Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Casey & April 1, originally released June 17th, 2015.
Taylor: When you’re in a relationship with someone for a long time, it’s inevitable that you and your partner will eventually get into a tiff. Sometimes this might be precipitated by a single event and sometimes it’s the culmination of a lot of little things that have added up over time. In either case: you’re heading into an awkward situation. You’re upset with your significant other, but given the nature of your relationship you may end up spending time together anyway. Moments like this have a habit of happening in the car — where you have no choice but to stay together and fume. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Casey & April 1 throws us into just such a situation and we’re forced to consider just how good of a couple April and Casey really are.
In TMNT 46, April discovered that there are immortal beings on Earth who are waiting for the prime time to retake control of everything and everyone on the planet. Being proactive, and a proactive scientist at that, April has set out with Casey in tow to see if the these immortal beings are real. Along the way, she and Casey have to face their differences and also a run-in with the Rat-King.
Casey & April is an apt title since it seems the focus of this issue, and presumably the series, is the relationship between its two characters. Ostensibly, they are on a journey to find out more about the ancient immortal beings who could threaten Earth, but that’s a only a pretext for having these two characters spend a lot of time together without the distractions of teenagers, mutants, ninjas, and/or turtles. In other words, this issue is an exploration of the romantic relationship between the two most famous non-mutant TMNT characters.
Just how good of an exploration of their relationship this issue is is up for debate. Throughout the the story, our characters seem to be at odds with each other. Everything Casey says seems to be off-putting to April and everything April says seems to only annoy Casey. This tension manifests itself early in the issue when April casually mentions that her and Casey are a “couple.”
Casey instantly seems to take umbrage to being called a couple which is followed by an awkward silence and a requisite change of subject. The error of Casey’s words are apparent. April considers her and Casey to be a couple and Casey’s scoffing at that label obviously casts doubt on his commitment to their relationship. In a vacuum, this exchange is fine and believable. However, I find it odd that Casey is all of a sudden bringing the status of his and April’s relationship into question. Last we saw in TMNT 46, Casey was chummy with April’s parents and he was feeling closer to April and her family than ever before. Why he would suddenly throw that all into jeopardy is a mystery to me. I feel like this should be the second issue of the series because I seemed to have miss something. Did Casey and April have a fight? Now that they are spending some quiet time together are they finally realizing just how different they are from each other?
I think writer Mariko Tamaki is going for the latter. The differences between Casey and April are brought up many times throughout the issue, but the most apparent is when they are discussing their childhoods. Poignantly, April asks what it would have been like if they had known each other as kids.
After another awkward pause, they both agree they wouldn’t have hung out because they are so different. This highlights the source of the tension Tamaki is going for in this issue. Aside from being humans and friends with the turtles, what do Casey and April have in common? Not much — as is highlighted when Casey has no idea what the San Andreas fault is. I really enjoy this idea of April and Casey coming to grips with the fact that maybe they aren’t cut from the same cloth — their interests are so different. Unfortunately, we’re thrown into the middle of situation and we don’t get to see what led to this awkwardness in the first place. Perhaps a well timed flashback in the next issue will sort everything out for us.
Patrick, did you find the tension between our two protagonists both interesting and a little frustrating as I did? What about the Rat-King? Is he merely a trickster god or something much more malevolent? Also, what do you think of Irene Koh’s art? She’s taking ques from romance manga’s and I think that’s perfect for the content. Do you agree?
Patrick: Oh, you know, I wasn’t even thinking of manga, but you’re totally right to cite that as an influence on the art. I was seeing a little bit of Archie in the simplified designs, which would also be appropriate for a story that’s principally about the relationship between two young adults. (I originally typed “teenagers,” but then I remembered that they’re both in college, have been for some time, and April had some internship — they’re probably in their early 20s.)
Taylor, I actually really liked Tamiki and Koh’s shorthand approach to telling this story. The first panel shows us the Holland Tunnel, and all subsequent panels on that page are coded to read as further and further west — New York becomes St. Louis, a tree lined freeway becomes a corn-lined country highway. Tamiki scores the change in scenery with an ever-changing radio station, cycling through local news, to sports, to Willie Nelson. Those first four panels neatly tell the story of a whole night on the road.
Tamiki could have started this story on page two, but we’re meant to feel that we’re joining these characters mid-journey, and not necessarily at the beginning.
Which of course is also true of Casey and April: she hasn’t been around for all of his life and he hasn’t been around for all of hers. They have a nice conversation about their experience with stars, and it says a lot about how each of them incorporates love into their lives. I love the way Koh draws these contradictory scenes, the happiness and sadness are so readily apparent. And just to emphasize how completely different their experiences are, April’s memory is in a wide panoramic panel and Casey’s is a tall, narrow panel.
Casey remembers the first time he saw stars, and it’s a heartbreakingly mundane story about him hiding out on his own roof to escape his father in a drunken rage. And then later Casey discovers that all he was really seeing were planes. Not only was he driven up there to avoid his parent, he didn’t even end up seeing the stars he thought he was seeing. There’s no positivity, no certainty and no truth in Casey’s experience. Compare that to April’s star story: she would go out every night with her parents and if she didn’t get all the constellations right, he father would help her figure it out. That’s almost the exact opposite of Casey’s experience. She is able to tie routine, trust, and truth to love in a way that Casey simply isn’t. It’s not even that Casey is some commitment-averse bro, it’s that he’s never had love modeled in the same way April has.
That’s a profound truth about these characters that I had never considered before this issue. We get to see those same issues of trust play out in the diner — April sees an opportunity to make a new friend and have some pleasant chit-chat, but Casey only sees dudes that want to punch him. If there’s a bit of motivation in this issue that didn’t totally make sense to me, it’s those good old boys harassing Casey for almost literally no reason. I don’t doubt for a second that Casey would go right for fists, but the fact that there’s an altercation at all seems a little out of left field.
The Rat King is also something of a curious development. He’s clearly one of those ancient spirits that Casey and April are out there to investigate, but as to Taylor’s question of whether he’s just there for fuck with them or if he has more malevolent intent, I’m not sure which is scarier. I mean, yes: he’s scarier if he’s trying to hurt them. But honestly — the relationship between Casey and April is much more vulnerable than either one of them in isolation. Maybe I’m underestimating them. Tamiki checks in on each of them as they travel separately at the end of the issue. Casey peacefully speeds through the desert on a borrowed motorcycle, but April engages with the radio one more time. This time, it’s playing “Stand By Your Man.”
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