Today, Taylor and Ethan are discussing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 25, originally released August 28th, 2013.
Taylor: What does “epic” mean to you? Does it mean battles involving thousands of combatants? Does it mean something that lasts a long time? Or maybe it just means a truly huge hamburger? Whatever the word “epic” may mean to you personally, it’s almost certain that you’ve been exposed to it with more frequency in recent years. Ever since the Lord of the Rings came out, people have been thirsting for media that is more epic in scope and publishers and producers have been more than happy to supply them with it. After all, more media means more money, so why not provide the masses with their epic fix? But not all franchises really need or deserve the epic treatment, despite what many fans may think. The Hobbit movies, which will have a final run-time equaling its Lord of the Rings predecessor (speaking of movies here), is evidence of this enough. Considering this, we have to wonder if Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with its ambitiously sized cast of characters and numerous storylines, can handle the “epic” mantle. The 25th installment of this title seems to give leverage to one side of this argument so this question is: is TMNT epic or not?
The Foot are out in force, looting New York City and basically running amuck. Everything is going swimmingly until the Savate — led by Victor — ambush the Foot. It seems like the Savate are about to take the day when Leo shows ups and beats up Victor, sparing his life so he can relay a threatening message to all the rival ninja clans of the city. While Leo has been effective for Shredder so far, the Foot Clan leader is becoming suspicious of his inability to kill when ordered to do so. Meanwhile, Ralph is on the prowl for the foot and beating up thugs and police alike in his search for their hideout. It is only through the intervention of his brothers that he doesn’t do something he would later regret. Elsewhere, Splinter agrees to team up with Ol’ Hob to requisition some firepower, but he may be forced to take a job he would rather not. Additionally, Karai, unhappy with her role since Leo has joined the Foot reveals she has plans of her own when it comes to the takeover of NYC.
Phew, that was a lot, and I even left out some of the smaller episodes that took place in this issue. There wasn’t a large amount of action in this issue, but what it may lack in plotting is more than made up in full by the exposition which dominates these pages. And it’s not as if this exposition dealt with only a few characters. Rather, we check in with almost every character we’ve met to date in this series, and boy does that mean a lot of people and mutants. If we measure the epicness of a title based on the number of characters it has alone, then TMNT is making a strong case for its inclusion in the pantheon of epic franchises. Not only are we getting updates on all of our main characters, but we gain insight into the lives of some of the more perimeter players in the TMNT universe. We learn that Casey Jones dad was in the purple dragons, we witness the blossoming love between April and Casey, and we’re even reminded that Alopex is more than just Shredder’s loyal stooge.
The sheer amount of information in this issue alone is staggering, but instead of feeling overwhelmed by this, you feel as if Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz are master strategists positioning their forces on the eve of battle.
What’s impressive about all of this, more so than its size, is the quality of it all. Characters are developed and we get a better understanding of who they are and how they operate. In previous posts we’ve raved about the character development in this series and it’s gratifying to see it showing no signs of dropping off, even in such a dense issue. In particular, we get more insight into Ralph’s psyche. Angry at being the cause of Leonardo’s capture and eventual defection, he tromps around town with the outward motivation of trying to find Leo. However, when his brothers find him, Michelangelo calls the situation as he sees it.
It’s an astute observation by the party-dude and it reminds us why Mikey is so important to the Turtle family. He’s the glue that holds everyone together by either diffusing situations or making people own up to the things they may find hard to swallow. Here, he’s dead on about Ralph. Raphael isn’t the best at dealing with extreme emotion and, when faced with adversity, he would rather punch something than sit down and rationalize it. However, Mikey squares with him and makes him realize that instead of trying to find Leo, all Raphael is doing is taking out his frustrations on those who don’t exactly deserve it. Despite this being a short episode, we come to understand two of our main characters a little better and thereby can appreciate them all the more.
Last, but certainly not least, the artwork of Manteus Santolouco continues to impress. In particular I’ve become a huge fan of his ability to draw panels that deepen a scene’s impact, either though mirroring techniques or juxtaposition. I sited this before in my discussion of issue 23 a couple of months ago, but I just can’t say enough about how much I enjoy it. In this issue, while talking to Shredder, Leo can’t help but notice the similarity between his current master and his previous sensei and father.
It’s poignant in the way a only a picture can be. It’s neat how — initially — the scenes seem the same, but closer examination reveals significant differences. Most striking is the comparison between the sinister metal mask of Shredder and the warm smile on Hamato Yoshi’s face. If there was ever a better and simpler way to compare the differences between these two characters, I don’t want to see it.
So even though it’s huge in scope, this issue certainly has a personal touch to it. It seems like TMNT has achieved a properly epic nature but accomplished the elusive task of still remaining a character driven story all the while. Do you agree with that conclusion, Ethan? What else stood out to you in this issue? Do you think there are too many story lines in play?
Ethan: First, Taylor, your intro reminds me of the first time I saw the tagline for the Scott Pilgrim film and I knew that I was going to enjoy the movie. Second, I agree that this issue managed to fit a lot of character facetime into a tight, coherent framework. TMNT has hit a nice sweet spot: the characters are fleshed out enough that we can focus on what the people mean to each other rather than who everyone is, and yet we haven’t seen them all smashing together in a larger story arc yet, so there’s still some play in how this particular epic will resolve itself.
I’m interested by your choice of the word “epic” to define this thing, because I tend to associate that with a very large scope and/or extreme danger to a lot of people. In other words, almost every multi-issue episodes of any of the DC or Marvel first-stringers. While we have talking animals and a freaky undead geisha, we don’t have meteors or shattered timestreams or any other big-ticket plot items. What we DO have, as you point out, is the deep and developed cast of characters, and in that sense, I see the epicness. Just like the Iliad was about a LOT more people than just Achilles and Hector, one way to define an epic might be to say “a story that involves a large cast of characters, all connected by a central event or circumstance,” and in that sense, I definitely agree that this arc fits the bill. The plot is straightfoward: Shredder wants to have power and Splinter’s head on a pike; sub-plot is that he steals Splinter’s eldest son to help him further these goals. It’s the terrific, engaging texture of humanity (and mutant animals) that makes this thing complex and enjoyable to read.
So, we have a combination of turf war and family feud. Where the two main families are a bunch of pseudo-immortal humans and mutant animals. And yet, even in the face of those attention-grabbing facts, I found myself instead distracted by the whole ninja thing.
And when I say “ninja thing,” I mean both the standard comic book depiction of ninjas and this title’s own spin on the concept. The first thing that finally got through to me was the pretty familiar depiction of what I think of as the Ninja Cloud.
And, to be fair, the Savate precipitation was pretty light compared to some other storm systems we’ve seen in the past – I can’t help but think of the cover to issue #27 of the New Avengers. The Hand clan has always taken the Ninja Cloudburst concept right up to the limit of physical space and elbow room. (And wow, the irony of two famous ninja clans called “The Hand” and “The Foot” only now occurred to me.) Anyway, the funny thing about the Ninja Cloud is that A) we usually think of ninjas as elite warriors, B) the Cloud completely disregards this by making them about as threatening as moist towelettes, and C) as a culture, A+ B means that we’ve actually internalized this logical dissonance as something that makes sense. “Oh sure, the main character (Leonardo) could totally beat up a couple dozen of the “other” ninjas (Savate) – ninjas are pushovers. Except when they have names and are main characters.” While TMNT doesn’t push the sheer volume or density of of ninjas quite as far as some other titles or media do, it does up the ante in its own way: it features TWO distinct masses of ninja – the Savate AND the Foot.
If TMNT indulges in this sillier of ninja tropes, it does also tap into some of the classier stereotypes, and does so with style. For example: imagine that you’re a ninja overlord, transported into modern times, and you’re stuck in the middle of a major city. You could simply merge with the other modern power structures (as the Savate does by associating with the other crime families), OR you could stand on the roof of a skyscraper and pass the time with some good old-fashioned Japanese falconry (or “takagari,” for those history-minded ones out there).
Shredder, obviously, chooses the latter. This shot isn’t a busy one, but I love how it clarifies Shredder’s place in the world and his perception of it. The guy is looking to set himself up as the one and only power in this city of millions, in a sea of steel and electricity and glass, and he still finds time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Namely, sending his falcon to go catch small furry creatures. In the foreground, this disconnect of time and space is strengthened by the luscious bed of flowers that could have been ripped straight out of a woodcut print; in the middle distance, a traditional sliding door sits beneath a string of paper lanterns; in the background, one thousand office windows assault the night with their fluorescent glare. He is clearly a man out of time, and yet he remains perfectly at ease, bending reality around himself in ever growing spheres of influence to transform the status quo of the city into something else, something more familiar to him. Even as he moves to subjugate the power structures of his surroundings, he does not neglect the details.
This is the aspect of this issue and this series that grabs me the most. Sure, our attention is focused on Leo’s betrayal, Casey and April’s budding relationship, Splinter’s navigation of the turbulent waters between honor and evil, but it never stops there. Where other titles deal with big ideas in interesting ways, they all too often get lost in the central concept and forget to make time for transforming characters into people, or ignore the little touches of culture and flavor that must accompany their extreme premises. As exemplified by this issue, this title doesn’t take its context for granted, but always finds fun and quirky ways to stitch the people into the plot and the plot into the presentation.
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?