Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 20

tmnt 20Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Mogo are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  20, originally released March 20th, 2013.

Patrick: I’m a realist. I believe in that which we can observe and measure and quantify. I don’t like the term ‘atheist’ because it defines my beliefs in terms of what I don’t believe (i.e., God). But I also don’t like the term ‘skeptic’ because it implies that there’s some force of will out there in the universe trying to convince me that one reality is true, but I’m just to wily to fall for its tricks. Fiction has a habit of shitting on skeptics – the instant you meet the non-religious scientist in a movie that says “… but that’d be impossible,” you know that whatever he just said is SO TOTALLY GOING TO HAPPEN. God, ghosts, magic, you name it – they all end up being real in the third act (unless you’re talking Scooby-Doo, then all bets are off). Donatello has served as this voice of skeptic dissent throughout IDW’s run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While reincarnation makes for an interesting story about turtle ninjas, I never liked that Donny’s doubt would have to be somehow wrong-headed. Amid all the bombast of climactic interdimensional warfare, Donny gets an answer that is astonishingly satisfying, both to him and to me.

But let’s talk about what happened in this issue. Remember the battle that started in the previous issue? Basically, it plays out. Highlights include:

  • Raphael and Zak take turns using rocket launchers to disable Krang’s cavalry.
  • Leonardo and Michelangelo fight Krang.
  • Protecting the king and Queen, Commander Dask takes a laser bolt to the shoulder.
  • Donatello and Fugitoid deploy a weapon (the “End Missile”) that disables Krang’s army’s firearms.

That last bullet-point determines the outcome of the battle. But Krangy-boy’s got one more trick up his sleeve – and it’s not particularly clever. He’s got Michelangelo at gun-point, and while the End Missile knocked everyone else’s guns off-line, Krang’s weapon is immune to its effects (or so he says). Krang accepts Fugitoid as a trade for Mikey’s life, and along with General Tragg, they teleport back to Earth. After a set of goodbyes (and one royal smooch), the Turtles also return to Earth because of course they do.

The big action actually works pretty well in this issue. Last month, Taylor had a problem with what appeared to be an abundance of characters and vehicles of war that seemed lifted out of a Saturday morning cartoon. (“Hey, I had that action figure” jokes abound!) The tone of the action here is no less fun, but quite a bit darker and often more abstract. Take the End Missile, for example. The NRF’s ultimate weapon doesn’t cause any explosions and it’s not robotic armor or anything: it’s a weapon that turns off other weapons. Not only does this make Honeycutt (and by extension, the rest of the Neutrinos) seem much more humane than their aggressors, it renders the whole resolution subtler.

And when the action does reach for more outrageous spectacle, artist Ben Bates delivers something crazy-cool like this:

Raphael and Zak battle a robot-hologram

Until Mattel finds a solution for affordable hologram technology, I don’t believe we’ll be seeing that action figure any time soon.

But this issue is also rich with what I love about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: quiet character moments. The big one that resonates with me like a motherfucker is Donny’s conversation with Honeycutt about reincarnation. Honeycutt walks Donatello through the teleportation process – and it’s much like it is in Star Trek: your molecular component parts are disassembled in one location and are re-assembled from discrete component parts elsewhere in the universe (or perhaps, in a different universe). That means that one version of you is destroyed and another version is created but the essential nature of the person, the “soul” if you will, remains in tact. Honeycutt’s argument veers close to “you can’t prove it isn’t true” territory but stays pretty well grounded in empirical observation.

Plus, it teases a science fiction-y twist that I’m just going to speculate on for a second. It’s interesting that Honeycutt would bring up the teleportation technology in this specific conversation. If you’ve been reading the Secret History of the Foot Clan mini-series (and holy cow, if you’re not, you are missing out), you know that there was an Utrom that regularly  interacted with the Foot Clan back in feudal Japan. Is it possible that the personages of Himato Yoshi and his sons were somehow caught up in Dimension X teleportation technology, held in oozy stasis for hundreds of years and then disementated into the bodies of mutant turtles? Donatello seems to find some peace from their talk, and whether he’s jumping to similar conclusions or not, it’s clear that he’s at least equipped to use his skepticism to explore the possibilities instead of merely rejecting the mystic explanation.

This sequence is also incredibly well-staged. I may have had my gripes with Bates’ anime-influenced style in previous issues, but he did a great job of turning in a fun, dynamic set of pages when Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz handed him script dense with dialogue.

Donatello and Fugitoid discuss the soul

I still think the Neutrinos are a bit too 8os bodacious for more (Zak actually uses the word “Daddy-O at one point), but I’m sort of over that complaint at this point. By the end of the issue, I was starting to see Zak, Dask and Kala all as individual characters and not simply as NEUTRINO (purple hair) and NEUTRINO (girl). If those guys end up coming through the portal to defend Earth in the future, I’ll be happy to see them.

Mogo, I didn’t touch on Karai’s exploits on Burnow Island and the ensuing Utrom-cide, NEVER MIND what that might mean for the future of this series. Did you enjoy this issue? Did it serve to elevate the rest of this arc or have you been digging it the whole time? (And oh man, are you excited for the Eastman-illustrated issue next month?)

You know, it wasn’t my favorite, but I liked it alright. I’m glad you tackled the Fugitoid/Donatello science-and-spirituality discussion head on. That was one of two moments in the book where I found myself glad to be reading it. The other was the Karai sequence you brought up. I like what you’ve said about the former, so I’ll move right to the latter.

Between IDW’s comic and Nickelodeon’s cartoon, Karai has quickly become one of my favorite characters, and I love what’s going on with her in this issue. First off, she’s straight up murking dudes. It’s happening off-panel, but it’s happening.

One minor complaint I have with the IDW series is that, in its attempt to streamline several incarnations of TMNT into this new universe, it usually seems to play things fairly safe with its violence. I understand that this is something of a children’s property, but the big selfish baby in me can’t help but comic-lust for Leonardo to sever someone’s hand or for some really serious shit to go down in combat. There’s a point in the issue where Krang has a powerful weapon pointed directly at Mikey’s face to negotiate a trade for Honeycutt. So the good guys hand over the Fugitoid and then Krang gives Mikey a big kick in the butt back towards his people, like “here, take him.” What the hell kind of soft-ass Big Bad are we dealing with here? Any villain worth his salt takes the robot and then blasts the shit out of the do-gooder anyway, ‘cuz: fuck ’em. Right?

The second awesome thing about the Karai scene is that she makes off with some motherfreaking mutagen. I’ll spare you my vast wishlist for what mutants this will yield, but can we please please please please please let Baxter Stockman turn into a giant fly now?

Having covered the awesome parts, I’d just like to say that Krang War has mostly bored the shit out of me. As the scope of the action grew and the the sci-fi elements became more pronounced, the story lost any sense of immediacy. I’m not the first to say it here, but I think “Saturday morning cartoon” is the perfect description of what this story ending up becoming. And not like Batman: The Animated Series. More like Biker Mice From Mars.

At the very least, though, the Neutrinos and Fugitoid have now been introduced as characters in this quickly-expanding TMNT uberverse. I consider them all to be important to the canon and the characters themselves came through fine. Plus there were those two scenes that I really did like. And, hell yes Patrick, I am so stoked about another Eastman-illustrated issue. That sounds really awesome right about now.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

9 comments on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 20

  1. I’d say we’re about ready for Baxter Stockman to go full-on flysies. He IS going to have his own micro, I believe in May, coinciding the with the beginning of Cityfall… which wouldn’t make the MOST sense, as I trust that will mostly be a Foot-centric event.

    I’d like to see Leatherhead personally. But I’m also really excited to see if they’re going to introduce some new mutants. Waltz and Eastman have done a great job with Old Hob and Slash – really giving them interesting origins and motivations, so it’d be cool to see that turned to brand new characters. Plus, if they’re drawn and/or designed by Mateus Santolouco, they’re bound to be The Most Awesome.

    • Aw man, I have a huge soft spot for Leatherhead. I liked the 80’s cajun version but Nickelodeon is doing a scary, Killer Croc-looking version that is really sweet. What they have done is a lot like IDW’s Slash. Personally, I’m dying for an IDW Rat King. Nick nailed that, too. They made him very Scarecrow ish

      • I know Taylor’s really pulling for Rat King to get his own issue in the Micro-series. Rat King is such a weird dude, and I feel like there’s a ton of room to motivate that character to be pretty much whatever they want. It always bothered me as a kid that he wasn’t a mutant, but now that makes him appeal to me more.

  2. I hadn’t noticed the toned-down violence in this series until Bates took over for this arc. I’m like you Mogo – I would love to let the turtle violence get a little out of hand. I think it’d be interesting to watch the turtles deal with the morality of maiming dudes with swords and concussive blows to the head. But I also see where this arc DEMANDED a cartoonier style (for those damn Neutrinos) and would therefore just look weird if our boys were hacking off limbs. Krang almost has to be a Saturday Morning Cartoon villain in these context. Plus that little kick to the butt was cute.

    • Yeah, I could see that. I think the violence has been fairly PG the whole run but that the urban action has its own inherent coolness that made it less noticable. The annual felt gritty enough, for instance, with real world style crime being manically navigated by involved parties from inside a locked bar in a bad part of the city

  3. I think the problems with skepticism in fiction–or specifically, in superhero comics–is that it’s almost always unfounded. Mr. Terrific’s an athiest? That’s fine and dandy, except in the DC Universe it’s canon that God exists. In the original continuity, Terrific was inspired to take up his mantle by the Spectre, literally a spirit of God’s vengeance, and later fought side by side with him–on a team where Spectre was a founding member, nonetheless. Mr. Terrific spouts out a lot of gobbedlygook about the possible scientific explanations for Spectre’s existence, but the fact is, as readers, we know that he’s wrong, at least within the framework of the DC universe.

    There’s an episode of the Young Justice cartoon where Kid Flash’s refusal to believe in magic nearly gets the team killed. His skepticism is understandable–Wally specifically mentions Abra Kabadra, a Flash Rogue who uses 30th century tech to masquerade as a magician, as a reason that magic is bogus–but again, the fact is that magic exists in their universe. Kid Flash is literally denying magic as he stands in Dr. Fate’s tower, fights Klarion the Witch Boy, transforms into Dr. Fate, and fights on a team with Aqualad, whose water-shaping abilities are fueled by magic. In this context, it doesn’t make any sense for him not to believe in magic, and this is used to establish that Wally often uses denial to put off dealing with emotions he can’t understand (such as his attraction to Artemis).

    I guess this comment has more to do with Patrick’s thoughts than the actual TMNT book (I know TMNT’s an excellent book, but I wasn’t allowed to watch the show growing up, so I never really formed an attachment to the franchise); anyway, I guess what bugs me about skepticism in superhero comics it that most of the time, it’s setting the character up to look like an idiot. If you have an universe where something is explicitly canon and the characters understand that, if you introduce a skeptic, he automatically looks like an idiot. I don’t think the writers working on Mr. Terrific really understood that, but it looks like the TMNT writers are putting in logical reasons for Donny to doubt reincarnation–and allowing the audience to realize that he may possibly be right. I guess what I’m saying is I like how the writers handled that.

    • I totally see where you’re coming from with the Mr. Terrific gripe, and you’re right… but I still appreciated there being a super smart character who happened to loosely represent my beliefs as an agnostic (even if it makes less sense when you stop to consider the context)

      • Mr. Terrific did seem to identify more as an agnostic by the end of Johns run, didn’t he? Regardless, it’s a conundrum, as characters like Terrific should exist in comics, but it’s really difficult to pull off convincingly in a world like DC where God (and Gods) and magic and such are all commonplace, established things. I’m not really sure what the solution is. I didn’t mind it in the Young Justice example of Kid Flash I mentioned because the writers acknowledged the silliness of the situation and used it to explore Wally’s faults and eventually improve on them, and with TMNT they’re allowing us to question whether reincarnation as it’s commonly understood is really true or not.

        I’m sure there are convincing ways to pull off an atheist/agnostic character in a shared universe, but it needs a lot of care I guess. I actually think Mr. Terrific was a great character and enjoyed his adventures, and it made sense to me that, if he lived in our world, he’d be an atheist, but I don’t know if they ever really convinced me that he had a reason to be one in the DC Universe. It always seemed like Terrific just didn’t WANT to believe that there was a God. Maybe that’s all he needed?

        • Yeah, that’s sorta the crux of the problem. If I lived in the DCU, I would believe in God and Gods and Magic because they’d be real measurable forces in my world. Those things would effectively become science. If Terrific decides he doesn’t want to believe in God, and therefore doesn’t believe in God – that would be analogous to people now that don’t believe in evolution or global warming. These are measurable, perceptible phenomenon, and Mr. Terrific not believing in God would totally non-empirical in his universe.

          I kind of consider John Constantine to be a good example of what a skeptic in comic book worlds looks like when done right. He has evidence that magic exists, he’s learned how to commune with angels and demons – BECAUSE THEY EXIST. But if someone were to suggest something that was outside the set of things he’s experienced, he’d absolutely not believe in them.

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