Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 6, originally released January 18th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: It must be a pretty good time for creative types who were born in the late 70s and early 80s. While many of us bemoan yet another Transformers movie, those who grew up watching the original cartoon and who also ended up working on the set have to be pretty jazzed. After all, how often do people actually get to publish publish stories about the icons and toys they grew up with? The chance to work on a such a series must be exhilarating and this is apparent in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 6, when artist and writer Nick Pittara and John Lees write a story that could just as easily been written by professional comic book artists or a kid playing with their action figures at home.
The charm of this story is that it knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else. What’s been enjoyable about the Turtle Universe stories is that it gives writers a chance to play with the TMNT mythology in an environment that is low stakes. This means each story represents something more akin to fan fiction in the best way possible. Issue 6 of the series is no exception.
On his way back from getting pizza for him and his brothers, Michelangelo runs into a cop looking for a sewer worker who’s gone missing. Mikey agrees to help her and it isn’t long before they run into trouble in the form of a mutant slug creature who calls itself Wyrm.
Wyrm is a truly unique character in the Turtleverse, which is something that’s hard to find in a mythology that sports a giant space cow and transdimensional talking brains. The most unique property about Wyrm is that he isn’t just one being, but actually several hundred worm creatures all working in tandem to create one conscious being. The common theme between the turtles and this new character is of course mutagen which gives Wyrm his power and his unique appearance.
I love the way this character looks. There is something oddly nostalgia-inducing about his look that reminds me of the TMNT characters I played with as a kid. Part of this is almost certainly because aside from the worms that make up the bulk of his body, Wyrm is made up of trash, including a rubber ducky and a goldfish for his eyes. This along with his comically large sledge hammer are trademarks of the particular type of TMNT action figures anyone who was a fan played with in early 90s. So even though Wyrm is unique, there is something familiar about him that speaks to Turtle fans of old.
There’s substance to Pitarra’s art here as well. One technique he uses on several occasions shows the strength and violence with which Wyrm attacks his prey. Unfortunately for Mikey he’s usually on the wrong end of Wyrm’s attacks but its telling that each hit seems painful and dire every time it occurs. Pitarra accomplishes this by highlighting the panel that contains the hit in red.
Red is a hot color and perfectly conveys the feeling of pain in a visual way. Pitarra also dislodges all of the attack panels from the frame they sit in. Notice above how all of the panels leading up to the attack are uniform – aligned horizontally and vertically. When Wyrm attacks the panel suddenly skews to the right, throwing off this alignment and adding more violence to Wyrm’s blow. On a professional level, this is textbook cartooning, but Pitarra uses it effectively each time he employs. Further, he saves the tilted, red panels for truly meaningful attacks, thus lending them more power.
These attacks are precipitated because Wyrm believes himself to be the true king of the sewers. He collects everything he sees and hoards it in in his den, effectively integrating it into his life in both literal and figurative ways. This gives the issue a nice little moral to digest that says family and relationships are more important than the collection of material goods. Well and good enough, but what the story still has power because of its simplicity. Easily this tale could be the product of spending the afternoon with a kid whose favorite toy is a Michelangelo action figure. That daring imagination and willingness to indulge in the weird pay off in dividends for Pitarra and Lee and makes this issue a fun little treat.
Patrick, what did you think of Wyrm and this issue? Does it remind you of your youth or does you cold, adult heart find others things to like or dislike about this issue?
Patrick: Come to think of it, Wyrm does feel an awful lot like a character I would have made out of playdough and a mallet borrowed from a different set of toys all together. But the fact of the matter is that I did have the Wyrm action figure growing up. He’s… not quite as much fun as what Pitarra and Lee give us in this issue.
Right? Back in the early 90s, the character wasn’t a collection of slugs made sentient by their common contact with mutagen, but just a straight up Wiggly Weirdo Warrior. Lee’s interpretation of the character celebrates something I’ve always loved about IDW’s take on this franchise: that kitchen sink approach to myth making. This series, as shepherded by writer Tom Waltz, editor Bobby Curnow and original creator Kevin Eastman, has drawn its influences from all over the franchise’s immense history. In a way, IDW has collected as many disparate pieces of Turtle-lore as Wyrm has collected treasures for his sewer palace. Hell, that ties right back to the collectorly impulses that got me into TMNT figures in the first place.
And Lee and Pitarra know exactly what their celebrating. Pitarra is one of those Frank Quitely-esque artists, drawing with an awesome grotesque eye for detail. Every close-up of Wyrm reveals the bumpy chaos at the heart of Pitarra’s work, and it is routinely shocking how cohesive the art is. Taylor pointed out Felipe Sobreiro’s smart coloring, and while that certainly does help to guide the eye around the page, I think there’s something to be said for Pitarra’s brazen confidence. Too many tiny objects on the page? Fuck you – that’s what makes it great. I love the way Pitarra’s obsession with detail forces me to slow down and really drink in a page. That slow down is always rewarded – then we get to see the Bloodsport poster in the Turtles’ lair or the Zoltar machine in Wyrm’s tunnel of love. Or, y’know Waldo.
If you can’t find him, he’s on the far right side, kind of behind the pipe.
If that’s night a sign that we’re supposed to be looking for this stuff, I don’t know what is. But also – that’s very funny. This issue is chock full of jokes that just plain work. Lee writes Mikey as just a little bit of a self-aware goof-off, but never by betraying the reality of his situation or Mike’s emotional reality. He doesn’t dole out action movie quips, but he does deal with a stressful situation by cracking jokes. Again, Pitarra is so game for this: the panel where Calvin gets offed by Wyrm just has a giant red SQUIK in it.
I really really liked this issue. It’s funny, it’s imaginative, it’s genuinely scary – that’s basically a perfect comic, right?
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?