Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Casey & April 2, originally released July 22nd, 2015.
Taylor: Last summer’s Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie met with lukewarm reviews. There were a lot of reasons cited by critics for the movie not being great, but the one thing that was almost universally harped upon was the confusing nature of the action sequences. Bay aficionados, however, were not surprised by this: chaos is one of his trademarks. What this goes to show is that clarity is incredibly important when crafting a story. It makes sense – if the audience can’t understand what’s going on, how are they supposed to take anything from it? Casey and April 2 is an interesting study in clarity: how it succeeds, how it fails, and how it succeeds despite its failings.
Casey and April have been split up due to Rat-King’s interference. While Casey goes to check out an old armory, April goes to deliver a message to an old farmer’s (the Rat-King!) sister. Casey finds the old armory but instead of finding anything about ancient titans he finds a clinic to help men with anger issues. Meanwhile, April finds the farmer’s trailer, but the Rat-King’s trap is soon revealed.
What I enjoy most about this issue how it clarifies what exactly is going on in the relationship between April and Casey. When she’s travelling to deliver the message to who we know is the Rat-King (Rat-King!), April finds a mother on the side of the rode with a flat tire. While April lets the mom use her tire-iron, she reveals what is at the heart of her issues with Casey.
When she isn’t literally piecing Casey back together, April feels “lost” in her relationship with him. Writer Mariko Tamaki successfully uses this moment to build off of previous episodes to deliver this crushing news. In the first issue of this series, we saw April and Casey confronting how different their upbringings were. Now April is beginning to see how little her and Casey have in common aside from the Ninja Turtles.
What I appreciate about this moment is that it clarifies the previous issue in a wonderful way. I went back and reread some of the scenes between April and Casey in issue 1 after reading this scene and it’s so much more clear what is going on. That was one of my primary complaints about the last issue and it’s wonderful to see Tamaki clear that up here. In this light, I’m excited for this series now because the tension between our heroes is now explained. The clarity that this scene gives me helps explain the actions of the lead characters and overall enhances this themes of this title.
Elsewhere in the issue things aren’t so clear. When April approaches the Rat-King’s trap, the action of the scene becomes confusing. While I understand the main gist of the scene, enough happens in these couple of pages to leave me questioning exactly what is going on. While these 3-4 pages as a whole lack clarity, perhaps page 21 is the most confusing of all.
Previously, April had stepped away from the trailer after not hearing anyone inside. Then the door magically swings open and then she steps inside. Once there, she’s magically teleported to a Japanese style tatami room. It’s unclear to me why April would step into this area or why she’s even so insistent on going into a creepy trailer in the middle nowhere in the first place. Further, artist Irene Koh pens a confusing three panels at the bottom of this page. A hand emerges from somewhere, but we are unsure of from where. April sees something and says “hey” for unexplained and unclear reasons. And then black. Perhaps Koh’s idea is to intentionally create a confusing scene so we feel like April does. But I’m not so sure. Basically the result of this scene is that while we know April gets captured and that’s it. Any specifics beyond that are too murky to understand.
So Patrick, there are some things I enjoyed about this issue and some I didn’t. I love the clarification of how April feels about her relationship with Casey but I don’t like some of the confusing action. Is there anything else you feel exemplifies clarity or lack there of it in this issue? Also, what do you make of Casey’s misadventure? Did the Rat-King (Rat-King!) plan that or is it a total coincidence that a hot-head found an anger management retreat?
Patrick: Oh, those poor angry men! That sequence is so weird and hilarious in the way it de-escalates the tension in Casey’s narrative, only to re-escalate the tension in Casey’s character. Like, both Casey and the audiences is expecting to get some huge mythological bomb-shell dropped on us when Casey discovers that “armory” — the build up to that reveal has all kinds of ominous booming sounds seemingly emminating from nowhere — but all we get is a group of new agey dudes in brightly colored shirts doing yoga.
I think, more than anything, this mini-series is about realizing that the person you’re on an adventure with is more important than the adventure itself. Casey might not get anything out of his visit to the armory, but we get to see his anger, his suspicion, his defensiveness in-action. The same thing is true of April’s little adventure: she doesn’t really offer any meaningful help to the small family with the flat, they just use her tire iron, and she keeps them company. Neither Casey — with his physical strength — nor April — with her intelligence and resourcefulness — are active heroes in this story. They don’t need to be driving the quest for the series to work. Hell, April’s own assessment of their mission is as follows:
Okay. You’re just going to leave a message for some strange old man’s sister, go back to the gas station where you hit the strange old man’s truck, get Casey, and continue your wild desert goose chase, using a scroll given to you by a recently-murdered professor of East Asian History. Piece of cake.
Laid out in the plainest terms, their “plot” in nonsense. And this is where I’m going to loop back around to Taylor’s questions about clarity. I think he’s totally right to call the issue to task for some damn unclear storytelling, but (unlike Taylor), I think that might be the point. Tamaki frequently cuts back and forth between April and Casey, even when they’re not able to be in phone-contact. That’s jarring. As both characters are moving and interacting with physical space, and not communicating with each other, the reader has to make sense of visual information that literally unrelated. We can see an earlier example, when they are on the phone, and able to talk to each other:
Those rapid cuts between the panels make sense because we have this one thing unifying both scenes: the relationship between April and Casey. As the story progresses and they can’t eat each other on the phone, the clarity starts to suffer. The jumps between scenes still happen within a page, but now that effect is disorienting. I know at one point, there was a panel with a close-up of a hand holding a phone with the message “Unknown Caller” on it that I really had to work hard to determine who was holding that phone. (HINT: freckles on the hand, it was April.)
Interestingly, colorist Brittany Peer doesn’t help us along by distinguishing the April scenes from the Casey scenes in any way. Peer is no dummy, and uses several neat tricks earlier in the issue to distinguish flashbacks from the real time action — as in putting a dusty filter over April’s recap of their relationship, or Casey remembering the strange old man, or (my favorite) Casey being unable to remember anything about a moment except the shitty sarcastic thing April said to him.
That’s amazingly effective, and you’d never confuse this for something that was actually happening in real time. Which leads me to the conclusion that Peer has the tools in her belt to make those final scenes clearer and chose not to apply them.
But I suppose ultimately, the art is in the eye of the beholder, so if Taylor was frustrated by the lack of clarity toward the end, there’s not taking back that frustration. I’ll admit to having no idea what’s going on on that last page: who or what is that lump of hair that the Rat-King (Rat-King!) is talking to? But I love the idea that the only way to sort out what’s happening is to get April and Casey back together. Tamaki and Koh are building a case for this relationship, and I, for one, buy it.
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?