Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 53, originally released December 23rd, 2015.
Taylor: One of the quintessential experiences of growing up is undergoing the trial of being picked for a team. Often times this happens on the playground at recess or even in gym class. Two captains (usually the biggest kids in class) are chosen to head teams and tasked with choosing which classmates they want to join their side. The captains take turns choosing from the class, each taking his or her turn and selecting the students who are best at sports first and the kids who are worst last. Being the last kid chosen for a team was a special sort of shame. You are branded in front of everyone as being inferior and essentially a cast-off. Almost everyone has experienced this minor trauma at some point, and for that reason, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 53 resonates with me. It explores what it means to be a cast-off, and in the process also asks what it means to be accepted by others.
Michelangelo has left his brothers and Splinter because he is unable to reconcile the fact that they are now in charge of the Foot Clan. Having nowhere else to turn, he joins the Mutanimals led by Ol’ Hob. There he finds a warm welcome and quickly makes himself at home as they bust up a weapons shipment on the docks of New York. But all is not right, as Mikey discovers that Hob is not destroying these weapons but hoarding them with Hun.
The Mutanimals take center stage in this issue and add a pleasant absurdness to this series. All of the characters in this group I recognize as belonging to the TMNT universe, even if that’s only because I remember seeing them on the shelves at the toy store. In short, the Mutanimals are a group of cast-offs that many may remember but few will have any strong feelings for. As such, I’m in love with this group because they are all just so damn weird and out-of-place anywhere else except in the Mutanimal group. Something about this otherness resonates with me because I remember what it’s like to not be accepted by the popular group and what it’s like to be left off the team.
Just what makes this strange assortment of characters lovable extends far beyond my own experiences however. Writers Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, and Bobby Curnow make sure to establish this rag-tag group as weird but endearing, much like the Goonies. Take for example the down time they enjoy with each other and which they are sure to share with their new recruit, Michelangelo.
These guys hang out together despite their obvious differences. Pete, the annoying and seemingly dumb, pigeon is even taken into the fold. More, he gets to practice the one thing he’s good at, checkers. Continuing on, we see Sally likes to read about cars, Man Ray is a weapons expert, and of course Mondo Gecko is a stoner/skater bro. Even Lindsey, the “token human” and nerd spends her time with this group. In short, these guys are all friends and accepting of one another’s differences. Nowhere else would they be able to find this haven and I appreciate how the writers took the time to show us why the Mutanimals are a group that sticks together. Rather than being separated by their differences they are brought together by them. This makes the group immediately lovable even though we hardly know them.
This group is rendered wonderfully by artist Michael Dialynas, who is yet another talented artist brought into the creative fold of TMNT. Dialynas style is at once both detailed and symbolic, which renders the characters as both believable and lovable. Look at how he draws Mutagen Man in this issue.
By all accounts Mutagen Man (aka Seymour Gutz) is an abomination. He’s basically a nervous system floating in a tank of mutagen which is simply a horrifying concept. However, looking at Dialynas rendering of him here, he actually looks friendly and cute. Dialynas gives of a glimpse of Seymour’s horror with a strict attention to detail like drawing the folds of Seymour’s brain and giving us a glimpse of his weird beak/jaw. That stuff is gross. However, Gutz also has those big cartoony eyes to go with some oversized hands. These traits, typically associated with the more symbolic style of cartoons, helps to lessen the grossness of Mutagen Man and forces me to empathize with him because he’s just so damn cute here. Similar designs for the other Mutanimals make them a group that while cast-offs, are lovable and approachable.
Drew, are you as drawn the Mutanimals as I am? What do you think about the scenes which focus on Casey and April’s relationship? Should we be worried about that?
Drew: I’m inclined to think that April’s mom’s speech is hinting towards reconciliation — that Casey and April just need some time apart to realize how much they care for one another — but I almost hope she’s wrong on that. One of the things this series has always impressed me with was the reality of its teenage characters, which must acknowledge the difference between a late-teens/early-twenties relationship and a young marriage with a baby. Mrs. O’Neil’s speech is all about prioritizing a relationship, but I don’t think Casey and April would necessarily be wrong to prioritize the rest of their lives over this relationship — their lives are in unstable places, and they have both undertaken projects (college and a security-for-shelter business) that require much of their attention. Most teenage relationships eventually fizzle out, probably for the very same prioritizing Mrs. O’Neil is talking about here — college, first jobs, and self-discovery require too much attention for most people to fully be part of a relationship on top of that.
That’s not to say I’m rooting against Casey and April, just that it might be a natural, believable plot-point if they broke up. Moreover, if they do eventually pull through, as Mrs. O’Neil suggests they might, it would have more impact if they spend some real time apart first. This would inject a little of that will-they/won’t they tension into a relationship that, until the Casey & April mini-series, had been basically smooth sailing. Point is, breaking up would be a believable next step, and would actually make them working through their problems more satisfying. So: maybe it’s bad news short-term, but I suspect that they’ll (eventually) get through this rough patch.
Anyway, back to Mikey’s home-away-from-home with the Mutanimals. I’m loving Mikey’s newfound role as the uncertain moral compass of the series. He’s not ready to condemn his family as anything other than good guys, but he’s also not so convinced with their methods to stick around. With the Mutanimals, he’s slowly convinced enough in their morals to participate, but not so much to take Old Hob at his word about destroying the weapons. He’s a skeptic with a nose for justice, even if that leads him into danger.
I’m also loving Dialynas’ art, Taylor, but curiously, for maybe the opposite reasons. You cite the cuteness (in spite of the horror) of Dialynas’ Mutagen Man as a strength, but I’m really loving the horror (in spite of the cuteness) of his Pigeon Pete design. Between this series and the Mutanimals mini, we’ve seen plenty of great artists tackle Pigeon Pete, but none have rendered them quite as grotesquely as Dialynas.
Pete has long been the butt of jokes, and its easy to see making him ugly as another way of mocking him, but I’m actually inclined to see it as a challenge to find his humanity. “Being good at checkers” might not be the most profound piece of character development, but when the character is otherwise known for being loud, incompetent, and apparently incapable of cooking without bugs, it’s a welcome detail. Mikey’s not necessarily surprised at Pete’s checkers prowess, but he certainly finds it remarkable. I tend to think that’s because we underestimate Pete, both because of his actions, but also because of his monstrous appearance. Who’d have thought the funny-looking guy could be good at anything?
The time away from the rest of the turtles made this issue a bit of an odd one, picking up plot points from those miniseries I mentioned and carefully integrating them into this series. It’s laying the groundwork for stories to come, but still manages to find some real emotions within those foundations. Will Old Hob’s deception (and Hun) send Mikey back to the foot? How will the other Mutanimals react to the news? This all seems ready to boil over next month, so I can’t wait to find out.
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?
Taylor, I love your reading of this issue being about “outcasts,” especially since it features none of the main team. Not being a part of the Hand excludes a lot of these characters from the main narrative, so it’s a cool choice to check in on them all at once.