Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 45, originally released April 29th, 2015.
Taylor: Teaching figurative language to my students is always a fun task. Middle schoolers are some of the weirdest people you’ll ever meet and thereby one shouldn’t be surprised by how weird their similes, metaphors, and alliterations become. They almost seem to have a knack for such connecting ideas that feels completely random. This randomness, however, doesn’t serve them well when they try to figure out the meaning of an idiom, or turn of phrase. For example, they would have no idea how to figure out what the term “one-trick pony” means. It’s not that they’re dumb, they just don’t have the experience and knowledge to draw that sort of conclusion yet. So, if I were to describe to them that TMNT tries to make a one-trick pony perform a second trick and fails, they wouldn’t get it. Sadly, that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Donatello is on the verge of death. His spirit enters a purgatory-like realm where he meets his mother, seemingly to lead him on to his next life. However, thanks to the quick action of Honeycutt, Harold, and Splinter, Donny is revived in the body of Metalhead! Elsewhere, Shredder makes a deal with Stockman and Casey Jones cleans up the neighborhood, figurative speaking.
The most pressing business of this issue deals with the near-death of Donnie. Having sustained massive injuries in his run-in with Rocksteady and Bebop, he’s all but dead. However, Honeycutt puts his body and ice and saves Donatello by transferring his consciousness to Metalhead’s body. While Honeycutt is performing these midnight heroics, Donnie is meandering around a maze-like garden with his spirit mother.
All of the scenes that take place in limbo are rendered in a dreamlike quality by artist Charles Paul Wilson III. Unfortunately, I found these scenes not to my liking. I mean they’re fine, yes, but they just seem to be missing a certain something. Perhaps it’s because I can’t help but compare (perhaps unfairly) these dreamlike scenes to similar ones drawn by Sophie Campbell during the Hampton Farm arc circa issue 29. Campbell drew scenes of Leo being visited by his mother with supreme deftness and I can’t help but feel Wilson is trying to emulate that feeling in this issue.
However, the rest of the issue is handled by Mateus Santolouco, who we’ve raved about for his ability to draw action scenes — something that is on full display in this issue.
In this instance, I love the way Santolouco draw’s Casey swinging his cricket bat. We never seem to actually see the bat in mid-swing. Instead all we really ever see to indicate the motion of the weapon is it’s follow through. But Santolauco is so good at drawing these scenes that the motion of of thew swing is implied so heavily you practically see the bat move anyway. Part of this effect can certainly be attributed to motion lines, but what really sells it for me is the way Santolouco draws Casey’s body. He’s so good at conveying a figure a motion whether it’s the way Casey’s arms both fly back as he delivers a backhand whap or the way he’s stepping into a swing to a bad guy’s gut.
The art isn’t the only thing that proves a one-trick pony in this issue. Again, the scenes of Donatello in purgatory just seem to fall short of the usual high standards of a TMNT issue. When Splinter realizes that that Donnie is still alive he quickly dives into deep meditation to locate his son in the semi-afterlife.
What exactly Splinter does to enter this realm is unclear, but it stops at nothing short of magic. In the past I’ve appreciated how the creative team of Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, and Bobby Curnow have tread carefully around the idea of reincarnation and any and all things spiritual or magical. It’s not that these things are necessarily bad, but they need delicate deployment in a comic like TMNT. In this case there is no such delicacy and the result feels disingenuous to the title. I’m comfortable with Splinter being a spiritual adviser to the turtles, but less so with the idea of him being able to enter the spirit realm whenever he deems fit. It opens up too many questions and augments Splinter’s powers in an odd and frankly confusing way. Again, the spiritualism of TMNT need not be quelled necessarily, it just needs to be used in a way that makes since and is in line with the mythology already established.
So Drew, I didn’t quite like this issue. It was a bit scatter-shot and tried to bank on some conceits already visited in earlier issues. Do you feel the same way or is there something you feel warrants more praise?
Drew: I definitely think there are a number of great scenes in this issue, though I can’t deny that it is a bit more scattershot than the run up to the attack on Burnow Island. I think that kind of slackening of pace after such a climactic arc is both inevitable and necessary, but you’re not wrong to suggest that this issue features a lot of putting pieces in place without anything holding all of these threads together.
I’ll also agree that giving Splinter access to limbo — essentially, the ability to talk anyone back from the edge of death — does seem like it makes him too powerful. Personally, I’m willing to forgive that for giving the two a chance to connect before Donnie wakes up (which was a killer cliffhanger), and it gives Splinter something to do in an issue that could have otherwise found him wringing his hands while Honeycutt and Harold handle all of the technical stuff. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Splinter being able to communicate with the turtles “telepathically” (for lack of a better term) is well established canon (at least in the movies). If we’re holding limbo as maybe a dream, I guess it makes sense that Splinter could access it. But again, I can’t really argue with your assessment of that particular plot point.
Where I will argue is over the quality of those Wilson dream sequences. I think the decision to swap in another artist was smart (even though I know Santolouco could have knocked those emotional beats out of the park) — it gave the limbo scenes an otherworldliness that keeps their significance mysterious. To that point, Wilson’s looser, uninked lines give those scenes an almost impressionistic feel, which again highlights their mysterious origin. I can agree with you that the storytelling isn’t as dynamic as Santolouco’s, but I think the deliberate, meditative pacing in those scenes benefits them a great deal.
That said, I’m inclined to agree that Santolouco is the MVP of this issue. His ability to tell an entire story in a single panel — even when no motion is implied — is nothing short of inspiring.
I praised a similar composition in last month’s issue, for basically the same reasons I’m going to here, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t just as effective. Everything, from the acting to the character placement to the set dressing, tells an important piece of this story: how this scene happened and what it means to the characters.
And this issue more than delivers on the “what it means to the characters” front. It’s easy to see the turtles’ reactions as grief — Mikey gets sad, while Raph gets angry — but I’d like to posit that their dynamics here reflect something more profound about Donnie’s absence. Donnie has often acted as the pragmatic mediator to his brothers, not quite as happy-go-lucky as Mikey, but not quite as cynical as Raph, which leaves their relationship strained without his calming presence. Even Leo questions the tactical success of their mission, even as Mikey reminds everyone that they saved the world — without Donnie’s analytical skills, even the tactically-minded Leonardo is adrift. We saw this creative team pull a similar trick during the “City Fall” arc, where Leo’s absence of the team revealed a great deal about how important he actually is to the family dynamic.
All in all, I’d say that I was still very pleased with this issue. It definitely feels a bit shaggier than the previous several issues, but I think that’s understandible, given its role in kicking off a new arc. In spite of all of the plates spinning, we get some truly touching and revealing character moments, which has somehow become the thing I look forward to most when reading a comic about teenaged mutated turtles trained in the art of ninjutsu.
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