Today, Ethan and Taylor are discussing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30, originally released January 29th, 2013.
Ethan: It’s easier to break than to mend. Anyone who’s ever fallen out of a tree and landed on their arm, or dropped an upright piano on their foot on moving day*, has first-hand experience with this phenomenon. Bones snap in a hurry, but they take forever to rebuild. The Mutant Ninja family just went through hell, and now that they’re safely ensconced in the barn down the road from April’s parents’ house in the country, they’re getting down to the painful process of knitting themselves back together. While this issue deals with the same setting and general themes as the previous one, it moves us forward in ways that make sure we don’t feel like it’s just a re-tread. Not to mention that its final panels signal that we’ll soon be leaving the realm of sleepy barns in the woods for a return to beat-down brawls against the Foot.
For now, though, everyone’s settled in and are finding their own ways to recup from their recent battle. Mikey writes a letter to Woody back in New York City; Donatello digs into the Technodrome Problem; Raphael confronts Alopex about her motives, while Leo and Splinter try to find their center through meditation. When Raphael accuses Alopex of trying to attack Leo at an unguarded moment, she finally gives Raph some of his own medicine, accusing him of being the one out of touch and professing a close knowledge of what Leo’s going through. As Leo battles his brainwashing-induced inner demons, he’s visited by a vision of his mother, who offers him words of comfort and puts his feet back on the path. April’s mother comes clean about some shady business she caught wind of back when her husband worked at StockGen, before extracting an awkward promise of “no more secrets” from her daughter (the one who’s hiding a bunch of mutants a stone’s-throw away from the house). Finally, the spirit of Tang Shen also pays a visit to her reincarnated rodent husband, and Mikey gets everyone back together with a campfire.
So again, as Patrick put it, still no punching nor robots – we’re still firmly in the territory of licking our wounds. Last issue, we dealt with awkward arrivals and emotional after-shocks, but as Splinter and the turtles settle into their new vacation spot on the O’Neal’s land, they all split up to personally process the crazy fight they just recently escaped. Artist Sophie Campbell continues to draw the title, and to be honest, I was still not a fan of the style until halfway through this issue. Yes, the story has thoroughly hunkered down into the touchy-feely territory of emotions, family, and healing, but I didn’t feel like the straight-up chibi vibe Campbell is channeling was necessary to accomplish that. In the hyper-critical way that only someone with terrible handwriting and poor sketching skills can do, I resigned myself to Campbell’s bubbly bubble-head bubble-turtles and tried at least enjoy the writing. And then Campbell smacked me upside my stupid, judgemental face with his Vampire Free Forest From Hell.
Fucking awesome. The previous artists had done fine work at trying to capture the confusion, despair and darkness raging inside Leo’s head, but Campbell taps into the part of our social consiousness that’s usually devoted to storing things like Sleepy Hollow and Aliens and leverages that skin-crawl factor to take Leo’s psychological fight to a new, more visceral level.
Right after he drops this delicious and terrifying bombshell, we’re yanked sideways out of the Demon Woods and spirited away to the light-infused, open fields of maternal love, as Tang Shen rescues Leo from his nightmares.
Where the nightmare was all hard, sharp outlines and beady red Terminator eyes, Campbell and colorist Ronda Pattison cast Tang Shen’s realm in a pastel yellow, sun-bleached glow. Even the blacks and browns here are practically translucent – the desaturation and brightness are a huge contrast to the previous scene, and hit the eye like a big, soft blanket and a mug of hot tea on a winter morning. Suffice it to say, I’ve come around to your point of view, Taylor – the art is terrific.
The story, happily continues to pull its own share of the weight, too. This franchise is almost exclusively about ninjas, and ninjas (at least in our Western caricature) almost exclusively fight. So if you’re going to take a break from the action, you’d better still serve up something solid, and Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz do just that. Even though it looks like this idyllic interlude looks like it’s going to only last for two issues, we’ve covered a good chunk of ground. We got more time developing the characters as true individuals who are more different than either just their theme-song-worthy stereotypes or the colors on their masks, and we’ve continued the theme of finding friends in strange places. Old Hobb and Splinter were truly odd bedfellows, but Raph and Alopex take a close second. Even though their fiery clashes and eventual truce-making are crammed into a handful of panels, it managed to avoid feeling forced. Raph came in swinging with his Jerk-jitsu going full-force, but Alopex’s straight-talking and willingness to show a shred of vulnerability from her own past took the wind out of his sails in a believable way. And if the depiction of their truce is a little cheesy, it’s easily forgiven in the context: there’s really something primal about a campfire that brings the empathic side of the human (or mutant) soul to the fore. When huddling around a small point of light in an ocean of black night, our differences seem much smaller and inconsequential than they do in the full light of day.
Taylor, you have every right to say “I told you so” about the art, so please be my guest. Also, maybe share your thoughts on Splinter’s dreamlike reunion with his dead wife, or the introduction of Koya at the end of the issue?
Taylor: Ethan, I’ll try not to get too smug in my response if for no other reason than you just gave us the term “jerk-jitsu.” Yes, the art of being a supreme asshole is long and hard, but by god, does it come in handy at family reunions and when you receive poor service at a restaurant. Honestly though, I’m glad you’ve cozied up to the art more after your initial distaste. I still think that this foray into country is essentially a storybook time for our heroes. After all, we’ve traded shurikens for sentiment and mutant pigs for peace. The themes of family and love have never been so heavy handed as they are in these issues and I think the artwork of Campbell reflects this change in tone fairly well. This isn’t a knock on either artist, I clearly love both, but different styles are good for affecting different emotions. All of this is basically just a long winded way of saying I really enjoyed the art in this issue, again.
What I noticed greatly this time around was the way Campbell draws eyes for our heroes. While I fear some, like Ethan of old, find the eyes of the turtles to be a little too cartoony, I find them to be highly expressive. When Raph attempts to use his jerk-jitsu on Alopex as she watches Leonardo skulking, he’s surprised to learn that she actually wants to help Leo. The effect this has on Raphael is stultifying and Campbell depicts his sudden understanding of the situation, and subsequent embarrassment, using a close up of his eyes.
The large eyes, with their oversized irises, allow Campbell to show an amount of expression there that is rarely seen in comics. A lot of the time when close-ups on eyes occur it’s used to depict concentration or anger or some other emotions usually associated with battle. Campbell flips the tables here and uses an eye close-up to subtly show us Raphael emotional state. They say that the eyes are a window to the soul, and here we see that underneath his hard exterior Raph is just a huge softy with a lot of emotions that sometimes come out the wrong way. Also, I love comparing this portrayal of the turtles in contrast to the iris and pupil free depictions of their eyes which grace many of their previous incantations.
This same expressiveness bleeds into the other scenes in this issue and subsequently the other characters as well. The reunion of Splinter and his wife comes to mind in particular, as once again, Campbell uses eyes to evoke emotion quite well. However, whereas the turtles enjoy large eyes, Campbell chooses to keep Splinter’s eyes the beady, dark orbs so indicative of rodent faces.
Remarkably, the result is there is no loss of expression, as the confusion and sadness on Splinter’s face can surely attest. Once Splinter was so sure of himself, but with Leo rejecting his love, he is a boat without a rudder. It’s kind of painful to see Splinter so directionless but I love how the dreamlike quality of this spread helps to dissipate that worry into the ephemeral mists of half-remembered sleep. Sure, Splinter will still feel the hurt of when he wakes up, but it’s sure not to last.
And oh, the future projections this issue leaves itself open to! Tang Shen’s continued appearance to multiple characters would seem to firmly plant the idea of “magic is real” into this series. Donatello, the lone stalwart of science even confesses to Leo that maybe there are mysterious powers at work when it comes to the lives of our heroes. I hope that this is the most detail we get about such things. I like how this series has continually skirted the subject Magic vs. Science so it would be shame to see a flag pole planted firmly in either camp. That being said, I love the reveal of the scientifically engineered Koya. He/she is a bird prey, theoretically an animal that’s designed to hunt and can also fly. Both of those are new to the mutant landscape and sure to cause some problems for the turtles. Also, I wonder if Koya can still perch on Shredder’s arm without breaking it?
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?