Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 48, originally released July 29th, 2015.
Taylor: Time is hard concept to understand. On the one hand, it’s totally an invention of humankind and wouldn’t exist without us. On the other hand, it does seem like things more or less move temporally in some fashion independent of human thought. That’s basically the second law of thermodynamics. The point is, time is a complicated concept. It should be no surprise then that time can be difficult to illustrate in comics. It’s such an abstract concept that it’s not always easy to show readers. However, one of the things comic book artists are experts at is showing the movement of time in and between panels. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 48, artist Cory Smith puts on a clinic on how to show the passage of time. Subsequently, this issue is beautiful to read.
As usual, the turtles are in trouble. Baxter Stockman, at the behest of Shredder, has sent an army of mousers and flyborgs to take out Splinter and the turtles once and for all. A huge battle ensues that sees the turtles giving up more and more ground.
That my recap of this issue is so short should tell you that this is another of the action-centered TMNT issues. These have become a staple of this title and indeed have even become one of the things that sets this series apart and above others. Frequently these issues are handled by Matues Santolouco (for obvious reasons pertaining to his skill) but here the pencils are handed over to Cory Smith and he excels at the task.
While there are a lot of things to like about Smith’s work here, what I appreciate most is how he portrays the passage of time. After their initial encounter with Stockman’s army, the turtles retreat to the basement of their hideout only to realize they need to make an escape. They do so by swimming down a sewer tunnel.
You’ll notice that the first eight panels of this page take place in the basement of the the turtle’s church. The bottom two panels happen when the turtles reach the end of the tunnel they used to escape. In between is a long panel showing the turtles swimming to what they think is safety. Why I highlight this is that this panel does an excellent job of showing both action and time. Without this panel we could figure out that the turtles traversed the tunnel but it might be kind of tricky to figure out. So it’s necessary in that way. But what I think is really neat is how this panel not only shows this action but gives a sense of distance and time traveled in the tunnel. This panel is long and the eye has to scan across the entire page to fully take it in. This is one way Smith makes it seem like time is passing. Another way he accomplishes this is keeping the turtles and Splinter to the right side of the page. We generally understand time as moving left to right (think reading, status bars on videos, etc) so their positioning to the right of empty space in the panel shows us their movement.
Elsewhere in the issue Smith uses a full page spread to similar effect. After the turtles surface from the tunnel they are once again attacked by flyborgs. Another battle ensues which contains this spread.
The concept of the page is basically the same as the one above, even if it is turned on its axis. What stands out to me here though is that the central panel with Leo saving Raph not only is a demarcation of time but also space. As we read the page we understand to read the panels on the left first. These show us the event of Leonardo saving Raphael from drowning. Meanwhile, the panels on the right show us Mikey’s escape from a flyborg. The central panel acts as a buffer, showing us not only a passage of time but place. Despite the fact that the action with Mikey is completely set apart from that of Leo and Raph, we’re still able to understand that it’s happening at basically the same time. That all of this action takes place on one page but makes sense is nothing short of amazing.
Also kudos to Smith for panels 5-7. I love how as Raph begins to slip away from life the panels also begin to slip away from the page. Brilliant!
None of this is to say that anything Smith does here is revolutionary. Really what it shows me is that Smith has a solid understanding of one of things that makes comics special. No other medium relies on the reader so much when doing action. We have to fill in the spaces between the panels. Comics are different from every other medium in that way. Here, Smith gives us the tools to do so in a way that is fun, entertaining, and accessible. Simply put, it’s great comic book art.
Spencer, that’s all a pretty narrow focus on one aspect of this issue. What else stands out to you?
Spencer: There’s a lot that stands out in this issue Taylor, but I admit, much like you I was completely wowed by Cory Smith’s art. You already highlighted his ability to demonstrate the passage of space and time, so I instead want to talk about how expertly he sells the overwhelming threat of Stockman’s Flyborgs.
I love the way the Flyborgs just completely swarm the page, overwhelming the Turtles in every respect; literally more than half this page is nothing but Flyborgs! Smith is smart to have the Flyborgs enter the page from the corner, where they can easily expand in both directions to fill the page. They look like they’re being poured out of a faucet, and that’s just a super-cool effect.
Of course, Smith even manages to open the issue with yet another smart, clever Flyborg shot.
Characters breaking out of a panel’s borders is a favorite technique of mine, but this is the exact opposite; the Flyborgs are crossing through the borders into the panel! This shot essentially gives the reader a Flyborg’s perspective of the battle, allowing us to literally enter the room (and issue — this is the very first panel) at the same time as the Flyborgs. Aside from that fun trick, there’s even more smart composition here; I love the way the Flyborgs completely surround the Turtles, dominating the panel, the page, and even the gutter. The Flyborgs’ greatest strength is their numbers, and Smith leaves no question as to how threatening they are.
Of course, writers Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz are no slouches either. I’ve mentioned this almost every time I’ve covered TMNT, but I love how expansive this book’s supporting cast is and how well they’re integrated into the story. Outside of the Turtles/Flyborg conflict, issue 48 also finds the Mutanimals freeing and enlisting Casey’s father, Hun, which puts a more villainous spin on characters who have been on the more heroic side of the spectrum lately. I always appreciate when this book seeds future conflicts; they feel more organic when they eventually take the spotlight. A little closer to the central story, Shredder’s scene finds him coming into conflict with Kitsune and Karai, and scheming to abandon Stockman once Splinter is defeated. Again, I appreciate that TMNT‘s conflicts aren’t limited to “The Turtles vs.” the villain of the week. The villains and supporting characters have their own schemes and conflicts that only tangentially involve the Turtles, and that makes them feel all the more real and fleshed out.
These two sets of characters also exist within this issue as a contrast to the Turtles and their friends themselves. The Turtles have their own army of allies, and Eastman, Curnow, Waltz, and Smith show off how expansive that army has become through clever use of mirroring. Just look at the Turtles’ fighting force, battling in a defensive circle, near the beginning of the conflict.
This circle is tiny, with only Splinter, Leo, and Raph available, but allies quickly flock to their side. Donnie and Mikey join first, after Donnie and Harold teleport Donnie’s body to safety in a scheme just as clever, but far more moral, as Hob’s jailbreak. Then Nobody and Alopex eagerly respond to their friends’ call for aid. By the end of the issue, the defensive circle has grown immensely, expanding from a tiny last-ditch effort into something far more grand.
Seriously, that’s “final battle in The Avengers” levels of epic. The change in the dynamic is immediately obvious; this time the Turtles and their allies are confident and fully in charge of the situation. The Flyborgs don’t even appear in these panels!
But like I mentioned earlier, there’s a drastic contrast between Shredder’s forces and the Turtles. Shredder manipulates Stockman for his own ends and schemes against his own granddaughter; despite his ninja hoards, he is very much a man standing alone when we check in on him this month. The Turtles, though, seem to be attracting allies everywhere they go. Their friends go out of their way to defend them because they love and respect them, which is something that Shredder, who rules through fear and intimidation, can never understand. It’s a bit black-and-white, but there’s something appealing about this clear battle between good and evil that the Turtles and Shredder’s conflict represents, especially when it’s filled with so many complex characters and illustrated with such skill. As always, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is just a joy to read.
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