Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 42, originally released January 21st, 2015.
Taylor: Politics are a funny thing. Essentially, those who enter the forum are knowingly entering a profession where they will lie and be lied to basically every day of their professional lives. I don’t mean this to condemn — political strategy dictates that one must look out for their own interests at all costs, often times even at the expense of any sort of code of honor. In this way politics mirrors the natural world, for in both cases it’s truly a survival of the fittest endeavor. Given its beastly leanings, it therefore should be no surprise to any of us that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would eventually try its hand at a political thriller. Sure, the players in this case are mutants, ninjas, and alien brains, but let there be no mistake: issue 42 is a political thriller of the highest order.
All of the pieces are falling into place for an epic battle between our heroes, their sometimes allies, and their always villains. On the eve of battle, the turtles inform Old Hob that they won’t be taking part in the attack the Foot Clan with the other mutants. The reason for this is that they have made a secret plan with Donatello. As it turns out, the brothers were never estranged from one another. Instead, they were making a plan behind Splinter’s back that would pit Krang and Shredder against each other. This, in theory, will allow them to take out the Technodrome while their antagonists duke it out.
We’re all familiar with the political thriller. From The West Wing to House of Cards, audiences have always enjoyed a good yarn about political intrigue. While it’s true that Shredder isn’t the president and Krang is no prime minister, they both command the kind of huge armies, weapons, and resources usually reserved for those in political office. Similar to those who govern, both are power hungry and will do anything to get as much of it as they can. Ultimately, this grab for power is what makes issue 42 so much fun, for it injects the meeting of these parties with a certain level of intrigue.
And while we would expect backstabbing from Shredder or Krang, in this issue it comes from an unlikely source — the turtles. Pitting their foes against each other is the type of thing I previously hadn’t thought possible for the turtles. They seemed too righteous and straight-forward for this kind of political maneuvering. Part of what made this surprising for me is that the estrangement of Donatello seemed legitimate. More than that, however, I think the absence of Splinter from the plans truly sold the ruse since previously he had always been the mastermind of the turtles plans. Once again, Eastman, Curnow, and Waltz have maneuvered their characters perfectly so that all of this possible. The long term planning and foresight required by these three writers to create this dynamic truly is wonderful to watch unfurl. Their best laid plans are better than anything Shredder or Krang could cook up.
Even thought a lot of what makes this issue enjoyable is the intrigue in the plot, I enjoyed the art of Cory Smith a lot as well. While I miss Matteus Santolouco’s art and the wonderful design and detail he brings to the series, I’m impressed by Smith’s staging. The flashback where the turtles tell Splinter about their behind the back maneuvering is a fine example of this.
After they’re done talking, Smith gives us a panel of Splinter and his sons standing in silence, soaking in what has just happened. The silence is pregnant. Most of us have been in this situation before, where we have to tell or be told something we know will have serious consequences. Smith represents this awkwardness excellently with this one panel. It displays to the reader that all in the room understand the significance of what has just happened. Splinter is no longer the undisputed leader of the turtles. From now on, they are a true democracy.
In addition to this, I thoroughly enjoy the beginnings of the battle between the Foot Clan and Krang’s army. It reminded me of looking at a Where’s Waldo book in the best way. Did you enjoy those panels as well Drew? And how about all of the under the table wheeling and dealing, does it pique your interest? Lastly, what are some of the lasting implications of Splinter’s acquiescence of some of his turtle command power?
Drew: I’m not totally sure what Splinter’s new status might mean for the family, but we’re definitely in uncharted waters. While I’m with you on how exciting that development is, I’m decidedly less enthused about how we get there. I appreciate how the misdirect gambit over the last several issues fits with this issue’s theme of double- and tripple-crosses, but honestly, I think the cheap shock quality of the reveal comes at the expense of the genuine pathos of Donnie’s philosophical difference with Splinter.
Again, there’s a lot to like with where we end up, here — I’m particularly fond of the fact that it’s the rest of the family that helps bridge the gap between Donnie and Splinter — I just don’t understand why the writing team opted to deploy it as a nested series of flashbacks, or why they placed those flashbacks so late in the issue. I mean, by the time we get the actual explanation of the plan, it’s totally redundant — we’ve already seen that the turtles are back together, and that they’re headed to Burnow island in advance of the Foot. Putting the turtles’ conversation with Splinter at the start of the issue would have helped mitigate some of the problems here — I honestly thought I had missed something when we open on the turtles bowing out in order to execute a mysterious “plan” — but I think my bigger issue is how the reveal that the turtles were always working together totally deflates Donnie’s opposition to Spliter’s leadership, as well as Leo’s loyalty to it.
What if the plan was the same, but only came to Leo more recently? He was so torn between loyalty to his father and Donnie’s valid objections that he had been thinking about the problem day and night. Donnie, meanwhile, made his deal with Shredder without any ulterior motives, hoping that the foot could effectively siege Burnow island. It isn’t until Leo comes to Donnie to negotiate some kind of reconciliation that they realize they could pit the two against one another, at which point they bring in Splinter. I’m sorry to pitch my version of the story — seriously, I know how annoying that is — but I do this to illustrate how easy it would be to tell basically the same story without the need for all of the wonky chronology, and without undercutting the emotional stakes we assumed of the previous issues. I mean, how cool was it that Donnie was SO afraid of the threat Krang posed that he went to Shredder for help? Isn’t that way cooler than finding out he wasn’t quite that desperate, after all?
My issues with that reveal aside, I loved the heck out of the rest of these machinations — particularly the fact that Krang now knows what the turtles are planning. The writers don’t draw a ton of attention to this after the fact (possibly because this issue is so jammed full of surprise reveals), but that actually throws a huge wrench in their gears. In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar: it’s a trap! Not to beat a dead horse, but I think the reveal of this particular wrinkle in their plan would have a bit more impact if we had a better understanding of the turtle’s plan by that point in the story. As it is, we’re left to infer that the turtles didn’t intend for Stockman to reveal their involvement, but I mean, who really knows? Maybe this is just another misdirect, and they secretly planted that information for Stockman to find in a scene we’ll see in a flashback two issues from now.
Sorry, I guess that scene bugged me even more than I realized. I could dwell on how the misdirect violates our trust in the narrative as presented, or how the flashbacks feel oddly out of place in a series that has otherwise proceeded with pretty straightforward chronology, but I think the point is clear: I didn’t like it. Now back to the things I did like.
Taylor, I’m with you on enjoying Smith’s pacing AND on missing Santolouco. Or, maybe “missing” is the wrong word — it’s more that I’m noticing his absence. In Smith’s earlier work on this series, I was struck at how much of Santolouco’s style he had picked up — indeed, I thought those issues were drawn by Santolouco until I looked at the credits — but this issue finds him traveling further afield into his own sensibilities. The dynamic layouts are still there (though this issue is decidedly less action-oriented than either of Smith’s previous issues), but the character designs are decidedly different, giving Smith a voice in the series that I don’t think we’ve seen before. I know artist changes tend to be decried in the comics world, but this series has had great success with its rotating crew of artists, and this issue makes it clear that Smith is an equal member of the bullpen, not just an understudy for Santolouco.
There’s a lot to like about the way this series’ artists influence one another generally, and about Smith’s work here, specifically, but I’m afraid I burnt up my word count on my issues with the flashback. I suppose that reflects my feelings on this issue — mixed, though the negatives seem to have grown to outsized proportions in my mind. The good news is, I’m perfectly happy with where everything is at issue end, so I can’t wait to see what happens next month (you know, so long as it’s not a reveal of what secretly happened this month [sorry, had to get one more dig in]).
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