A Teen Titans: Damian Knows Best Review – A Return to Glory?

TITLE: Teen Titans, Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
PENCILLERS: Jonboy Meyers, Diogenes Nieves, Khoi Pham
COLLECTS: Teen Titans #15Teen Titans Rebirth #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 14, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Teen Titans have had a pretty awesome run on television over the last decade and a half. The comics, on the other hand? They’ve been a mixed bag. But this new Teen Titans series under the DC Rebirth banner offered yet another fresh start for one of the most iconic and prolific superhero teams in all of comics. A chance to make the Teen Titans great again!

I wouldn’t call Damian Knows Best a great book. But these still manage to be the best Teen Titans comics we’ve gotten in several years. Since 2011 at the very least.

In the wake of his 13th birthday, Damian Wayne, a.k.a. Robin, summons his own team of young heroes to combat a threat from his past. Damian’s grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul, has sent his own team of young assassins after the Boy Wonder. Their mission? Either bring Damian back into the League of Assassins or kill him. But as his new teammates are about to find out, Damian isn’t one to make things easy.

Damian should have been on the Teen Titans a long time ago. That last really good Teen Titans story I alluded to above? It sees Damian barge in and briefly anoint himself team leader. Why it took so long to get him back on the team is beyond me. Sticking a character as abrasive as Damian in a team environment is a natural source for tension and conflict. Making it a team of adolescents ups the ante even more. It’s an update this book has desperately needed since…well, 2011.

Perennial team members Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven are back. I’ve lamented previously about how the series can’t move away from them, presumably because DC wants to match the cartoon show. Plus, they’re synonymous with the iconic Wolfman/Perez era. Swapping one or two of them out for newer characters might open the door for even more new possibilities. That’s what a relaunch is supposed to be about, after all. We at least get a little of that with the inclusion of Kid Flash.

However, Ben Percy does a commendable job turning up the teen angst with most of our heroes. The common theme among them is the feeling they don’t belong anywhere. Like so many young people, they feel isolated.. That commonality that makes them feel like they belong together, instead of being lumped together for no real reason (other than editorial mandate). The opening sequence with Beast Boy is one of the character’s best in quite some time. As he behaves in his typical animated and boisterous fashion, the narration captions highlight his inner turmoil, most notably over the “death” of Tim Drake. Throw in how wonderfully drawn and colored the whole thing is, and you’ve got a knock-out intro.

That’s one of the things DC has failed to do with Teen Titans for so many years: Really amp up the teen element effectively, making this book considerably different from Justice League and the other team books out there. Need an example? Look what Mark Waid is doing in Champions. All those characters feel like teenagers trying to find their way in the world and blaze a new trail that’s different from the previous generation’s. Teen Titans doesn’t have that rebellious streak to it. But having these characters feel young and a little less sure of themselves is damn sure a step in the right direction.

Most of the Demon’s Fist characters are forgettable. They’re led by Damian’s cousin Mara. Despite being fairly forgettable herself, she has a strong origin story. She trained alongside Damian growing up, competing with him but never quite besting him. Damian was intended to lead the Demon’s Fist, but Mara took over in his absence. If you subscribe to the idea that all of Batman’s villains represent a distorted mirror image of him, then Mara would be the equivalent for Robin.

Jonboy Meyers was supposed to be the regular artist for Teen Titans. He made it through issue #1 before leaving due to “creative differences.” That’s a damn shame. Meyers breathed so much new life into this series, giving us an Anime-inspired expressiveness, and thus a sense of fun the book has sorely lacked for a long time. Make no mistake about it, the guy knows his way around a superhero action sequence. I’ll specifically cite the Kid Flash pages from the Rebirth issue as evidence.

Diogenes Nieves has the unenviable job of tagging in for Meyers in issue #2. To his credit, the transition goes about as smooth as you could ask. He gives us a couple of gorgeous pages of a rainy rooftop scene between Damian and Talia al Ghul. Still, the little quirks in Meyers’ art are still sorely missed. The same, sadly, can be said for when Khoi Pham takes over on issues #3-5. Objectively, he’s a fine artist. When it’s time for our team to rise up in issue #5, Pham nails it. It’s just that Meyers has that certain flair. Starting with it and then taking it away doesn’t do the book any favors.

Thankfully, one constant in the book is colorist Jim Charalampidis, who brings a valuable consistency to the series despite the changing artists. These pages look a touch darker than I might have expected. But it’s still the beautiful blaze of color you’d hope to see from a superhero team book like this.

It’s been quite awhile since I picked up Teen Titans on a consistent basis. This new series changed that. Did Damian Knows Best make Teen Titans great again? No. But it made the series good again. That’s more than you can say for any other book to bear it’s name in the last several years. Now, here’s hoping things stay good for quite some time. These characters, and this series deserve at least that much.

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A Star Wars: Yoda’s Secret War Review – Size Still Matters Not

TITLE: Star Wars, Vol. 5: Yoda’s Secret War
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron, Kelly Thompson
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca, Emilio Laiso. Cover by Stuart Immonen.
COLLECTS: Star Wars #2630Star Wars Annual #2
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: July 5, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve referred to the “Journal of Old Ben Kenobi” issues of Star Wars the highlight of the series thus far. I stand by that statement in terms of the one-off tales we got in issues #7, #15, and #20. But they went a little too far here. A five-issue story from the journal? Which features Yoda instead of Obi-Wan? I can understand the temptation to try it. But no. This falls in the “too much of a good thing” category.

As Luke Skywalker ponders a current predicament involving C-3PO being captured by the Empire, he opens Ben Kenobi’s journal and begins reading. Ben weaves a tale of a Jedi being called to a remote planet not on any star maps. A world inhabited only by children, who speak of a mysterious “stonepower.” Little does Luke know that the Jedi unraveling the mystery of this planet is Yoda, the former Grand Master of the Jedi Order who will soon continue his training in the ways of the Force.

Our artist for the main story is Salvador Larroca, whose work I’ve talked about in great detail previously. Long story short: His art is largely based on stills from the Star Wars movies, and it’s incredibly distracting. You want to be into the story, but the art keeps reminding you of scenes from Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, etc. It works for characters like Darth Vader or C-3PO, whose faces never change. But for just about everyone else it’s a problem. It’s a shame, because otherwise this is pretty good stuff. Edgar Delgado’s colors really capture the magic and wonder of the Star Wars Universe, especially once Yoda is sent on a question inside a mountain. And we get a big monster toward the end that’s are a lot of fun.

To his credit, Jason Aaron gets Yoda right. He’s not afraid to play with Yoda’s ironic size/power ratio. In issue #26, we see him walk into the lair of a bunch of space pirates to save a Force-sensitive child. As one might expect, they initially laugh him off. But he dispatches them, and gets a pretty good line in: “Something more precious than wealth have I brought you. … Wisdom.”

During our story, Yoda becomes the student of a boy named Garro, who teaches him about the stonepower. Seeing our little green friend as an apprentice instead of a master is always a fun role reversal. Star Wars fans obviously know that he instructs very young Jedi at the temple on Coruscant. So the fact that he’s on a planet full of child warriors is a great little twist. We get some cool visuals of Yoda and Garro with the glowing stones, and the blue light reflecting across the Jedi Master’s alien skin.

But despite what Yoda’s Secret War has going for it, it’s simply too long. They could have trimmed at least one issue off of this and been absolutely fine. In issue #29, we see Yoda face a rock monster that’s as tall as a building. That’s a great match-up, and a perfect illustration of the grand yet unassuming power this little guy possesses. In terms of a grand finale for a Yoda story, it’s tough to ask for more than that. But as we move through issue #29 and into #30, we jump back to present day and see Luke mix it up with an adult Garro. Thus, a story that was already starting to feel it’s length officially overstays its welcome. I understand the impulse to connect the story to Luke. But the reader already knows Yoda eventually trains him. It’s needless filler.

We also have to endure the narrative convenience that, in telling this story, Ben Kenobi never identifies Yoda by name. This is a continuity hoop Aaron has to jump through so Luke doesn’t recognize Yoda’s name in The Empire Strikes Back. While I appreciate the attention to continuity, it’s just a little too convenient for my taste. Logically, why wouldn’t Obi-Wan use Yoda’s name?

We also get the obligatory scene at the end with Yoda on Dagobah, talking about how Luke will be ready soon. Again, needless filler.

Also contained in this book is Star Wars Annual #2, in which our creative team shifts to Kelly Thompson and Emilio Laiso. We meet a character named Pash Lavane on the planet of Skorii-Lei, which has been devastated by the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. While she’s an immensely talented former engineer, with the physique of an Amazon to boot, Pash opts to stay out of the conflict. But when she rescues Princess Leia from a stormtrooper attack, she’s irrevocably drawn in. She may have no choice but to pick a side.

I appreciate the story Thompson tells about how one can’t always stay neutral when it comes to what’s happening in their world at large. But what I came away thinking about was the Pash character herself. The juxtaposition of a big, muscled up character who’s also technically savvy is intriguing. Pash is almost the She-Hulk of the Star Wars universe. Laiso strikes a lovely balance, as he makes her both facially expressive and imposing in stature. Between Doctor Aphra and Sana Solo, Marvel hasn’t been shy about creating new strong female characters. Pash makes that list as well, and it’s a shame we haven’t seen her since this issue.

I’ve drifted in and out of Marvel’s main Star Wars series since its debut. As big a Star Wars geek as I’ve always been, this title has had trouble holding my attention. Sadly, Yoda’s Secret War is my latest exit cue. Hopefully I get a reason to return sooner rather than later.

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A Suicide Squad: Going Sane Review – The Harley Quinn Show

TITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLER:
Jim Lee, Riley Rossmo, Sean Galloway, Stephen Byrne, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Gamuncoli
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad #58Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Day Special #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 7, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Suicide Squad, Vol. 2 should really be called The Harley Quinn Show. The story doesn’t revolve around her, but she’s clearly the star. We even learn that one of the characters is a Harley fangirl. DC obviously knows what side its bread gets buttered on…

Our main story picks up from where The Black Vault left off, with General Zod and the vault being held in Belle Reeve Penitentiary. But the vault, a gateway into the Phantom Zone, is effecting everyone in the prison. It’s pushing them to the brink of insanity, enticing them to kill. But it’s having the opposite effect on Harley Quinn. Her sanity is restored. Thus she may be the only one capable of saving the world from Zod.

Oddly enough, several years ago there was a Batman story called “Going Sane” that shares a similar concept with this book. The Joker thinks Batman is dead, so his sanity recedes and he tries to live a normal life. It’s not a great story. But the whole sanity reversal thing has a little more depth to it than what we get here, which is essentially the flick of a light switch.

I actually don’t have a problem with how they handle the whole sanity/insanity turn. But whenever Suicide Squad gets too Harley heavy, I have the same reaction to when a Justice League story lays it on too thick with Batman. “Over-Baturation,” if you will. That’s how Going Sane left me feeling. A team story where a specific character has an arc is one thing. Laying it on too thick is another.

What puts it over the top is that the one-shot Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special is collected in this volume. I imagine they put it here, as opposed to Vol. 1, because the story goes with the whole going sane theme. It sees Harley trying to use her skills as a psychotherapist to redeem other supervillains, Most notably Man-Bat. It’s mostly fine on its own. But when paired with our main story, it’s too much Harley. To some, I’m sure that notion is blasphemous. I don’t care. Too much of anything is a drawback.

Going Sane is more or less a superpowered prison riot popcorn flick. I can get behind that. In a lot of ways, that’s what Suicide Squad should be. Aiding in the proceedings is that it’s all pencilled by Jim Lee. Thus, it’s got an added sense of epicness and gravitas. Lee, inkers Richard Friend and Sandra Hope, and colorist Jeremiah Skipper obviously make everybody look good. Harley in particular (see above). Skipper gets to have some fun with the lighting at various points. Most of this takes place in Belle Reeve. But they shake the scenery up with red and yellow sunlight generators, the purple glow that surrounds the Black Vault, the power going out, etc.

I can’t recall seeing Lee draw Man-Bat prior to the April Fool’s one-shot. But he makes him every bit as detail-rich and monstrous as you’d expect. We also see Batman, Joker, and the Justice League in that issue, bringing back plenty of memories from Hush and Justice League: Origin. Lee’s frequent collaborator Alex Sinclair colors that story, which ups the nostalgia factor in that regard.

One thing I still don’t understand: Why did Zod have to be so damn huge? They explained it by saying it had to do with how he came out of the Black Vaullt. At one point they have him clamped down on this giant contraption like he’s Doomsday or Bane. Later, he nearly crushes Captain Boomerang by simply falling on him. Was this an artistic choice so he’d look more imposing? I suppose it fits with the tone of the book. But you know what’s really imposing? A guy who can bend steel with his fists and melt flesh with heat vision. Take that into account, and it doesn’t really matter how tall you are, does it?

Also, Killer Croc and June Moon (Enchantress) apparently have sex in this book (shown above). So, there’s that. Their romance is actually a nice little addition to the book. In issue #5, Croc has what I would guess is his most romantic line ever: “I…want to eat everyone. I don’t want to eat you.” But much like with Hulk and Viv Vision, I can’t help getting caught up in the physical “mechanics” of it all. How does it even work? Do I even want to know? Probably not.

As was the case in Vol. 1, we get a bunch of character-centric back-up stories. This time we focus on a new character called Hack, as well as Killer Croc, and Enchantress. We also get a look at Killer Frost in preparation for Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.

The best of the bunch is the Killer Croc story, pencilled by Carlos D’Anda (shown below). We see Waylon Jones as a vulnerable young boy with a tragic skin condition. Rob Williams plays the sympathy card with Croc, as we often see with other Batman villains. But it’s as effective as always, especially with the big expressive eyes D’Anda gives Waylon.

Hack, a young woman who can transform herself into digital data, found herself inspired by Harley Quinn as she grew up impoverished in Africa. Like Harley with the Joker, Hack’s choice of role model was to her own detriment. The backup, illustrated by Stephen Byrne, is fine. Hack is intriguing, and as this book illustrates, her powers open up some interesting doors. But if you’ve read ahead, you know Suicide Squad doesn’t necessarily use her to her fullest potential.

The series loses a little bit of its momentum here. But Harley Quinn fans and comic art buffs will find something in Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane. It’s not a creative highlight, but it’s at least worth a glance.

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A Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 3 Review – Lord Drakkon’s Wrath

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 3
AUTHORS: Kyle Higgins, Steve Orlando
PENCILLERS: Hendry Prasetya, Jonathan Lam, Corin Howell.
COLLECTS: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #912
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: June 7, 2017

***Need further detail? Check out our reviews of issues #9, #11, and #12.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

For my own finicky reasons, I’ve been enjoying BOOM! Studios’ Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series with a strong sense of caution. I’m very wary of how this story about a dystopian alternate reality is going to end. But even with that caution, as a Power Rangers geek it’s impossible to deny the quality of what we see on these pages. These are easily the best MMPR stories ever seen on the comic book page.

Picking up where Vol. 2 left off, the Rangers are as close as they’ve ever been to a doomsday scenario. With help from the mysterious Black Dragon, Rita Repulsa has destroyed the Command Center, cut the teens off from both Zordon and their powers, gained control of the zords, and imprisoned Billy in her Dark Dimension. In a last ditch effort, the teens have regained access to the Morphin Grid using Tommy’s Power Coin. In the ensuing battle, Tommy and Billy are transported to an alternate universe. A decimated reality where Tommy did not join Zordon’s team of Rangers. Needless to say, both Tommy and the world at large look very, very different.

The big moment from issue #9, and perhaps this volume overall, is the introduction of Lord Drakkon. As one might surmise given the costume is an amalgamation of the Green and White Ranger suits, it turns out to be an evil version of Tommy. Drakkon’s world is darker than almost anything we’ve ever seen in Power Rangers lore, both literally and thematically. Angel Grove is in ruins, with destroyed zords laying out in the open. Giant statues of Rita and the Green Ranger stand in the city. Then in issue #12, one of the Rangers actually dies. It’s off panel, but still a pretty big deal considering this is all based on a kids show.

And yet, it’s impactful and it works. That’s a testament to this team taking the source material more seriously. To the uninitiated, I’m sure it seems silly. But if you grew up with Power Rangers, and still have a deep affection for it, there’s real value in showing respect to these characters and this world. The proof is in the sales receipts. Now we’re getting a second ongoing series and a Justice League team up.

Obviously, this story takes place pretty early into Tommy’s run as a Power Ranger, a la season one of the show. But Higgins, Prasetya, and the team go a little wild in this volume, taking advantage of the alternate timeline and throwing in elements from later in the series. We see Saba, the Thunderzords, the Tigerzord, the Falconzord, and even catch a glimpse of characters like Ninjor and the Phantom Ranger. It all looks tremendous, as Prasetya is far more in his element when he’s drawing the superhero action stuff. There’s a splash page of the Tigerzord in issue #12 (shown below) that’s particularly morphenomenal.

But these future elements are where my caution comes into play. Tommy and Billy are seeing all these things from their future. People have told me I’m being too picky about this, and maybe they’re right. But I stand firm in the idea that from Tommy and Billy’s perspective, seeing things like this taints the impact of events that happen to them later. Take the famous sequence in “White Light, Part 2” when Tommy is revealed as the White Ranger, and he’s told he will work alongside Saba and command the Tigerzord. This story implies that he’ll recognize both of them. It’s almost like he’s a kid who snuck a peak at his Christmas presents. He knows what he’s getting, so that moment of genuine surprise and discovery is tainted. I’m hoping a mind wipe is forthcoming for Tommy and Billy.

That being said, I take my hat off to Higgins and the BOOM! Studios team for caring enough about the Power Rangers universe to incorporate things like this. It’s part of why, tainted impact or not, these are the best PR comics ever created.

Issue #10 is an interlude focusing on Billy, with Jonathan Lam takes over the pencil, and Joana Lafuente on the colors. It zooms in on Billy’s anxiety and insecurities. It’s a natural direction to take, considering what the character was like on the show. It also serves as a nice follow-up to the scene we saw between Billy and Trini in issue #2. Lam’s pencils are sketchier, and a little more “Americanized” than Prasetya’s. But the transition isn’t as jarring as it might have been with a different artist.

The volume wraps up “The Ongoing Adventures of Bulk & Skull,” as Rita dupes the duo into controlling her latest monster. I’ve been a little tough on these in past reviews. The reality of it is, they’re hardly the highlight of the series. But they’re fine for what they are. Going forward, these backup stories shift to “The Ongoing Misadventures of Squatt and Baboo.” Ironic, considering Rita once called Bulk and Skull “a human Squatt and Baboo.”

Despite the apprehensions I have about this Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series, which admittedly are a little bit silly, the book is a great testament to the impact the show had on so many of us. Higgins, Prasetya, and everyone working on it has done great justice to it. I’m thankful we have so much more to look forward to.

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A Ninja Turtles, Vol. 5: Krang War Review – The Battle For Dimension X

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 5: Krang WarTITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 5: Krang War

AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz

PENCILLER: Ben Bates
COLLECTS: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #17-20
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASE DATE: May 8, 2013

By Rob Siebert

Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Ninja Turtles have always had their share of cosmic adventures, dating back to the original books Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird did. It’s as much a part of their mythology as anything else. That being said, I’ve always preferred my TMNT stories to be more on the Frank Miller side of things. I like my Turtles to be stealthy, rooftop hopping shadow dwellers, as opposed to laser dodging, spaceship flying, alien-fighting adventurers. But even if you come in with that mind set, Krang War is a pretty good Ninja Turtles story.

When the Turtles, April O’Neil and Casey Jones decide to investigate Stockgen further, they shockingly discover that April’s former co-worker Chet is actually the Fugitoid, a robot from Dimension X. Fugitoid contains the consciousness of Honeycutt, a scientist who once warned the high council of the planet Utrominon of their world’s imminent destruction due to their overuse of one of it’s natural resources. But the council refused to heed his warning, and the planet was doomed. Thus, the Utrom warlord Krang is determined to manipulate Earth’s atmosphere to make it a new Utrominon. In the meantime, Krang’s forces have invaded the planet Neutrino. When forces from Neutrino come to Earth and retrieve Chet/Fugitoid/Honeycutt to help them build a weapon, the Turtles are drawn into their war. But how does all this, and the ensuing battle, involve the Shredder’s daughter Karai?

Neutrinos-TMNTI have very little complaining to do about how well Waltz and his various collaborators have brought elements from the original cartoon show into the modern era for this series. Krang War is no exception. Children of the ’80s will recognize the Neutrinos, Kala, Zak and Dask. King Zenter and Queen Gizzla are also there, though in name only. Eastman, Waltz and Bates do a fine job of re-interpreting them for a universe that’s a bit more mature (though not too mature of course). The high-registered, lingo spewing teenagers driving souped up flying cars, replaced with battle-hardened soldiers with familiar hairdos. Krang’s rock soldiers from Dimension X look good too.

Ben Bates’ art is a definite improvement over Andy Kuhn’s in the last volume. Kuhn’s art is fine in it’s own right, but Bates is a much better fit for the Ninja Turtles. He does a great job giving us the cartoony expressions and humor, in addition to the more serious drama and action. In a way it’s a meld of a lot of the great TMNT incarnations through the years. I can see Eastman and Laird, the 4Kids animated series, as well as traces of the current animated series. He brings the pencilling back up to the level it was when Dan Duncan was on the book. Sadly, this book contains his entire four-issue run.

Ben Bates, Ninja Turtles #18I liked the way Karai was worked into this story. Although, there was a weird scene between she and the Shredder in issue #19 where they’re sitting at a table eating while they’re in full combat gear. But on the whole, her presence in the story was a nice way to keep the Foot Clan involved in the proceedings without actually making the story about them. By the time we close the book, we also have something that could finally prompt a meeting between Shredder and Krang. I don’t necessarily see that happening until autumn at the soonest. But I’m guessing it’s in the near future.

IDW’s Ninja Turtles series has had a fairly hit-or-miss existence. They didn’t pay off Raphael’s early separation from his brothers in the first book, and things took a tumble in the third book with the team’s first confrontation with the Shredder. But things have gradually been on the uprise since then. In truth, this is the best the series has been so far. Perhaps it’s a matter of Eastman, Waltz and the creative team finally getting comfortable in their skin as far as this new continuity is concerned. Either way, my hopes aren’t high that things will stay this good. But after 20 issues, at least our creators have a little more experience on their side.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from teenagemutantninjaturtles.com. Image 2 from 4thletter.net.

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A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1 Review – A New Chapter

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtes, Vol. 1: Change is ConstantTITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtes, Vol. 1: Change is Constant
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz
PENCILLER: Dan Duncan
COLLECTS: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-4
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER:
IDW Publishing
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: February 23, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Like most children of the ’80s, I love me some Ninja Turtles. My fondness for these four green guys has only grown as I’ve gotten older, and they’ve continued to be interpreted by different writers, artists, animators, etc.  They’re not quite as renowned in the 21st century as they used to be, but the boys in green still have a legacy that’s very, very special.

The next chapter in that legacy is IDW Publishing’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ongoing, which is overseen by TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman. It marks Eastman’s first involvement with the franchise in a number of years, as he sold all his rights to the franchise to his co-creator Peter Laird in 2000. The series has tweaked the Turtles’ status quo a bit, but for the most part the characters still ring true.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, IDW, cover spreadThe big twist for this new series is that Raphael has been separated from Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Splinter since the accident that turned them into humanoid mutants. Moments after they were all doused in radioactive ooze (per the classic origin story), a cat leapt in and snatched Raph from the group. Splinter is bound and determined to find his lost surrogate son. Meanwhile, Raphael has been wandering homeless through the streets. Nevertheless, his sense of morality is intact. He comes across a father attacking his teenage son, and saves the day. The young man’s name is Casey Jones (sound familiar?) and the two strike up a fast friendship. Our villain here is Old Hob, the mutated version of the cat who swiped Raphael. Somehow, this humanoid cat with an eye patch started a street gang, and has been feuding with the Turtles and Splinter since their mutation.

Raphael, Old Hob, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1I’m not completely sold on this Raphael thing yet. These first four issues did a nice job of setting everything up, but the true test will lay with what Eastman and this team do with this new angle as time goes on. Raphael has always been the hot-headed rebel of the group, and this separation story is an interesting way to set him up as such. Because he’s been away from Splinter and the others his whole life, Raph has never received the training his brothers have. Thus, he could potentially stand out like a sore thumb when he inevitably is placed with his brothers. If this new dynamic can be capitalized on, it could make for some really cool stories.

TMNT purists will scoff at this, but I’m disappointed the Turtles kept their red bandanas for this series, as opposed to going with the color scheme they typically have in TV shows and movies. Yes, when the Turtles were created they all had red bandanas. But the problem I’ve always had with that setup is that it can be difficult to tell them apart. If you take the weapons and the dialogue away, and stand them up side by side, you should ideally still be able to tell who is who. That’s not the case here. The fact that this is a full-color book as opposed to black-and-white, which the Turtles were always published in back at Mirage Studios, makes this choice even less sensical.

Conspicuous by his absence in this story is the Turtles’ arch nemesis, The Shredder, though there is one scene that features a sword-bearing ninja who may turn out to be him. We also see a shadow-shrouded villain named General Krang, who shares a name with one of the main TMNT villains from the ’80s animated show. April O’Neil and Baxter Stockman also play major roles.

Ninja Turtles, IDW, originDan Dunan’s pencils are a strong selling point for this series. He’s great with injecting emotion into his art, which I love. During the scene where the un-mutated Raphael gets snatched away from Splinter and the others, surrogate father and son lock eyes, and we can see the fear and desperation between them. He’s also great at working with the Turtle faces, which there’s certainly something to be said for, as they obviously don’t exist in the real world.

For a few years now, I’ve been craving a Ninja Turtles series that takes the best ingredients from just about every version of the TMNT, and brings it all together to create something that adds on to classic elements, while still keeping things fresh with vibrant storytelling and stunning visuals. This series seems like it has the right attitude to pull that off. Will it happen? Probably not. That’s a pretty high standard to set for any book. But the Turtles deserve no less, so I’ll hold out a bit of hope.

RATING: 7/10

Image 1 from turtlepedia.wikia.com. Image 2 from comixology.com. Image 3 from dreamwidth.org.

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A Nightwing & Flamebird, Vol. 2 Review – Rao Lives Again!

Nightwing & Flamebird, Vol. 2TITLE: Superman: Nightwing & Flamebird, Vol. 2
AUTHORS: James Robinson, Greg Rucka, Eric Trautmann.
PENCILLERS: Pere Perez, Bernard Chang, Pier Gallo. Cover by Alex Garner.
COLLECTS: Action Comics #883-889, Superman #696, Adventure Comics #8-10
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASE DATE: October 6, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Of all places to wage war against a Kryptonian god, Iran is probably in my bottom five. I imagine that’s how Nightwing & Flamebird feel in this book.

In the second of two volumes collecting their adventures, the duo of Nightwing (Chris Kent, Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s adopted son, and General Zod’s biological son) & Flamebird (Kryptonian Thara Ak Var) are still fugitives. They must quietly consult with Dr. Light and S.T.A.R. Labs when Nightwing suddenly begins to age rapidly. They meet a renowned geneticist, who turns out to be Jax-Ur, a Kryptonian sleeper General Zod has planted on Earth. Jax Ur creates a bastardized version of Rao, the Kryptonian god, and unleashes it in Iran. Nightwing & Flamebird are forced into the center of a battle that also attracts Wonder Woman, and members of the Justice Society. All the while, Lois Lane covers the fight and reports the truth, much to the chagrin of her own government.

Adventure Comics #9, Pier GalloAfter that story, we switch gears completely. In a short story, we meet Car-Vex, another Kryptonian sleeper tasked by General Zod with penetrating General Lane’s organization. We feel her inner turmoil as she’s forced to betray members of her own species in attempt to win a larger battle. Written by Eric Trautmann and drawn by Pier Gallo, it’s actually the strongest material in the book.

The Nightwing & Flamebird section of DC’s New Krypton storyline may have been the weakest one. Thara Ak Var fell a little flat with me as Flamebird. That’s not entirely Greg Rucka’s fault. We knew who Chris Kent was from the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner run on Action Comics. We were already invested in him because of his relationship to Superman, Lois Lane, and General Zod. Thara didn’t have that advantage. She had some great moments with Supergirl, but I still don’t feel like I know her as a character. We know she’s a passionate person, who loves Chris and believes the spirit of the Flamebird is with her. With all that was happening in the single issues, as well as the over-arcing New Krypton storyline, Rucka didn’t necessarily have time to distinguish her from DC’s other young female heroes. The stories still work, but I wasn’t as invested in them as I was in say, Mon El’s in Superman.

Action Comics #887, RaoMidway through the story, Rucka has to get a lot of exposition out, in the form of the Nightwing & Flamebird myth from Kryptonian mythology. He devotes about half an issue to it. It’s not thrilling reading. But it’s not terrible either, and it’s necessary to set up the fight against Jax-Ur and Rao. Unfortunately, the finale felt stale to me. It’s essentially a bunch of heroes against a hundred-foot-tall invincible giant. It’s not that exciting. Plus, the end comes as a result of something established in the exposition, and not necessarily a result of Chris and Thara’s efforts. It’s a logical ending, and it fits. But in terms of storytelling, it’s strictly okay.

Also, a hundred-foot god showing up in the middle of Iran certainly warrants the presence of multiple heroes. But I can’t help but feel Wonder Woman and the JSA were thrown in strictly to add star power to a stale story.

There’s a bit of foreshadowing for Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton in this book, but it’s not  integral to the overall story. Like James Robinson in Mon El, Vol. 2: Man of Valor, it seems like Rucka had to fit a story very large in scope into a limited number of issues. While necessary, it’s ultimately a little sad. We’ve all seen Rucka do better than this, and I wish he could’ve gotten that chance.

RATING: 5.5/10

Image 1 from comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com. Image 2 from babblingaboutdccomics3.wordpress.com.

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