Patrick: This series always makes me feel warm and fuzzy about families. While the four brothers all have their differences, it’s clear that their shared strength — both emotional and physical — is greater than the sum of the parts. They struggle, but they also love. Part of the reason I find those relationships so powerful is because I was exposed to them at a very early age, when I was trying to figure out how I fit into a family with my siblings, so it’s been easy to see myself and my sisters in the turtles. I had a pretty healthy family, maybe a little touch too cold and German, but everyone was happy and allowed to be whatever they needed to be. Not all families are so healthy, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 33 turns it eye towards the most dysfunctional family in the line-up: the Jones’. It’s a heartbreaking look at what happens when support structures fail.
There’s actually surprisingly little Turtle action in this issue. While the crew has returned to NYC, they’re keeping a low profile, only venturing out at night to beat up some criminals. This isn’t their stated goal — as Leonardo has to constantly remind Michelangelo — they’re fighting crime solely as a means of staying sharp and refining their ninja-craft. Raphael perhaps puts their nightly escapes in the frankest light: they’re “warming up for the main event.” Make no mistake, the Turtles aren’t superheroes, they’re taking the fight back to the Foot. That’s an understandable goal for the Turtles, but one that strikes me as a little selfish. For the moment, Michelangelo and Donatello seem to be the only ones concerned about tackling issues beyond simply “we need to stop Shredder.” It’s myopic, and something that Splinter seems to have bought into 100%.
But our heroes take a back seat for the rest of the issue which largely focuses on Hun’s ever evolving relationship with the Foot, the Purple Dragons, his friends at the Skara Brae, and his son. Interestingly, his realignment can also be tied back to a single selfish ambition. Hun has found self respect and validation as reliable goon for the Foot clan, and that’s lead to money and a modicum of security in a city being conquered by an army of evil ninjas. The price he pays comes in the form of all his previous relationships, which he had already written off as toxic anyway. The only one that’s hard for him to let go of is Casey.
Hey, remember how Shredder nearly killed Casey Jones last time we were in New York? Yeah, that’s news to Arnie, that’s how out of Casey’s life he is by this point in his downfall. So when Shredder offers Hun the Luke Skywalker options (kill ’em or convert ’em), Hun fails to recognize any his own agency in this decision. The conversation between father and son is a highlight of the issue, and show just how much of Arnie’s power is an illusion — he can’t force Casey to leave town, and he can’t escape himself.
Returning Retcon Punch favorite artist Mateus Santolouco takes every opportunity to emphasize Hun’s internal conflict. There’s a great full-page splash where Hun confront Shredder where the whole thing is framed by the outline of Hun’s head. A similar technique is used more subtly at the end of the issue, as the memory of all of his relationships wrestle for dominance in his head.
I don’t often think of Hun as the most sympathetic character. In fact, I remember Taylor and I having a conversation about the beginning of this run where we both thought that Casey’s dad was being too big of a jerk to be believable. Well, leave it to Santolouco to find a way to alternately render him as a hulking, terrifying presence and as a vulnerable human being without the power to make the decisions he really wants to make.
Speaking of rendering characters, it looks like Santolouco is taking a few cues from Sophie Campbell as far as the Turtles’ designs are concerned, and otherwise just making a few revisions from the City Fall arc. First thing I noticed is that Michelangelo retains much of his chibification from the Northhampton arc. As much of Santolouco’s designs skew a little bit darker, I find this to be a welcome addition to his visual lexicon. Not that Mikey wasn’t cute before, mind you, I just think it’s interesting that Santolouco must have seen something in Campbell’s work that resonated particularly well through that character. The other change is that Raph looks much wider than his brothers.
His appearance is just slightly more monstrous, and it makes me eager to see what turns Eastman, Waltz and Curnow have in store for him. Last time Santolouco did an arc of this series, he basically defined modern day Leonardo for me. If we’re looking for Raph to get the same treatment — and we might, considering how close he is with Casey — well, brother, sign me the hell up.
Taylor: You know, I didn’t catch hulkin’ Raph when I read this issue, thinking instead it was maybe a matter of perspective. However, looking at that panel again I have to admit it does look like he does have more muscle than his brothers. Just look at those neck muscles! Somehow this transformation seems perfectly normal to me though. Maybe it’s his hot-head attitude, but I’ve always (maybe unfairly) viewed Raph’s contributions to the group as being that of enforcer. He’s a tough dude, mentally, so it makes since for him to represented that way physically as well.
As this points out, Santolouco is characteristically on fire again in this issue. He and the turtles are like two passionate lovers. When involved in other things they’re perfectly charming and charismatic — fine enough. Together, however, the fireworks erupt. I found this to be particularly true of this issue. Maybe I’m just partial to turtle-business, but I most enjoy the sections of this issue which take a look at the turtles. Patrick, you pointed out that we don’t even get that much time with the turtles here, but at least the issue hooked me with a killer opening scene.
In it, the turtles are doing exactly what they do. Patrolling the city, being ninjas, and taking out the trash that the cops can’t handle. Of these three things, Sanolouco does an excellent job of showing us just how amazing the martial skills are which the turtles possess. When three small time crooks rob a bank, the turtles make quick work of them.
Santolouco makes great use of a full page spread to depict this scene and it’s just darn beautiful in its execution. What’s most striking from first glance is the absence of any ninja, turtle or otherwise, from this scene. Given some of the epic fight scenes we’ve witnessed in this series, it can be easy to forget that one of the primary skills of a ninja is stealth. Here, Santolouco reminds of that trait in an excellent and subtle way. The pages are also beautifully symmetrical in the color layout. Greens and blues cool the interior of the page, preparing it for an explosion of orange which highlights the climax of the short fight scene. Ronda Pattison compliments Santolouco so well in these panels that it’s sometimes easy to forget we are dealing with an artistic team here.
Speaking of which, I simple loved this panel:
It’s beautiful shot of a beautiful family returning to its homeland. Seeing the turtles jump across skyline is akin to watching a dog unleashed in the park after being held indoors for too long. It’s joyful and warm and that feeling if conveyed perfectly here. I greatly appreciate how each turtle is jumping with his own particular form. It’s a perfect analogy for how these brothers, while all very different, are part of the same team and family.
Speaking of family, waves are being made in those which aren’t made up of genetically modified creatures. Both Casey and Angel’s family are being torn apart by the forces of strife and chaos. What’s interesting however, is that the reason for them being torn apart is that the parents in both families ultimately just want what’s best for their kids.
In both cases the fathers just want their children safe and out of trouble. But when you’ve spent your life as a gang-banger, it can be hard trying to rectify these feelings while trying to do the right thing. Again, with both Casey and Angel, what could be moments of healing turn into moments of pain. This is a thought provoking juxtaposition to the healthy family that is the turtles and Splinter. It makes you think just who, in fact, is the animal after all.
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?