Taylor: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have a lot of descriptors in their name. While it’s always easy to remember that they are turtles and ninjas, it’s a little harder to remember that they are teenagers. I’m not sure what to attribute this forgetfulness to. Maybe it’s because most superheroes are in their 20s or 30s. Or maybe it’s because it’s hard to guess the age of a half man/half turtle based solely on appearance. I don’t know. Whatever the reason is, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the turtles have to deal with some heavy shit on a regular basis. While your average teen worries about school and sex, the turtles have to worry about ninja battles and saving the earth from an evil, alien brain. It’s not exactly a fair shake and given the circumstances it seems like only a matter of time before those hormones (turtle or otherwise) and inexperience kick in and hurt our half-shelled heroes. Issue 22 of TMNT begins the City Fall event and with it we see our turtles being challenged in new ways and asked to achieve things beyond their years. But are they up to the task?
There are a lot of ninja clans hanging about in the city of New York. Not only do we have the turtles, but there is the evil Foot Clan and the French inspired Savate Clan. Shredder feels as if the city is only big enough for one dojo, so he — along with the witch Kitsune — begins a plan that will bring the Foot to prominence once more. In other words, some major shit is about to go down.
The first phase of Shredder’s plan involves kidnapping Casey Jones. Raphael and Casey are out on patrol and peering into bars when they are set upon by a mob of Foot ninja. Raph manages to escape but Casey is taken to the docks of New York as a hostage. Back at the abandoned church, the other turtles are hanging out when Ralph bursts in demanding that they go rescue Casey. Splinter obliges, but he is well aware that this is obviously a trap set by the Foot for the turtles. At the docks they find Casey, but not before Shredder severely wounds him with a claw to the stomach. Raphael loses his cool at the sight of this and a battle ensues between the Foot and the turtles. While our heroes are successful in rescuing Casey, it comes at a great cost: Leonardo is captured by the Foot and whisked away before the turtles have time to react.
It seems that there are currently two storylines dominating TMNT. One of these is the science fiction inspired battle with Krang and the Neutrinos. The other story is steeped in Japanese lore and deals with reincarnation and a vengeance that spans hundreds of years. While there are a couple items which connect these two stories, for the most part they remain distinct – both in content and tone. Each brings its own unique qualities to the table and no doubt they will eventually intersect. The bread and butter that keeps me coming back to the turtles-table, however, is the latter of these two storylines. It is for this reason, that I am more than a little excited for the City Fall event.
I’ve been impressed by the level of character development that Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz have injected into the ninja oriented segments of TMNT. Some of the dominant themes here have been loyalty and maturation. Splinter performs the dual role of father and martial arts master to the turtles. His devotion to his children and to the responsibility of training them has always been the heart and soul of TMNT and in this issue we see that notion being tested. Raphael has always been the hot-head of the turtles, so it is not much of a surprise to see the test of the turtles’ training and bonds stemming from his actions. When Casey is captured (and then nearly killed) by the Foot, it’s Raph who loses his cool and first makes the turtles go on an ill-advised mission – then he compounds the issue by falling right into Shredder’s trap. We haven’t see any of the turtles so blatantly disregard Splinter’s advice before and it’s a little disturbing to see how much Raphael loses his shit.
While his loyalty is intact, which is admirable, it comes at the cost of putting everyone else he cares about in danger. While it’s easy for us to sit back and tell Raphael to chill out, we forget that he’s just a teenager. If you do a quick inventory of all the teenagers you know, how many of them would call level-headed? Probably a small number right? Once again, Eastman and Waltz have got the character development machine humming in this issue. Not only are the turtles growing, painfully is necessary, but they are doing so in a believable and logical fashion.
Also, I have to mention Mateus Santolouco’s art. Those of you who have read The Secret History of Foot Clan (which I highly recommend you read if you haven’t yet) already know just how talented this guy is. We’ve gushed over his art in other write-ups, so a full blown love fest isn’t needed here. However, take a look at these panels.
Something about this depiction of the Foot Clan vanishing into the night is both mesmerizing and spooky. It’s times like these where I actually fear that the turtles might not win this one – the Foot just seem so competent and terrifying when drawn this way. Also, the lone sword lying on the ground, representing the capture of Leonardo, is simply brilliant. It perfectly sums up the significance of what has just happened.
Patrick, what do you think of the City Fall event so far? Are you excited for it or do you prefer the light hearted and sleek action of the Neutrinos? We’ve known for awhile that the Shredder has planned to capture Leonardo, but what do you think he’ll do to him now that he has him? Lastly, Santolouco’s art depicts the mutants in this story in a much more realistic fashion – more animal than previous renditions. I think it’s a neat look, do you?
Patrick: Oh I love the way Santolouco draws the turtles. One of the things I tend to lose sight of when talking about the turtles is that they’re mutants – they’re basically monsters that I just so happen to love. Santolouco doesn’t draw them as ugly creatures, or anything like that, but the bulky, sinewy anatomy of these characters is never so believable as under his pen. The muscle definition around the turtles’ arms and necks — particularly when Raph’s mad — is expressive and almost tangible. It’s an amazing magic trick – selling the anatomy as realistically as possible serves the dual purpose of making me believe the physical space the characters occupy, as well as the effect their emotions have on their bodies. Here’s a great example of Santolouco wielding turtle/rat/man anatomy like a pro.
Taylor, I know you said that this might not be the time or the place for an all-out Santolouco love-fest, so I’ll try to limit my praise. BUT IT’S GOING TO BE HARD. I basically love everything he draws, and it seems like there’s no bad trick in his tool kit. He’ll simulate a wide angle lens in the scenes where the turtles are outnumbered by Foot goons, which contributes to the scope of what our heroes are up against. It makes the image a little overwhelming for the reader, and you’re just in there in the headspace with the characters. In fact, Santolouco uses the camera alarmingly well throughout, frequently using a static (or nearly static) camera to depict simple sequential action — like Taylor posted from that kidnapping-Leo sequence. There’s also a fair amount of straight-up proscenium staging, which adds another layer of gravity to the action – like when Shedder on the scene of “the trap.” My favorite two panels from this issue play almost all of these tricks at once:
Awesome turtle anatomy? Check. Static camera for sequential action? Check (plus, a slightly more electric background color for the second panel, emphasizing the emotion). Simple proscenium staging? Yup – Raph and Leo are all we need to see – they’re literally the only thing that matters in this scene.
Okay, I’ll talk about the writing now, I promise.
Eastman and Waltz can pretty reliably work me up into a fervor regardless of what paces they’re putting these characters through. Hell, they even had me going by the end of the Neutrino rebellion, which was a little too cotton-candy for my tastes. While I dug last month’s extended lesson in humility, this feels like the narrative wheels working at full-tilt again. Yeah, there are Savate ninjas mucking up the works a little, but so far, they remain on the periphery – leaving us with a core cast of characters that I genuinely care about. It’s incredible the way the family history caries through the centuries, and there’s a palpable tension between the clans of Saki and Yoshi. Just knowing that Kitsune is back by Shredder’s side is exhilarating, and I can’t wait to see New York City stuck in the cross-fire of a blood feud that transcends country, century and species.
But for all the grand operatics, it’s the real, character-based shit that I just love. While Donny and Mike are a tad under-served here (it’s mostly the Raph and Leo show), the do have my favorite exchange in the whole issue:
That’s right: it’s funny too. Look, that’s their best human-friend bleeding out behind them and Michelangelo still has the wherewithal to call his enemy a doofus. 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 DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?