Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 49, originally released August 19th, 2015.
“Let’s get ready to rumble!”
-Michael Buffer, Ring Announcer
Patrick: Michael Buffer started using his signature phrase in 1984. It’s short, it’s sweet, and belted out in Buffer’s distinct tenor, it can bring a crowd to their feet. The dude trademarked the phrase in 1992, and since then, he’s gotten paid for every single time it’s used. It’s estimated that the phrase is worth $400 million – that’s $80,000,000 per word. Why should a single sentence — no matter how powerful — ever be worth that kind of money? Because the pageantry involved in the pre-fight ritual ends up being more important that the fight itself. Hype is an art form. No one calls out “let’s get ready to rumble!” in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 49, but the issue is so singularly obsessed with hyping one specific rumble that it’d be easy to forgive the creative team for invoking Buffer’s cash cow. And even though they haven’t: I’m ready.
The battle in question is “The Gauntlet” – a five-on-five brawl with Splinter and his sons on one side and Shredder, Bebop, Rocksteady, Koya and Bludgeon on the other. I don’t need anyone to sell me on how cool this fight would be: it’s delightfully symmetrical, there’s a ton of emotional baggage packed into it, and it would presumably alter the course of the conflict at the heart of this series. What we do need a little help with is maneuvering our characters into a position where this match-up makes sense. Last we checked in with the Turtles, Baxter Stockman (at Shredder’s behest) was swarming our heroes with Mousers and Flyborgs. That’s fun and all, but it’s ultimately a meaningless fight between the Turtles and some robot henchmen – a totally non-essential fight.
Karai shows up early in the issue, with a cadre of Foot Soldiers in-tow, and she puts a stop to this vanilla fight. She wipes out all of Stockman’s droids and offering the Turtles a meaningful struggle against her elite guard. I love this first little revision: it’s not enough for Hamato Yoshi’s clan to fall at the hands of someone outside of the Foot Clan – where’s the narrative justice in that? But Splinter — either sensing that Karai hasn’t reached an appropriate level of drama or sensing his numerical disadvantage — suggests something too tantalizing to pass up.
This is genius storytelling, and I love that Splinter is effectively giving the audience what it wants. No more robots, no more Foot Soldiers; everyone involved in this thing matters. Naturally, it falls to artist Cory Smith to make every panel leading up to the start of The Gauntlet a marquee-ready poster for this fight. There are very few exceptions to this, but like 90% of the Turtles’ appearances before the fight starts show all four characters in a single panel. This is because they’re the team we’re supposed to be rooting for. The less we see them as individual agents, the more excited we are to see them square off against the Shredder. In fact, when they get to the Foot’s lair, we usually see them in a diamond formation, with Splinter out in front. Probably the coolest set of panels in the whole issue takes that idea to it’s graphical extreme.
Seriously, you could slap a big, block “VS.” in this middle of this page and it becomes a knock-out advertisement for this brawl. But if this is the poster for the fight, then what the creative team turns in on the next page is effect of walking into the coliseum. I’ve been impressed with Smith’s ability to capture action and movement in the past, but here’s an example of him leveraging the opposite to virtually the same effect.
What a wonderfully ambitious two-page splash – not only is the acting great on all of these characters (Bebop’s sneer! Mikey’s trepidation!), but the scene is packed with ninja spectators. The hype around The Gauntlet is so good and so effective, I expected the image above to have a little “to be continued” in the bottom right corner. But there’s still three more pages of excellent hype, followed by the first couple blows. Smith is a genius, so while we only get three pages of actual fighting, the action is kinetic and chaotic without sacrificing clarity. Beats bounce around between the characters, trading focus at logical points, and following motion more than individual characters (like that awesome tracking shot at the end of Avengers).
Taylor, do you have a favorite action beat from the end of this issue? And what do you make of the difference between Bebop and Rocksteady and Koya and Bludgeon? I’m trying to decide which pair I like better: on the one hand Koya and Bludgeon or disciplined and terrifying, but on the other hand, Bebop and Rocksteady like cartoons. Oh! And what about Harold and Honeycut in the lab? I believe we haven’t seen a tease for Leatherhead since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Time 3. You ready for some mutant alligator shenanigans?
Taylor: The number of questions you pose Patrick is indicative of just how jam-packed every TMNT issue is and I love it! Of Shredder’s cronies, I think Bebop and Rocksteady are the more likable and, oddly, also the more terrifying. In virtually every encounter they’ve had with the turtles, they’ve come out on top, including the breaking of Donnie’s shell. Their power is terrifying for the same reason that they are lovable I think. They’re both just so stupid and kid-like. They don’t know really how to control their power or use it responsibly, which is scary, but it also means that they’re lovable doofs. Koya and Bludgeon on the other hand are pretty typical evil henchman types. Scary, sure, but not in any uniquely memorable way.
While all of these characters are interesting in their own way, the one member of the Foot Clan I’m most interested in at the moment is Kitsune. One gets the sense that this whole idea of the gauntlet is her idea. In previous issues we’ve seen here pull Karai aside for undisclosed meetings and I can’t help but think they were in preparation for just this moment. Add to this her influence over Oroku Saki which is clearly on display in this issue and you get the distinct since she’s the one who’s truly in charge of the Foot Clan.
Adding to her mystique is that she’s one of the few characters in the TMNT universe (Turtleverse?) who is magical. Aside from the Rat-King and the occasional waltz by Splinter in the spirit realm, she’s the only character who’s powers aren’t based in pseudo-science. I was reminded of this by the ominous final panel of the issue:
Kitsune’s name is literally the word for fox in Japanese which carries with it connotations of trickery, deceit, and cunning. Largely these meaning stem from Japanese lore about fox demons and it’s clear here that that is unequivocally what Kitsune is. And when one is a fox demon, what is their agenda? Outwardly Kitsune calls Saki her “beloved” but I get the sense this is used in a way to control the man. So just what are her ends? And what role will Alopex play in her plans?
Damn, this just serves to prove that the writers of TMNT are the tops in the business. All of the characters in this series are fleshed out in such a way that it forces me to consider every characters wants, abilities, and alliances. Kitsune, like so many other bad-guys we’ve met in this series has her own agenda and unique set of powers which present a problem not only for the turtles but the other antagonists around her. We see this to similar effect with the teaser of leatherhead that happens early on in the issue. It would be so easy to make him a rote monster-like baddie. Instead, he has leverage to use against or protagonists and that makes his story interesting. Just like every other character we’ve met in this series.
The temptation might be to think all of these great characters make it easy to forget who’s really important in TMNT. Luckily, colorist Ronda Pattison is there to there to remind just who’s who.
I love how our heroes, in a diamond formation as you noted Patrick, pop out from the rest of the crowd here. While any character is bound to stand out against the sea of black that is the Foot army, Pattison really uses her color pallet to great effect here. Not only do the turtles and company stand out from the crowd, but their coloring almost makes everything else seem but a part of the background. Notice how even Nobody, who looks almost exactly like a Foot Soldier manages to stand out because of her coloring. While part of that is about preestablished coloring, it’s clear her lighter purple is meant to separate her, a good guy, from the bad.
The hype for the “rumble” in this issue is real but that doesn’t mean I’m any less excited to see what happens next month. As always, I’m sure it will be great.
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