-16 as Waltz and the TMNT crew took an in-depth look at the different, and not always so good, paternal relationships on display. We had Casey Jones and his drunk, abusive father. We had Shredder’s strict, often harsh relationship with Karai (though he’s technically her grandfather). One can even make an arguement for Baxter Stockman and Slash.

But of course, the preeminent paternal dynamic in this book is between Splinter and the Turtles. Historically, Splinter in his many incarnations has had one prominent character trait: He’s wise. As such, writers have focused more on the Turtles when it comes to character development. But these issues, #14 in particular, give Splinter an added layer that I don’t think any of us were expecting.

When Casey Jones comes to April’s apartment having been beat up by his dad once again, Resident hothead Raphael goes into a rage. He sets out to teach Arnold Jones a lesson, and is unknowingly followed by Splinter. After Raph has roughed up Casey’s father, Splinter arrives on the scene and shockingly puts a blade to Jones’ throat. He asks, “Would you have me execute this man, my son?” Naturally, this brings Raph out of his angry fit.

Splinter goes on to say that as a young man he, like Raph, was once prone to intense anger, and even a thirsts for revenge. Thus, father and son are able to relate to one another in a new way. We even see later on that Splinter’s anger issues have not subsided completely…

As we’ve seen the IDW team do with so many other classic TMNT characters, this move doesn’t change the essence of Splinter. Rather, it adds a new layer to what was already there. It allows him to keep doling out wisdom and fatherly advice, while reminding us that Splinter is wise for a reason. He’s fought many of the same battles as his sons, and faced many of the same demons. This move gives Splinter credibility, as opposed too simply making him a fountain of platitudes.

The artistic highlight of Kuhn’s four-issue run comes in issues #15 and #16 with what I’ll call the “church fight.” The Turtles find an underground rec room at an abandoned church, and hope to set it up as a base. There they run into Slash, a mutant snapping turtle created at Stockgen using an “impure” dose of mutagen. Ergo he’s wild and far more animalistic than our heroes.

The fight with Slash takes place in the dark, with the only light source being flashlights. It’s here that Kuhn is truly in his element. He turns the book into a horror show. Slash has never looked more menacing or terrifying than in some of these under-lit shots. Colorist Ronda Pattison’s contributions to this sequence can’t be understated. She creates a dim, hazy yellow glow that perfectly compliments the inky blackness of Kuhn’s shadows.

Let’s also talk about Woody, a side character introduced early in the series who works at a pizza place. He gives the Turtles their pizza fix via a friendship with Michelangelo. Woody’s introduction into the book was charming, but seemingly random. Even in a world as detail rich as IDW’s TMNT, did we really need to know where the Turtles got their pizza from? Maybe not. But the book ultimately wound up better for it.

In issue #15, shortly after one of Mikey’s pizza runs, Woody gets attacked by Slash. Toward the end of issue #16, he abruptly breaks off their friendship. Juxtaposed with some dialogue from Splinter explaining the nature of Mikey’s kindness and sensitivity, we get a heartbreaking few panels in which he finds a note from Woody and then departs in tears (shown above). A heart-wrenching moment coming from a character who seemingly meant very little at the start.

That’s the thing about Michelangelo in the IDWverse: He’s not just a party dude. He’s a sensitive guy. So once again, we see the layering of a classic character. The reason Mikey’s emotions often come off so big is because he feels them in a big way. We aren’t altering or subtracting, we’re simply adding…

Heading into issue #17, Kuhn tags Ben Bates in on the pencils and inks. Bates has a more traditional take on the Turtles, in that they’re more in line with what someone like Kevin Eastman or Jim Lawson might turn in. They’re a little bit shorter, with faces that are expressive and nicely proportioned. His work here actually made him into one of my favorite artists on the series.

Issues #17-20 take us directly into space opera territory, as the Turtles are accidentally transported to Dimension X and find themselves caught in a war between General Krang’s forces and the Neutrinos. At the center of the conflict is the android Fugitoid, whom Krang believes holds the secret to constructing his ultimate weapon, the Technodrome.

For TMNT buffs, it’s all very familiar. Fugitoid has been part of TMNT lore since the early days of the comic books, has been adapted into various media. The Technodrome, meanwhile, was a staple of the ’80s cartoon, as were the Neutrinos. It’s not necessarily surprising to see the Neutrinos, but it’s interesting that they made it in so quickly and relatively unchanged. Then again, without the zany hairstyles they’re not really the Neutrinos are they?

This four-issue Dimension X story is the first time Krang, who’s been a fixture in the book since early on, really takes center-stage as the primary villain. There’s a lot to like about IDW’s take on a character who, in the ’80s cartoon, was often played for laughs. First and foremost is how he’s drawn and designed. Kuhn and Bates both draw utroms (the alien species Krang belongs to) very well. But they each go out of their way to make Krang himself look ruthless and sinister. That’s not a small feat, as he’s essentially just a pink blob with tentacles. Also, gone is the colorful and flamboyant robot body Krang wore in the cartoon. What we get here is something that looks much more mechanical, not to mention dark and foreboding. We’re reminded that Krang is a warlord, and very much someone to be feared.

He’s got big, bad plans too. This series repurposes the Technodrome as giant terraforming device to forcefully change Earth’s atmosphere to that of Krang’s destroyed home planet, Utrominon. By virtue of scope alone, at this early point in the series Krang may have been outperforming Shredder on the bad guy scale.

On that topic, one thing that impressed me from a writing perspective was that while they’re not the primary villains, Shredder, Karai, and the Foot Clan still have a presence during these issues. They don’t hog the spotlight away from the main story, but we also don’t go too long without seeing them. By the time we get to the Dimension X storyline, Karai has taken on a more proactive role in a very organic way. Make no mistake about it: There’s an art to keeping all these characters and plot threads relevant to the larger story of the series. To a large extent, TMNT has proven itself to be a masterclass in how to keep all those proverbial plates spinning.

When I look at these eight issues together, the word that comes to mind is versatility. Traditionally, the Ninja Turtles are written and portrayed as all-ages action-adventure characters with a knack for comedy. We get all those ingredients here. But we also get a horror element mixed in with Slash, and then a very strong dose of science fiction courtesy of Krang and the Neutrinos. There’s also a touch of YA romance mixed in there via April O’Neil and Casey Jones. What that tells me is that these characters and their universe are far more versatile than the general public will ever give them credit for. What this IDW comic book series does is expand on that potential in long form, and in a way no other medium has even come close to.

How fitting that the Turtles owe that expansion to the very art form in which they were born: Comic books.

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

Posted in Video Games

TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge Trailer Drops

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A brief trailer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, an arcade game style thowback. While this trailer itself is about a minute and a half, there’s only about 20 seconds worth of gameplay footage in it. Thus, we have more flash than substance.

Still, what we do see doesn’t exactly lack promise…

Shredder’s Revenge will be a four-player, side-scrolling beat-em-up game in the style of classic ’80s and ’90s TMNT games. It will take us to classic TMNT locales such as the New York City sewers and the Technodrome.

This should be fun. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game and Turtles in Time are two beloved pieces of ’90s nostalgia, and probably still the best overall TMNT games ever made. If Shredder’s Revenge is half as good, it’ll be well worthwhile.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge will be available for both PC and consoles. For more, check out IGN’s coverage here.

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

Weekly Comic 100s: TMNT #114

***This is where we keep it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #114
AUTHOR: Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz (Story Consulting), Sophie Campbell
ARTISTS: Campbell, Ronda Pattison (Colorist), Shawn Lee (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 10, 2021

The time-traveling Lita meets the child version of herself in this issue. Doc Brown would not approve!

Campbell gives us the IDW take on the “traditional pre-fight donut” moment from The Secret of the Ooze. It’s an amusing little nod.

We see Renet, a “timestress,” in this issue. I don’t recall ever having seen her in the main series before. Apparently she was in Bebop & Rocksteady Destroy Everything!

Apparently next issue we get Bebop and Rocksteady against Tokka and Rahzar. As the latter were seemingly stand-ins for the former, there’s tremendous meta-appeal there.

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