Patrick: Because I’m a huge nerd, I was recently in a normal-people social situation and someone asked me who my favorite Ninja Turtle was. In typical Ehlers-style, I laid out a multi-tiered answer: “When I was a kid, Donatello was my favorite, because he was quiet and liked science. As a young adult, I liked Raphael the best — so angsty and complicated. But as an adult-adult, Michelangelo is my favorite.” As I get older, Mikey’s enthusiasm and social skills seem like rarer commodities, and I just respect the hell out of the character. But I sorta surprised myself with how much I feel about all of these characters (enough to claim 75% of them as “my favorite”). I always worry about why it is that I like them all so much — but I think it’s just because they’re stories are fucking great. Issue 24 is no exception.
Old Hob has lead the Turtles to Shredder’s secret-hideout. It’s not as tidy as all that – Hob slams the door behind them, leaving our heroes in a dramatically lit room with Shredder, Karai and Alopex standing in wait. Shredder talks a big game about his growing criminal empire, but Splinter flatly states their business: just give up Leonardo and we’ll be on our way. You want your Leonardo? Here’s your fucking Leonardo:
That’s right, all that brainwashery from the previous issue was as effective on Leonardo as it was on me and Taylor. Leonardo attacks his brothers, systematically besting all three. AND THEN THINGS GET WORSE. The lights click on, revealing that the room is packed with foot ninjas. Luckily, Slash bursts through the front door, allowing the non-Leonardo turtles and Splinter to escape.
Bobby Curnow, the editor of the series, makes a point of stressing in the letters page how long they’ve been working towards the Dark Leo reveal, and all that hard work totally pays off. In fact, it’s almost hard to grapple with the other developments in this issue in light of Leo’s betrayal. It’s not even like it’s a surprise: the previous issue was almost entirely set-up for this turn. But predictability be damned – this is an emotional gut punch.
I wanna throw on the breaks there for a second, because I’m certain that my emotional attachment to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is inflated because I can’t remember a time in my life before I loved them. They weren’t always the most fleshed-out characters; “Leonardo leads” was about all I took away from the character for years. Coming into a comic book with an affinity for the characters is something that we all deal with, and that affinity can distort our opinions on the literature. It’s hard to remain objective when the mere sight of a character puts a smile on your face. So, what am I experiencing in the moment Leonardo shreds his trademark blue mask? Is this an emotional feat that the issue accomplishes? Maybe we can credit “City Fall” or the Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz’ run on the series? Maybe we have to credit decades of media phenomenon.
I’d argue that this issue, all on it’s own, earns that emotional moment. Part of what’s so upsetting about Dark Leo is that we have such a clear image of Leonardo’s loyalty, and that family is such a strong theme throughout. This issue doubles down on both the personalities of the characters and the value of family. We start with three short scenes I didn’t mention in my plot summary that establish these values early on.
The first of which is Karai flipping around the Foot dojo, unknowingly showing off her Korean fighting technique to Shredder. Their relationship has been pretty frosty in the past, and it’s not like they’re hugging and toasting s’mores in this scene, but there’s a warmth between them I don’t think we’ve seen before. He addresses her as “grand-daughter” and she addresses him as “grand-father.” He also very interestingly ask about the moves she was doing, but not in a talkin’ shop kind of way — like he’s genuinely interested in, and impressed by, her. Check out this awesome, thoughtful panel of Saki taking in this new information about his grand-daughter.
It’s an understated moment, for sure — but it is a moment. Next, we move over to Casey Jones, who is waking up from surgery to find Angel and April both waiting for him to come to. But their comforting words manifest themselves in Casey’s coming-out-of-a-coma-stupor as his dead mother. You can read all kinds of Freudian-whatever into this scene, but I think the more compelling read is that Casey is seeking permission to work on himself instead of being stuck caring for his abusive, alcoholic father. He already has a purpose beyond that domestic nightmare — the family he’s forged with Splinter and the Turtles — but he needs his mother to say it’s okay first. The fact that his interaction with dream-mom elides with the scene of his friends looking over him speaks volumes: the affirmation he needs is right in front of him.
My favorite incredible character moment comes just before Hob leads the Turtles into the trap. Rather than plotting with his brothers and father about how to get Leo back, Michelangelo is getting to know Slash. Mateus Santolouco doesn’t let us forget for a minute how scary this should be for Mikey, emphasizing the enormous size-disparity between the characters.
You want to see “Michelangelo is a party dude” turned into a deep, workable, valuable character trait? There it is. With so many character traits and value systems clearly stated so early in the issue, the reversal of Dark Leo is bound to pack a wallop.
Taylor, these are dark days for our turtle friends. Do you think they should continue to trust Hob after he led them into Shredder’s trap? Hob’s explanation for his actions are sorta compelling, but also: come on. And it sorta seems like the city is going to shit while all this family drama is going on — when will our heroes address that? Do we even care about the Foot taking control of crime in New York City at this point?
Taylor: Amongst all the family drama of City Fall it is easy to forget that anyone exists outside of the primary characters in TMNT. It’s kind of strange; I’ve talked before about how well Eastman both draws and writes a story that takes place in a large urban environment, but I’m hardly ever consciously aware of it when I’m reading TMNT. Much of this can be attributed to just how engrossing this series, and especially the City Fall event, have been so far. While I’m busy reeling from the reveal of Dark-Leo, it’s easy to forget that New York is something that exists and which we should care about. It’s an odd problem for the series to have, if you could even call it that. The drama between the Foot Clan and the turtles is so great it’s just so easy to forget that the Turtles’ prime directive isn’t to defeat the Foot, but to protect New York. However, I’m not all that worried about this imbalance. Whoever is the victor of the Foot v. Turtle match surely will be in control of the city. So while the emergence of Dark-Leo might seem like an isolated event at first, in actuality it holds the fate of all of New York in it’s green, three fingered hands.
The question of Ol’ Hob is also an interesting one to ponder because it too carries with it the fate of New York. These are indeed dark times for the turtles, Patrick, and as such, I think they really have very little choice but to trust Hob. While some would probably like to slot Hob into the “villain” category I’m not sure I can bring myself to do as much. Those of us who read the issue detailing his backstory know that this is no simple cat we’re talking about. He’s complicated and and the reasons for his betrayal of the turtles, while not strictly honorable, are logically sound. If anything, I feel as if Hob is a chaotic neutral, who at the moment sees the Foot Clan as being a bad thing strictly for him, so he’s working to stymie their rise. And honestly, I feel like the turtles, and Splinter especially, give way too easily to Hob’s discretion because their desire to rescue Leonardo is so strong. While that is certainly admirable, it’s never been Splinter’s way to throw caution to the wind in favor of emotion, an act which in this case proves to bite him in the tail. Additionally, they should have realized something was up when this exchanged happened:
Yet while times our dark for our heroes there is something positive at work in the universe. Slash is alive and is an absolute beast and it just so happens that that beast is currently being fueled by his love of candy. And while candy certainly is a motivating factor for any of us, I do think there is more going on here than a simple desire for sugar. As you pointed out, Patrick, Michelangelo uses his party skills to befriend Slash by sharing some of his chocolate. In these times when the turtles are down are man, it certainly would be advantageous for them is they had another man, or turtle, to step in and take Leonardo’s place. What Slash may lack leadership, he more than makes up with his martial prowess. Slash fits this bill to a T and Mikey’s outreach to his former enemy has to count for something. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future we see Hob try to once again work over the turtles only to have his plans ruined by Slash, who feels a certain allegiance to those who treated him nice.
In addition, there’s no way that Leonardo didn’t see Slash burst into the warehouse to rescue the turtles – I mean, he’s basically a walking, roaring wrecking ball.
This is a triumphant moment for Slash and it had me laughing with delight as it certainly means the beginning of his road to redemption. But more importantly, how will Leonardo react to the revelation that Slash is still alive? One of his primary reasons for joining the Foot is that he feels guilty for killing Slash, but now that he knows he’s alive will his allegiance be tested? Also, Leonardo will now know that Shredder lied to him (or at least acted on false assumptions) in convincing him to join the Foot. How can Leo, who puts such a premium on loyalty, follow a leader he knows is trying to manipulate him? Despite how nerdy these speculations are I know I’m going to be talking about them with whoever will listen to me. So far City Fall has been that good and there’s no reason to believe the next issue will be anything otherwise.
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?