Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 28, originally released November 27th, 2013.
Don’t it always seem to go/that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
-Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
Drew: It’s easy to take things for granted. In our never-ending quest for the better, we often overlook the value of what we already have — especially if we’ve always had it. “Youth is wasted on the young,” as they say, which I’ve always taken to mean that you can only truly appreciate a carefree existence once you’ve lived a careful existence. Because kids have never lived in a world where their parents weren’t always there for them, they can’t really understand what it is their parents do for them in the first place. I’ve long felt the same way about Leonardo. He’s the leader because he’s always been the leader — I’ve never really understood what it is he brings to that role on the team (you know, besides having any of the more distinctive quirks of his brothers). City Fall has long featured some exploration of what life without Leo looks like, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 28 shows just how well the turtles work without him.
As the issue opens, the turtles’ assault on the giant Foot meeting is not going well — Beebop and Rocksteady are handily stopping the turtles on the inside while Hun and his crew effectively fending off Casey et al. on the outside. April manages to tip the scales with some of the absurd tech Donnie was testing in the previous issue, but that still leaves a semi-brainwashed Leo and a fully-crazy Shredder to deal with. Splinter takes Shredder, leaving Raph to deal with Leo. Raph has long chaffed at Leo’s leadership, and in many ways, this is the fight Raph fans have been waiting for for years. Surprisingly, it isn’t rage or badassery that allows Raph to prevail; it’s brotherly love and pacifism.
Raph acknowledges that Leo is the superior fighter, but makes an incredibly strong case for himself as leader of the team. Indeed, the turtles are able to succeed here without Leo’s leadership, leaving his necessity on the team somewhat in question. Then again, their successful getaway owes a great deal to a timely act of insubordination from Alopex. As the issue concludes, Shredder promotes Karai to second-in-command, while the turtles decide to lay low in the farmhouse in Northampton — a favorite of many a turtle-fan.
This issue was packed to the gills with action, and while the conclusion puts all of the pieces back where they belong (as well as introducing a few more), this issue is surprisingly light on emotional closure. Indeed, the only arc that really concludes here is Karai’s quest for Shredder’s approval. She has fully earned her place as chunin, and Shredder’s speech about family as something to be earned is proof that her loyalty will be rewarded. Plus, it allows artist Mateus Santolouco an opportunity to really cut loose with some truly operatic staging.
The turtles, on the other hand, get nothing so tidy. Leo’s deprogramming is hard-won, but is clearly not complete. Seeing his brothers brought him to his knees in the heat of battle, but when Splinter attempts to welcome him back, Leo pulls away. There’s obviously a lot going through his mind, and the peace and quiet of the country might be just what he needs to clear his head. Then again, New York might need him to recover quickly. It seems like Shredder is undeterred in his mission to unite the criminal underworld under his power. He sees this loss as only a minor setback, and it seems the crime lords are still loyal to him.
Of course, the turtles’ involvement might not be tied to Leo’s recovery. As I mentioned earlier, the team is effective without his leadership (it’s almost as though being cool but rude, doing machines, or being a party dude do not actually preclude leading a group), calling into question exactly what he brings to the team. You know, besides being everyone’s brother.
I don’t know Taylor. Am I being to hard on old Leo? I must confess that I’ve always seen him as a bit of a dud, so maybe I’m predisposed to ignoring his charms. At least we can all agree Beebop with a chainsaw is pretty cool, right?
Taylor: I’ve never had a huge affection for Leonardo either. Ever since I was first introduced to him in the animated TV show way back in the late 80s, I’ve always thought he was a bit boring. He’s moral, he always makes the right decision, and he also seemed totally devoid of anything that makes him interesting. Raph has the fatal flaw of being hot-headed, Donnie is a wiz-kid, and Mike is, and always shall, the lovable party dude. But Leo? Dude really has nothing that distinguishes him. My views on Leo have held true in this iteration of the comic as well. He’s still the leader, he still makes the right decisions and save his moral impasse when he fought Slash, he still is a pretty flat character. Now that the City Fall event has ended, I’m beginning to think that maybe the whole thing was really about trying to imbue this stubbornly boring character with a little angst and interest.
What’s most interesting about this being the end of the City Fall arc is that so much is left undone. The most obvious evidence of this is that Leonardo clearly isn’t completely rid of the brainwashing he underwent while in Shredder’s hands. Throughout the issue he’s groggy, doesn’t appear to really know where he is, and at one point even attempts to attack Splinter (yet again).
Even after being struck by Shredder, something Splinter would never do, Leo still considers him master. In a genius move of both humor and irony, Eastman and Santolouco stage the panels so it appears Leonardo is coming to the aid of his rodent father. This optimism is quickly undercut when we realize that the “master” he is referring to is Oroko Saki. It’s moments like these that make me think this will be a recurring issue for Leonardo in the future. Even though it appears he’s free from the most severe effects of the brain washing, the distrust in his family and his father still remain. This brings into question just exactly what his role will be in the future with the turtles. A leader who doesn’t trust his/her team members is going to be awful at their job. Given that that’s Leo’s prime duty in the family, what will he do now? Will he still try to lead or will he have to search out a different role? A world where Leonardo’s defining trait is his existential malaise is one I would love to see in the future.
While that gigantic element of City Fall is still firmly slotted in the TBD column, there are some more satisfying elements of closure that do take place, even if they aren’t necessarily happy. ‘The Ballad of Casey Jones’ as I like to call reached it’s climatic moment in this issue. Casey’s dad, as you will remember, has teamed up with the Foot and is basically making up for being a drunkard by being a huge asshole. Casey’s had enough of this man ruining his life and he let’s his Dad know, both with his words and his bat.
In this moment Casey rejects his dad, chooses the turtles, and firmly establishes his path as a good guy in life. There aren’t any lingering suspicions that he’ll defect and join his father – not after he hit him in the head with a bat, at least. The Casey narrative has been a quiet, yet steady addition to this comic and it’s won me over despite my first hesitations. In this case, I feel like it’s picking up the slack where the main narrative needs it most. It’s the lone emotional closure we get in this issue and it saves it from being a complete placeholder issue in that regard. Also, it never hurts to let Santolouco draw an awe inspiring climatic moment.
So it will be interesting to see where TMNT goes from here. Will the turtles miss the old Leo as their leader now that they know they don’t need him to hold their own in a fight? Will they eventually realize that even though they have their brother back, they might have lost something? It’s hard to say at this juncture, but there are enough interesting story threads still weaving their way throughout this series to keep me coming back for more.
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?