Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 66, originally released January 25th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Drew: I’ve always been impressed at the way IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles manages to balance the “Teenage” elements against the more sensational “Mutant” and “Ninja” ones. There are obvious advantages to this approach — it lends depth to the Turtles’ characterizations and offers more variety to the kinds of stories they fit in to — but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate that the classic teen obsession with identity and labels are built into their collective monicker. That their title is so verbose has always been a source for humor, but it also plants the seeds for real tensions in their sense of identity — or, at least an emphasis on the adjectives and nouns they associate with that identity. Indeed, issue 66 focuses almost entirely on the identities of its cast, forcing them to ask both what those identities are, and what they might say about what they can or can’t do.
Raph and Angel are in Alaska, looking for Alopex, which of course forces Raph to openly admit his feelings for her. Or, as “open” as Raph can muster, anyway.
It’s such a teen boy answer, but Angel quickly calls him on it — he’s not going to avoid his feelings as long as she’s around. With a little pushing, Raph admits his reticence has to do with the fact that Alopex is a fox and he’s a turtle. There are a lot of parallels to more commonplace teen relationship anxieties; “species” can meaningfully stand in for social cliques or race or gender identity, all of which make Raph’s reservations woefully relatable. He doesn’t care about these things, but he’s still worried they might stand in the way.
Angel is actually in a similar boat, though her embarrassment at calling Woody “cute” might be more at odds with the identity she projects than who she really is underneath that mask. This issue doesn’t dwell on the budding romance between her and Mikey’s pizza-slinging friend, but showing her adopting the same kind of macho posturing she wouldn’t let Raph get away with is great characterization.
While Raph and Angel are trying to find Alopex, she’s busy trying to find herself. She returned to Alaska in hopes of reconnecting with her identity, but Kitsune has identified how tenuous that connection is, and hopes to convince Alopex that she truly is a monster. It’s hard not to read it as a kind of twisted overbearing mother story, with Alopex stuck between an identity thrust upon her, and a more natural one she’s grown into with her friends. And that’s exactly how writers Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz, and Sophie Campbell play the resolution, reminding Alopex that she can be whoever she wants to be.
This is a great moment for both Raph and Alopex — she’s realizing that she has control over her identity, in part because he was able to push past his discomfort to be emotionally honest with her. It’s touching and beautiful, thanks in no small part to Sophie Campbell. I’ve long been impressed by Campbell’s reverence for and knowledge of the turtles, and this issue reveals what an asset she can be on the story side as well. I don’t mean to sell the rest of the writers short (writing on this series is consistently great), but Campbell clearly gets the identity issues that underpin this story.
Plus, Campbell absolutely brings it on the art. Campbell’s knack for expression already make her an ideal fit for this issue, but she finds new depth in depicting the horrors of Alopex’s battle with Kitsune. I’m also impressed with Ronda Pattison evocative watercolors, which beautifully suit both the wintery and metaphysical settings of this issue [note: the watercolor effects were actually done by Campell, as well]. Those colors blend perfectly with Campbell’s inks, making this issue something truly gorgeous.
Taylor, I absolutely adored this issue, though I must admit I’m a lifelong Raph fan, and have been pulling for the Raph/Alopex relationship since Northampton. Even with those predispositions, though, this issue surprised me with how subtle and beautiful it was. Did you enjoy this respite from the goings on in New York as much as I did?
Taylor: I think this is an absolutely wonderful issue! I’m continually impressed at how good the TMNT writers are at making stories that one week focus on the big picture machinations of the Foot Clan and New York and the next week explore the the inner workings of an ancillary character like Alopex. Maybe it’s because they work as a team instead of just one person, but the writers know how to pull the camera back for big sweeping action and also how to zoom-in, slow down, and really take some time to investigate. The latter is what they do here in this issue, and with Sophie Campbell on board I’m honestly not surprised at how stunning this issue turned out to be.
For my money, what takes this issue from being good to great is Campbell’s artwork. It’s no secret here at Retcon Punch that we love Campbell’s art and it’s always a treat to see her work. Part of what makes her such a remarkable artist is that she truly knows how to tell a story visually.
There are a couple instances of this at work in this issue, but what I find most fascinating is how she uses Alopex’s face markings to illustrate her journey of self discovery. Alopex starts this journey wearing her traditional purple face marking. This of course represents the old Alopex and where she begins her journey as a troubled and confused fox in search of who she really is. At one point in the issue, she walks to a stream and washes off her purple face paint and is terrified when she sees a reflection of herself bearing the mark of Kitsune.
By washing off her purple, Alopex is attempting to make a break from her painful past and start fresh again. However, Kitsune shows Alopex a glimpse what she could become. Should she give in to her hatred and fear, she could become Kitsune’s weapon and ally. But, as can be seen here, such a future is not something Alopex wants. Without her purple facepaint though, she is in search of her identity. It is only when she defeats Kitsune and realizes that she needs to let go of her past that she forges a new identity for herself.
Her new identity is bound to her friends and her life in New York. Having realized that she has to let go of Alaska and her family’s murder, Alopex is now free to be herself. In becoming this new version of herself, she gains new face marking and a brand new, light blue color to go with it. This changing of Alopex’s face markings wonderfully illustrates her personal journey in a way that is both subtle and substantive. While I could have probably understood that Alopex is on a journey of self discovery in this issue without these visual cues, they enhance the story in a way that’s uniquely important to comic story telling.
Campbell also impressed me elsewhere in the issue. Throughout this story Alopex, and eventually Raph, enter a weird spirit-mind realm where they confront Kitsune and her dark magic. Whenever these scenes take place, Campbell has the boldness to almost get rid of gutters completely. This full page spread illustrates what I mean beautifully.
There are no borders to the panels in the traditional sense here. Instead, Campbell blends the panels together using gradual color changes and, cleverly, the outline of the characters themselves. In the above panel, front and center we see Alopex in the physical realm, looking tiny behind the mental apparition that Kitsune is manifesting in her mind. Where Alopex stands in the physical realm seamlessly blends in with her terrified (and terrifying!) face as she screams in horror in the spirit realm.
There are exceptions when Campbell occasionally uses partial guttering while showing what is happening in the spirit-realm, but she’s careful to not completely block off or close these panels. This creates a striking look that stands apart from the rest of the issue and what makes it better is that it has substance. Since all of these scenes are taking part in the spirit realm it only seems natural that traditional guttering wouldn’t suffice. It is, after all, in dreams where things don’t seem quite real. Events don’t necessarily happen linearly in dreams and emotion and feelings are what mostly dictate the goings on. That being said, the absence of gutters here reinforces the idea that Alopex’s battle with Kitsune is taking place in the spirit realm where different rules apply.
With all of this issue’s beauty and wonderful character development, I easily fell in love with it. It just goes to show how incredible this series is when the artists working on it can so routinely surprise and delight me.
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?