Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 46, originally released May 28th, 2015.
Taylor: Long form storytelling is all the rage right now. Aside from the occasional sitcom, it’s rare to find a medium where long, syndicated story telling isn’t the norm. While TV shows are a prime example of this trend, podcasts, novels, and even movies are now using multiple installments to tell a grand story. The neat thing about this is that it allows writers and artists to craft a complex story with complex characters that would go unexplored in a shorter format. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, now in its 46th issue, certainly qualifies as a long story and while that may no longer be unique in today’s world, what does stand out about it is just how expertly crafted this grand narrative has been put together.
The writers of TMNT are masters of storytelling so much so that they make it look simple. Throughout this run of the series Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz have created a narrative that ebbs and flows between action and exposition. Currently, after the madness of the battle between Krang and Shredder, we’re in one of the “slow” periods. That is to say, we’re in a run of issues that deal more with character development and story telling than hard action. While this might be turn off to some, I can’t but love these moments because the writers make them truly worth reading. This issue is stuffed to the gills with these moments and it’s hard to choose just one thing in particular I like, so here’s a survey of some of the highlights.
First, and probably foremost, on my mind when reading the issue was “what’s up with Donatello?” After all, he’s a robot now. His body is technically still alive, but his soul or brain or whatever is now residing in Metal Head’s body. The idea of artificial intelligence is ubiquitous in modern science fiction so it’s not surprising to see the issue arise here, but what I love is how deftly and interestingly the topic is covered. Donatello’s insight to how it feels to be a robot is a great example of this.
The idea of biological clocks still ticking in Donnie’s brain is fascinating. It makes me think about how much of what we consider to be part of ourselves — what food we like, when we like to eat it, etc. — may actually just be the result of signals from our body to our brain. Here, Donatello feels like he should be hungry, but he probably has a servo where his stomach would be, so how can that be? And if he still feels hungry, can we continue to call that feeling a human trait even though a robot is feeling it? Who knows! Answers to these questions aren’t important, but it’s incredibly interesting to have them posed subtly here.
Donnie isn’t the only turtle who’s feeling out of sorts. When Michelangelo goes to to get some pizza from his friend Woody, he divulges that he’s not OK with having to constantly fight crime for a living.
Mikey sees the point in having to battle bad dudes, but he wants to know how come that never leads to them not having to fight. Of all the turtles, Mikey is definitely the most sensitive, so it stands to reason that he would be the one to first notice the cycle of fight some bad guys then fight some more bad guys. We all know that Mikey is the easy-going “party-dude” but this gives us more insight into his character than just a simple trope. He’s a lover, not a fighter, and that puts him at odds with Splinter. Could this be the beginning of a confrontation between Splinter and Mikey, just as we saw Splinter square off with Donnie and Leonardo? I can’t say, but I love that the turtles, who are teenagers, are all going through this growing up phase where they question their elders.
This theme of the young regime versus the old is echoed elsewhere in the issue when Karai claims her role as new leader of the Foot Clan. In doing so, she makes it clear that she will not stand for some of the things Shredder allowed. Namely, she says that outsiders will be forbidden to enter the clan.
While this seems like a pretty typical rallying war speech ala Braveheart, Mateus Santolouco’s art has me wondering if there’s something more to her words. As she’s vowing to rid the Foot Clan of outsiders, her gaze is very pointedly focused on the mutants in the crowd. Further, they are set looking directly at Karai on the page, like two boxers sizing each other up during weigh in. I can’t help but speculate that perhaps Karai will use Shredder’s death to try and outlaw mutants from the Foot Clan. Not only would this solidify a new era in the clan, it would also get rid of some of those soldiers most loyal to Shredder, should he show up in the future. All of this intrigue is implied with the way Santolouco lays out the page, and while this may all prove to be nothing but speculation, isn’t that one of the funnest parts of following a long form story?
Spencer, what do you think of this issue? It’s dense right? I covered three different story lines but there are at least three others I didn’t even touch! Despite all of these different narratives, the issue holds together as a whole really well. What parts did you like? Were there any you didn’t?
Spencer: No way, Taylor — I think I found something to like in every one of these storylines! The one that sticks with me the most — perhaps because of its urgency — is Casey’s conflict with his father and the Purple Dragons. This is a threat that feels like it came out of nowhere, but it’s clearly been brewing for quite a while. In fact, this entire issue is stuffed to the brim with threats ready to boil over, and the Purple Dragons are simply the first to attack. I can’t imagine they’d be much of a challenge for the Turtles, but the Turtles haven’t really been around much for Casey and April lately, have they? I can’t blame them, but still, I’m more than eager to see them all reunite again.
In the meantime, the confrontation between Casey and his father echoes similar conflicts elsewhere throughout the issue. Casey’s standing up to his father is a more extreme version of Mikey questioning Splinter’s methods, and a less extreme (but more honest) version of Karai’s power play within the Foot Clan. Of course, we know that Mikey’s trepidation would be met with understanding from Splinter, but Casey faces immediate reprisal from his father. Thankfully, Casey’s found a true family to support him in the O’Neils, and while that’s something Mikey doesn’t need, he and his brothers have still found a bit of a new family anyway. Throughout this issue I can’t help but to be amazed by the amount of allies the Turtles have made, and with all the threats this story establishes, that can only be a good thing.
As for Karai, her new “family” is the Foot Clan. Unlike Casey, she never had the courage or the power to stand up to her grandfather (I can’t necessarily blame her, but just saying), but as soon as he’s gone she takes control of the Clan. Reprisal for her is still in the future, because, despite what everyone seems to think, Shredder is alive — he’s just hanging out with Baxter Stockman.
Tom Waltz’s script makes these two the most fun pairing in the issue — Stockman’s sleazy personality just plays off Shredder’s stoic persona in such an entertaining way that I hope they never split up, even though some sort of betrayal is inevitable. Shredder gaining access to Stockman’s creations is a very bad thing, even if I have no idea what exactly either of them have planned for them beyond, presumably, winning back the Foot Clan from Karai.
Meanwhile, April’s professor clues her into a threat far more mysterious — a pantheon of immortal beings of immense power who left the Earth during a great cataclysm and now manipulate mortal pawns to do their bidding as they wait to be resurrected and return to Earth. It’s entirely possible that this is a long established piece of the TMNT mythos, but as a newbie with no experience with the franchise other than this series, I have no idea what’s going on and find the speculation absolutely fascinating. Could they somehow be related to Splinter and Shredder and their feud, as everything seems to be in this universe? If so, are they the immortal beings themselves (perhaps explaining the reincarnation?), or simply the pawns? The possibilities are endless.
Of course, these beings, whoever they may be, are only the latest new addition to a world that grows larger with each passing month. Taylor is right to highlight how long-term storytelling has benefitted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After nearly 50 issues — and probably closer to 80 or 90 if we count the various mini-series — Eastman, Curnow and Waltz have created a world absolutely packed with characters and history. This issue — this dense, dense issue — attempts to squeeze them all in, and miraculously enough, succeeds on pretty much every level. There’s a lot of set-up here, but because it involves characters we’ve grown to love over the past few years, and because much of the story even deepens their characterization, and because it teases a number of intriguing new missions, it never feels boring. In fact, with so many characters in play the writing team finds a number of fun new ways to pair them up, including the aforementioned Shreddar/Stockman, and the absolutely adorable meeting of Alopex and Mrs. O’Neil.
Seriously though, with this issue Eastman, Curnow and Waltz have probably seeded a year’s worth of story, if not more, and done so in a complex, interesting, entertaining way. It goes without saying by this point, but month in and month out, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one fine book, and issue 46 is certainly no different.
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?