Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 43, originally released February 25th, 2015.
Taylor: They say we’re living a golden age of television. One has but to flip on the television or log onto Netflix to see that they are probably right. The amount of quality television shows being made today is staggering, and one of the reasons for that is the quality of cast that mans several of the best shows. Many shows now have regular casts which number in the 30s and most of those characters are interesting enough we would enjoy watching a spinoff that just follows their adventures. While this might seem novel to a lot of people, comic book fans know this is no new thing — comics have had large casts of characters for ages now. But, just like TV, comics are really only as good as the characters in them and the mark of a quality comic can easily be measured by the strength of its cast. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a title that enjoys a large cast, and it is one that is so strong, we rarely miss our main characters, even when they take the back burner.
Krang and Shredder are busy roughing each other up because Krang wants to end the world as we know it while Shredder wants to rule it as we know it. Irreconcilable differences between monomaniacal leaders breeds warfare, so naturally we have rock soldiers fighting shark-humans and hawk-humans. This meeting has all been arranged by the turtles who hope to use the cover to destroy the technodrome. The only thing standing between and their goal is Baxter Stockman, who breaks out of his prison cell in his own bid to take control of Earth.
Battles abound in this issue and just about every character we’ve met in this series (with the notable exceptions of Casey and April) are taking part in the action. While wielding so many players might seem difficult (and probably is difficult), writers Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz make it look easy.
Take, for example, everyone’s favorite evil scientist, Baxter Stockman. While he’s certainly gotten his fair share of screen time in this and other TMNT series, few would consider Stockman a primary character in the series. He’s a B-Level villain (at best) who sometimes borders on corney. However, this issue reveals him to be a major cog in the story.
Stockman isn’t one who likes to watch from the sidelines. Here, he takes advantage of the chaos around the Technodrome in a bid to take over the world. As happens frequently with Stockman, he fails, but the damage done by his actions still propels the climax of this issue and has deepened the trouble our heroes are in. While this writing of Stockman’s character isn’t anything that necessarily grabs attention, I appreciate the way his character is used as a catalyst to propel the plot of this arc forward. It’s harder than it looks to make this happen and the writers deserve credit for pulling this off like a well-oiled flyborg.
In similar fashion, the B-Story of this arc plays out in a way that it heightens the excitement of the issue. It’s easy to forget among all the terror of the Technodrome that Ol’ Hobb and Splinter are attacking the Foot Clan in this issue. This story could easily be an issue unto itself. Instead it doubles down on action, making for a jam-packed issue.
All of this action is rendered wonderfully by artist Cory Smith. As with last month’s issue, what I appreciate about Smith’s style is how much detail he includes in the battle scenes that involve large numbers of people, mutants, and alien brains. We see this on display beautifully when Hob and Splinter first burst into the Foot Clan’s hideout.
I could stare at this panel for twenty minutes and still probably find something I like about it or hadn’t noticed before. The highlights include a Foot Soldier lucky enough to avoid a missile to the chest only to be machine gunned in the face; a giant (Mondo!) gecko using a skateboard to smash into two baddies; and the only Foot soldier smart (or dumb) enough to bring a bow-n-arrow to the fight. More specifically, I love the lines used by Smith. We can follow the punch of Slash halfway across the page in a beautiful arc. This movement is echoed by the trajectory of the missiles hitting the Foot soldiers and countered by Mondo’s path. That makes for a composition that is pleasing to the eye.
And what’s amazing about all this, is that the turtles hardly make an appearance. Sure they sneak into the Technodrome and get captured, but that’s basically it. The rest of the issue belongs to the other players in this series and the issue doesn’t miss a beat. Titular turtle characters or no, this series and its cast of characters, knows how to bring it’s A-game month in and month out.
Drew, do you feel the same way? I enjoyed this issue, but I could see how it might bother some since it just stages everyone for a more climatic issue. Are you okay with that positioning or do you need something more? Also, Shredder and Krang’s fight is something I could comment on but don’t have the space for. Do you have any thoughts about that confrontation?
Drew: Oh man, do I ever. Taylor, I’m so glad you brought up Smith’s remarkable ability to imbue his panels with a clear sense of motion. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to expand on your points as they apply to the battle between Shredder and Krang.
Don’t worry if you can’t read the dialogue here — the point is the way the art propels us from panel to panel. Take Krang’s punch on the first page, for example. Smith draws the ever loving snot out of it to make it feel huge — and Ronda Pattison’s color cue certainly helps — but I’m most impressed with how he primes us for that panel, giving us this little insert right above Krang’s shoulder, which effectively directs our eye in a straight line down into the bottom left corner, giving the punch an added sense of weight and momentum.
Smith uses a similar rick on the next page, using the motion of the swords to direct our eyes. Shredder’s swing-and-miss in panel one directs us to Krang’s dialogue, which in turn directs us to the next panel, where we follow the motion of Krang’s extending blade into the next panel. Finally, Krang’s sword in panel three points directly to the insert of Shredder — we’re never confused about the order of the panels, even though that insert is crammed over on the right side of the page.
It’s tough to show that I’m not cherry-picking my examples here, but seriously — every action sequence has this same kind of flow to it. I mean, even his shot reverse shot exchanges offer a dynamic sense of motion.
Okay, that second panel is obviously dynamic on it’s own, but what really impresses me here is the way Mikey’s surprised expression — and more importantly, his off-camera gaze — propels us into that panel. I can almost feel the nausea from the speed of the implied whip pan.
Heck, Smith is so skilled at priming us for action, he’s able to use the whole issue to drive us to an abrupt (and motionless) cliffhanger, emphasizing just how unsettling the sudden stop is.
The rest of the issue sets such a strong expectation for seeing this kind of setup pay off, that “to be continued” has a sense of uncertainty that so few ever actually do. I’m sure Donnie will make it out just fine, but until next month, I’m just going to be thinking about these guys hulking over him.
Man, at every level, the storytelling of this series is absolutely superb. The writing is fantastic, from master plotting to smaller character details, and the art only elevates it. Sure, we never get any real payoff, but when the setup is this good, it’s just a pleasure to see how things slide into place.
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