Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Utrom Empire 1, originally released January 22nd, 2014.
Patrick: Leadership is the damnedest thing. Unless the people you’re leading believe or value the same things you value, everything falls apart. Hearts and minds, right? Without ideological unity, imperialism fails. These are the kinds of thoughts that didn’t bother 9 year old Patrick — nor should they have — so I never considered the tenuous position Krang finds himself in constantly: fighting for an empire that no one even seems to give a shit about. In Paul Allor and Andy Kuhn’s Utrom Empire, Krang’s authority is tested at every turn, and the abstract concept of the “Utrom Empire” starts to take the mythical shape of a force bigger than any one character’s ambition. It’s about fear, it’s about power, it’s about survival.
This issue plays some pretty wacky games with chronology, so bear with me while I try to get the sequence of events correct. We start the issue with a flashforward* to an undisclosed future-time — though we’re probably only a few hours in the future. Fugitoid, driven to suicide in order to prevent his intelligence from falling into Krang’s hands, throws himself off a dramatic craggy peak of Burnow island, shattering his circuitry on the rocks. This sequence, by the way, is beautiful – Andy Kuhn finds just the right mix of melancholie and desperation. Plus, acting on a robot, which is always fun.
[*Editor’s Note: Paul Allor was kind enough to tweet at us to communicate that this isn’t a flashforward, but Fugitoid’s fantasy.]
Seemingly everything else in the issue — possibly even this miniseries — leads up to that moment. In that far-flung past, Utrom scouts come to Earth and take DNA samples from dinosaurs so they can create clone-a-saurus warriors for the Utrom Army back in their own dimension. And whether it’s Krang or his father Quanin at the head of the empire, the army seems to be priority number one. So much so that even the dino-soldiers revolt and eventually overthrow their squishy overlords. There’s a little bit of yadda-yadda-yaddaing that gets us to the present, where a disgruntled Baxter Stockman frees Fugitoid and the pair attempt to exact a little crippling revenge of General Krang.
Stockman and Fugitoid run into an interesting ideological difference right off the bat. How best to fight Krang? Stockman, perhaps revealing himself to be a big monster than we’ve ever given him credit for, attempts to drain the hibernating Utroms of their ooze, effectively killing all of them. For reasons he doesn’t outwardly express, Fugitoid stops this from happening, and then goes back to worrying about how he can stop the progress of the Technodrome. What it boils down to is that these two characters see different parts of the Utrom Empire as threatening – Baxter sees a people that Krang is willing to fight and kill for, but Fugitoid sees the weapons that allows him to do the killing. Interestingly, this also betrays what these individuals value: Baxter doesn’t want to destroy something as technologically advanced as the Technodrome, and Fugitoid doesn’t want to commit genocide (even if, y’ know, they’re all assholes).
I love that we don’t get any of present-day Krang in this issue. It means we’re left to decide for ourselves who’s making the smarter move Fugitoid or Baxter. Personally, I think the more humane thing to do is destroy the technology, but I also recognize that that’s also the less personally devastating to Krang. I also suspect that killing all of his people would send Krang into an unparalleled rage, and if he’s still got the most powerful weapon in the universe, he’s just going to start using that shit on everyone.
The best part about this story is that it has me asking these kinds of questions instead of weird, bulky, mythology-based questions. And there’s a lot of that weird, bulky, mythology-based stuff in this issue. Names of planets, names of Utrom generals, senators and emperors, hell – there’s an entire species of cloned dinosaur soldiers introduced in this issue. No matter how outrageous it gets, it’s locked into a simple allegory about imperialism and the dangers of committing all of one’s resources to military might.
Taylor, how did you dig this issue? We didn’t get a whole lot of the Turtles in this issue — really only about a page and a half, but I was more than happy to spend time with some of the extended cast. Are you happy to have Andy Kuhn’s art back on display here? And how about that fight sequence between Krang and Zog the Triceraton? Pretty bad-ass, right?
Taylor: Oh man, that fight scene is the best. It’s not everyday you get to see a triceratops battle a disembodied brain in a robot suit, but today is not everyday. Mostly, I think that fight scene encapsulates what I enjoy most about this issue – it just goes for it. The entire concept of TMNT is pretty wacky – so wacky in fact that it was initially conceived of as a joke – but the Utrom Empire in particular seems particularly bizarre. The turtles, for as weird as they are, at least inhabit Manhattan and love pizzas and ninjas, just as most humans, so there is a certain amount of familiarity with them. The story revolving around Krang, however, doesn’t have that benefit. Writer Paul Allor seems to realize this and in response he throws all hesitation and goes all in with the alien in this issue. The results of this action is ludicrous and wonderful.
The appearance of Zog in this issue is one of the wonderfully strange plot points which made this issue a delight for me. Longtime fans of TMNT will recognize Zog and his fellow Tricertons from various incantations of the series but I think this is the first time it is suggested Triceratons descend from the friendly triceratops of pre-historic Earth. The idea of the Utroms using dino-DNA to create super soldiers is funny and seems perfectly at home in a series where rats can grow to be five feet tall. While some might view it as a bastardization of the turtle cannon, I view it is as nothing but good fun. Also, how can a person not love seeing little brains crawling around in retro-futuristic space suits? Adding to my enjoyment of Zog’s appearance is the aforementioned and spectacular battle he and Krang have when the Triceratons rebel.
The action, as portrayed by Kuhn, is well scripted and one of the better I remember reading in recent memory. It seems absolutely brutal and it even though sound effects are supplied, the images do enough to fill in the way this battle sounds in your head. I also appreciate that both Kuhn and Allor let the fight go for three full pages with only one small bit of dialogue. Too often fights are short or have unnecessary speaking, so I found this particular battle refreshing.
So to answer your question, yes Patrick, I’m glad to have Kuhn back drawing the turtles. I had actually forgotten about that facet of the issue until near the end of the issue when we catch a brief cameo from Donnie and Mike. I instantly recognized Kuhn’s portrayal of the turtles and this aided in my recognition of this title being a member of the TMNT family. I also appreciated Allor including this scene in the issue at all. It helps to place all of the weird shit we’ve just been reading about into context. Suddenly, instead of just being a simple story about a mutant dinosaur and an alien brain, the issue becomes part of the larger TMNT legend. Like Donatello says, we’ve been through a lot with the turtles, so it’s no wonder if some remember the existence of the Utrom’s and Krang as a dim memory.
Even though I’ve had my reservations about the inter-dimensional and galactic battles contained in earlier TMNT issues, I can unequivocally say I’m excited now about their further integration into the TMNT main series. If you still have your doubts, take a look at this shot of dinosaurs and brains drinking beer together and singing songs.
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